When I came out of university in the 90s, it was TQM. Then we moved into BPM and Process Re engineering, followed by six sigma and lean and lately, graduated into scaled Agile. During these many years I learned how to work in and with top down and matrix management, management by objectives and by consensus. I Experienced the cubical office, the open space hot desking and the mandatory bean bags. I refer to all of these as management fads.
What is a management fad?
I characterize a management fad by the following:
- Easy to understand by using principles and visual concepts that come with a clear process for management on what to do and how to use
- Is tailored to answer the current/ latest business world problem: diversification, globalisation, digitalisation, automation, etc.
- Claims to be universal regardless the industry, culture, size etc. hence “easy” to copy from another company as “best practice”, so you can be as successful as they are.
- And finally, it is promoted by well recognised management experts that make a lot of money out of it.
It is true, I have been part of that system. Every few years a new promise takes over as the favorite among management consultants and executives. These management fads are usually not “new” rather they wrap century old values of money and control into a “new” something. These fads also come with new jobs. Like the ISO auditors, Process engineers, Six sigma black belt ninjas, Agile coaches and many others. All, there to help management ensure the “cut and paste” is done correctly. Fads are not fundamentally wrong, some have profoundly changed companies, for better or for worse. Some even introduced useful ideas that stayed longer than the fad itself. However, fads over promise and under deliver, hence doomed to be replaced by the next ones.
Why do we have these fads?
When I reflect on how come we fall for these repeatedly, I think the answer is management laziness. I can explain. We all know that the world (and business) problems are becoming significantly faster and more complex. We also know that in most cases it requires us to:
- Enable multidisciplinary collaboration of passionate and capable people, wanting to achieve something bigger then themselves
- Learning, course correcting and becoming better at, and staying with it, until the problem is solved
- Focus on creating value and reducing waste with in context and adaptive approaches
But changing values and behavior, navigating the complexity and needing effort and courage to progress is hard so we go for the fad. Think about it, loosing weight is simple: eat less, exercise more – right? So, how come we have a massive industry, billions of dollars, millions of experts and similar number of books and we are still on a promising trend for obesity? Same with management, we know the principles, but we hope that by buying into the latest we can get a quick fix.
I say to senior management, stop it. There is no one size fit all, there is no method that is better than the other, there is no consultant that knows better than you what your vision is and how to motivate and keep you and your team on track to create, there is no end date or a magic transformation, and there is no pink pill. There is only a purpose, a desire to learn, and care for the people around you. All with limited resources and hard work.
If you need external push or specific advice, absolutely, get help. Get a (real) expert, get a good coach, get a useful tool, get a process that works. But own it, cause the change. It is your job and your problem to solve.
Hadas is the founder of Adaptive Futures and a future of work enabler.