Every day a new management or self-help book arrives at bookstores across the country promoting the benefits of the latest fad or buzzword in organization management. Newspapers and magazines feature consultants who have helped themselves and others succeed using an emerging business technique. And, of course, at any given moment on any given golf course, leaders are sharing their methods for improving the bottom line.
With publishers and media outlets ready to push these fads, buzzwords and other ideas onto the leadership populace at the drop of a hat, an outsider or a new leader might very well come to the conclusion that fads are as common and essential to good management as cones are to ice cream. Yet, being a good manager does not mean succumbing to each and every “flavor of the month.” The tried-and-true leadership characteristics of submerging egos, fostering open communication and making people feel important outlast fads and lead to more successful and profitable workplaces.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Executives Must Stop Jumping Fad to Fad and Learn to Manage,” columnist Carol Hymowitz says the barrage of management guides that have penetrated the market have resulted in “copycat managers trying to find to find a one-stop, fix-it-all answer to their various problems.” She points to a firm whose leadership, upon the advice of a consultant and without conducting further research, instituted a company newsletter after employees responded to a survey saying they wanted more communication. In truth, they sought a stronger voice in how the organization operates.
Besides media attention and the advice of hired consultants, peer pressure among leaders and managers contributes to the proliferation of business fads. “People don’t want to be seen as standing in the way of progress, so they jump on the bandwagon,” Joel Best, author of the book Flavor of the Month: Why Smart People Fall for Fads, recently told the University of Delaware’s online news service. The author also indicated that the United States’ long-held beliefs in progress and perfectibility have made leaders vulnerable to ideas that promise to deliver a shortcut to reaching these ends.
Like Hymowitz, Best advocates that leaders and managers be skeptical of astonishing claims, which can come from the newest, largely undocumented and untested ideas. Unproven fads can be so dangerous to organizational success that some business schools have openly declared to prospective students that they avoid them altogether. On the MBA overview section of its website, the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s School of Management states flatly, “We do not build courses … on the basis of ‘hot’ topics, current events, or the advice of the latest management guru.”
And there have been many hot topics over the years – so many that the prevalent buzzwords have become acronyms so leaders can keep them straight. There’s MBO, MRP, MRPII, ERP and TQM, just to name a few. After a while these acronym-identifying approaches to management start to sound like that old song from the musical Hair. With both peer and competitor organizations adding the latest acronym to their lexicons, what can a leader do to remain viable?
One work approach they can use to circumvent fads while retaining the values of open communication and empowering people is the “golden rule” of management. This works just like the golden rule from religion and philosophy: treat others as you would like to be treated. Thomas E. Ambler, a course leader with the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, says that putting the golden rule into practice boils down to integrating it as an organization’s core value. “Cutting others the kind of slack we would like goes a long way toward making a team effective,” Ambler says.
Ambler’s advice speaks to several of the values, or building blocks, that are central to Winning Workplaces’ mission – namely, Teamwork & Involvement, Open Communications and Trust, Respect & Fairness. That last value is especially important when it comes to effective leadership and the prospect of embracing the latest fad. Leaders must not only trust their employees with the vision and objectives they have set forth; they must also trust themselves.
Therefore, leaders should consider any trendy or faddish steps that would alter their vision for management carefully. While it’s important to be educated about emerging business ideas and trends, even fads and buzzwords, it is not necessary to act on them. After all, Baskin-Robbins may have 31 flavors, but their regular customers have one or two that they treasure above the rest – flavors they wouldn’t give up or trade for anything in the world.