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Management Fads - Things You Should Know To Avoid Being Had
As a management consultant, it is indeed a challenge to keep up, and quite frankly, we don't know how busy managers have a hope of understanding and using these notions to make their organizations better.

But the question is, are these management approaches useful for more than sounding good at the annual manager's meeting or conference? Or impressing the boss at lunch? Do they actually contribute to organizational effectiveness and quality of work- life? It depends.

One thing is sure, a good many of us are influenced by the buzzwords and trends, so it is worth looking at the phenomenon of management fads.

Fads:
Many people look at the word fad in a negative light, as if it describes something of little value, something that will have it's fifteen minutes in the spotlight and pass away with little notice when people realize that the approach never fulfils its promise. Like the Pet Rock, or the Hula Hoop. Once people get bored with the novelty, and realize there is lack of substance, the product disappears.

Management fads are a bit different. Generally, new buzzwords and ideas about management do have substance. Most management techniques that become popular have the potential for improving organizations. After all, most people aren't stupid.

But management fads generally are associated with top-notch marketing that helps create interest in the ideas. Almost every major management fad has, associated with it, one or several spokespeople who have the capability of communicating with great vigour and enthusiasm. Tom Peters made "excellence" a buzzword; Ken Blanchard popularized One-Minute Management; and TQM has Deming, Juran and Crosby to spread the word. It seems that the more popular the proponent, the more well-known the management technique becomes. So, we might note that marketing is a crucial aspect of creating management fads. Without these high profile proponents we would have remarkably few management buzzwords, and a much more boring management world.

Positive Effects of Management Fads
Perhaps one of the more positive effects of management fads is that they provoke thought and discussion. At least in some quarters. Because management fads do usually have substance, those who take the time to explore the possibilities usually come away from the experience as better managers. Those who do not take the time to learn, but adopt a management approach on only a superficial understanding of the techniques, become worse managers.
Second, management fads help produce change in the workplace, by encouraging organizations to question their existing approaches, and re-align them to fit the changing world. They highlight the idea that we CAN and SHOULD be looking for better ways to do things, rather than ride on management orthodoxy that is past its time.
Third, management fads create excitement. Since the proponents of management fads are almost always powerful speakers and writers, many who come in contact with them come away energized and motivated at the prospects of better ways of doing things.

Finally, if management techniques did not become popularized, most of us would never hear of them, since they would end up described only in journals on management with limited readership.

Negative Effects of Management Fads
The nature of popularized management approaches or fads is that they attract two kinds of people. First, they attract those that have a keen interest in management issues, and have the time, inclination and commitment to understand the techniques and approaches in their entirety. These are the people that can actually apply the approach and prosper. But the second type of person is attracted to the management approach because it is popular, or, on the surface, it makes sense. And, almost all fads have superficial appeal. These folks gather up enough of the key buzzwords to fling around and sound intelligent, but when it comes to making the approach work, do not have the depth of understanding to be able to apply it to a real workplace.

Management Rejection
Something I have noticed is there is an increasing tendency for managers to reject new management approaches because they have become faddish, or popular. Managers get as tired of "the flavour of the month" as do employees. So there is a potential that valuable management approaches can be rejected out of hand.
Another thing I have noticed is that managers will say things like "Oh, we tried that--didn't work." Often what is implied is that the approach, be it teamwork or TQM is a failure, when the truth is that the management failed to get it to work.

Again, this is unfortunate because significant potential for improvement can be lost.
So, to sum up, when management approaches become popularized or become fads, there is increased risk that managers, in their enthusiasm, will introduce the new approaches without proper preparation or knowledge. The result is that such initiatives usually fail. TQM fails when done this way. Team-based management fails when done this way. Participative management fails this way.

These failures cause two things. They create cynicism in employees, and reduce the credibility of management. Both make future change, even if well implemented, a virtual impossibility

So, What To Do?
We will outline a few suggestions as to how you can introduce popular management techniques into the workplace, so that you avoid the kinds of failures that cause problems.
1. If you come across new ideas that excite you, whether by hearing someone speak or reading a book, do not even consider applying them to your organization without reading and learning more. Don't just read one book on Total Quality Management, read a number of them by different authors. While your initial enthusiasm is important, you must have a good grasp of what you are doing before you start.
Keep in mind that Philip Crosby, one of the TQM gurus, has suggested that he works exclusively with executives and managers for six months to a year before anything is even announced.
2. Keep in mind that any management fad or trend is a tool, pure and simple. And tools are good for achieving certain results, and not so good for creating other results. Before implementing that management approach that excites you, make sure you know WHY you are doing so. If you can't specify measurable results that you expect from the new approach, then don't do it.
3. It is easy to use a new management approach to create the appearance of change, and to increase activity. It is a far different thing to use new approaches to create value or results. Don't be suckered in by activity. If you are introducing a team- based approach, don't gauge your success by the number of team meetings held. Look to the value added by these activities, and weigh the value against the costs.
4. Steer a steady course. Simply put, when you implement a new approach, stick with it. If your data suggests that it isn't working, first examine your own knowledge, and look at HOW it was implemented, before rejecting the whole approach. If you have inadequate patience, you will get into the "flavour of the month" approach. And, each month you will have a new failure, and increased cynicism.
5. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. If you are clear about the results you expect from the outset, you can evaluate to see if you are spinning your wheels or whether you are gaining ground. Your evaluations must move beyond employee satisfaction, but must include hard, data-based measurements of effectiveness or productivity. Keep in mind that new initiatives will sometimes lower effectiveness during early implementation as people adapt, though, and then yield large gains.
6. Be alert to the possibility that you reject new approaches to management just because you are tired of certain buzzwords, or because the approach has become so popular, it is old hat. Look to the substance of new management approaches, rather than the superficial.
 


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