Management thesis writing guide

Defining the management thesis

Management is a sub-topic within business, specifically business administration, that is dedicated to examining the roles of leaders—managers, supervisors, executives, board members, and the like—within business. Since business leaders are responsible for a broad range of activities, including goal-setting, motivation, strategy formulation, and so forth, there can be many different types of management thesis. However, all such theses are distinguished by their tight focus on the activities of business leaders.

Researching your management thesis

The management thesis is distinct from the general business thesis by virtue of the fact that there are relatively few managers in the marketplace at large, and that managers are seldom inclined to respond to surveys or other direct requests for information. Therefore, while it may be comparatively easy to survey hundreds of consumers about their behavior in a business thesis, researching your management thesis by canvassing business leaders directly is not a sound strategy. Researching your management thesis will thus most likely take the form of engaging the theory of management more than actual managers. As it turns out, there is a fairly unique convention for doing so in the management thesis: the case study.

Structuring your management thesis

The management thesis is not as rigorously structured as the general business thesis, and it contains a peculiarity seldom encountered in the business thesis: the case study. A representative management thesis may begin conventionally enough, by putting forth a problem statement and conducting a literature review, but the methodology and argument will be very different in character. Structuring your management thesis is often done around a case study, which is a fictitious dramatization of some principle—such as leadership or risk management—of management theory. The case study is followed by a more detailed discussion of how the depicted events illuminate management theory, and the thesis will conclude with a list of references.

The management thesis case study

The case study format was popularized by Harvard Business Review, but it has been a long-time tool of management theorists (such as Peter Drucker) who attempted to lend weight to otherwise airy and empirically lacking theories of leadership. Case studies are not theses or hypotheses in the ordinary sense; technically, they are either manufactured evidence for the truth of a theory or, when sourced from actual events, artful retellings of events based on the sole testimony of business leaders, which may not be as reliable as, for example, statistical evidence. However, while case studies lack this particular advantage, they have a compensating strength: they tend to be rhetorically strong pieces that succeed in vivifying what could otherwise be decontextualized, boring principles of management theory. Since the essential purpose of a thesis is to convince, the case study cannot for its own sake be ruled out as a valuable tool of the management thesis.

The management thesis echo chamber

Here already there is a major difference between the general business thesis and the management thesis. While business theoreticians are in broad agreement—about, say, the primacy of capitalism—management theoreticians are in even closer lock-step. Indeed, management theory exists precisely because managers are seen as prime movers of business value, so there is a remarkable degree of consensus on the importance of managers, how they add value to business processes, etc. Because most, if not all, of the extant management theory extols the role of the manager in this way, it is difficult to write a management thesis that draws on this literature without succumbing to an echo chamber effect. Thus, the chief danger of the management thesis is that it will forget the duty of a thesis to be contentious and critical, and deteriorate instead into a kind of cheer-leading for the manager. A closely related danger is the propensity to conflate what leaders do with what the company does so that, for example, a CEO’s strategic formulation is taken to be responsible for a company’s turnaround without considering all the other possible factors.

Other approaches to the management thesis

The case study is not the only format for the management thesis, although of late it is the most popular. Other approaches to the management thesis are more fact-based, consisting of management surveys, critiques of existing management theory, or analyses of the contributions of strategy to execution. These approaches to the management thesis are, however, more challenging then the case study-focused management thesis, as they do not contain manufactured evidence for the thesis.

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