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Was Peter Drucker onto something?

How well can we understand a client’s culture to help them deliver change? How do new technologies impact the underlying moral decisions firms are making?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is one of the legendary Peter Drucker’s more famous quotes. Shifting the culture of an organisation is essential for any change that an organisation wants to make in its strategy but why is it invariably the thing that consultants find the hardest part of any assignment? It’s no wonder that the traditional and consulting model of conducting a study, presenting a report and leaving the client to do the heavy lifting of implementation is, rightly, much maligned these days.

Is there an alternative? Daniel Beunza, Professor of Social Studies of Finance at Bayes Business School, and the presenter of our Showcase on 11th May 2023, has spent most of his career investigating this. In his book Taking the Floor: Models, Morals and Management in a Wall Street Trading Room (Princeton University Press) he adopts an ethnographer’s approach to understanding in depth the culture, processes and management systems at the heart of a Wall Street trading room. By understanding the approach taken by an executive to reorganise the firm’s trading floor to address the issues that tarnished derivatives trading we learn about methods that counter the traditional top-down approach to cultural change.

The use of economic models on the trading floor, originally introduced to improve trading performance, is a fundamental part of the analysis in this thought-provoking book as these models – in the way they influence decision-making – turn out to have a moral impact as well.

Jump forward a few years to the present and we can begin to see a strong parallel with the rapid growth of AI in client organisations and consulting firms.

There was much to discuss in this showcase: how well can we understand a client’s culture to help them deliver change and how does the growth of AI and increasing process automation hide or expose the underlying moral decisions that our clients (and our own firms) are making?

In a world where consultancy is coming under increasingly critical scrutiny, thanks to books such as The Big Con and BBC Radio 4’s Magic Consultants series (more on that in the next issue), it’s vital to take account of the views of an expert to help us unpack these issues.

Tuesday 11th July 2023
'Taking the floor' book cover