At the core of management fads and change efforts

Bureaucracy was first labelled in the 1800s; from there, a long line of people have proposed different ways to describe the way companies and governments work. Then they came up with better ways — or at least ways they thought were better.

The results has been literally thousands of management fads. A lot of them worked well in early trials, then failed elsewhere, when they became trendy. Quite a few are still used, and often, new fads are created that are just the old ones with a different name.

I’ve been around long enough to see many, many of these fads, trends, and improvement methods come and often go. Many didn’t deserve to leave, but they seem to have a “sell-by” date stamped on them; who wants a stale old idea from 1970 when you can have a fresh new one? And hey, we can use this snazzy app now!

That said, just about any way to change an organization needs a few things to work. I sometimes wonder if the change method is as important as whether you pay attention to these issues:

modelPower. Most effective changes push power down, so people who do the work can make decisions. This was the center of job enrichment and empowerment, and are somewhat implied by things like balanced scorecards and re-engineering. Research shows that pushing power to the lowest possible level increases innovation, motivation, quality, and productivity. It also frees executives and managers from day-to-day “fire fighting” and trivial decisions, by letting others carry out their strategies.

Communication. Every system I have ever seen relies on better communication, whether it’s posted quality figures, job enrichment, 360° feedback, or surveys. Companies often tend to focus on one direction (up, down, across departments) rather than all at once  Creating information through data mining is now popular, and market research seems to be on the wane (partly because it’s been abused for so long).

Direction. Leading people in a clear direction is the central thrust of mission statements, balanced scorecards, and other systems. People prefer to work with a clear direction in mind; and, when people are aligned, decisions are faster and easier, and there is far less waste.

Culture. The shared values, beliefs, and norms of a group are, in short, the way diverse people can be brought together to work  in harmony, towards a single goal. The same people working under different cultures – even in the same organization – can act in very different ways. Change culture, and you change the way people act. This is the self-professed key in organizational development, and is absolutely essential to consider in any change — particularly mergers and acquisitions.

I hope you will forgive me if this has been done before…