ⓘ Management fad


ⓘ Management fad

Management fad is a term used to characterize a change in philosophy or operations implemented by a business or institution.

The term is subjective and tends to be used in a pejorative sense, as it implies that such a change is being implemented often by management on its employees, with little or no input from them solely because it is at the time "popular" within managerial circles, and not necessarily due to any real need for organizational change. The term further implies that once the underlying philosophy is no longer "popular", it will be replaced by the newest "popular" idea, in the same manner and for the same reason as the previous idea.

Several authors have argued that new management ideas should be subject to greater critical analysis, and for the need for greater conceptual awareness of new ideas by managers. Authors Leonard J. Ponzi and Michael Koenig believe that a key determinant of whether any management idea is a "management fad" is the number and timing of published articles on the idea. In their research, Ponzi and Koenig argue that once an idea has been discussed for around 3–5 years, if after this time the number of articles on the idea in a given year decreases significantly similar to the right-hand side of a bell curve, then the idea is most likely a "management fad".


1. Common characteristics

Management fads are often characterized by the following:

  • Claims of a measurable business improvement via measurement of a metric e.g. key performance indicator that is defined by the fad itself.
  • An internal sponsoring department or individual that gains influence due to the fads implementation.
  • External consultants who specialize in the implementation of the fad.
  • Big words and complex phrases puffery.
  • A certification or appraisal process performed by an external agency for a fee.
  • Amending the job titles of existing employees to include references to the fad.
  • New jargon for existing business processes.

2. Examples

The following management theories and practices appeared on a list of management fashions and fads compiled by Adrian Furnham, who arranged them in rough chronological order by their date of appearance, 1950s to 1990s:

  • Theory Z
  • Delayering
  • Teamwork
  • One-minute management
  • Management by objectives
  • Total quality management
  • Business process reengineering
  • 360-degree feedback
  • Management by wandering around
  • Empowerment
  • Matrix management
  • Re-engineering

Other theories and practices which observers have tagged as fads include:

  • Consensus management
  • the tendency to replace every occurrence of "data" in compound managerial terminology with "information", see e.g. information integration vs. data integration
  • Stack ranking, where employees are encouraged to rat each other out in order to secure their own advancement and budget
  • ISO 9000
  • 5S
  • Enterprise architecture frameworks
  • Best practice
  • Knowledge management
  • Design thinking
  • Agile software development
  • Lean six sigma
  • "thriving on chaos"
  • Six Sigma
  • Open-plan offices

3. Related reading

  • David V. Collins 2000. Management Fads and Buzzwords: Critical-Practical Perspectives. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-20640-2.
  • Strang, David and Michael W. Macy, "In Search of Excellence: Fads, Success Stories, and Adaptive Emulation," American Journal of Sociology, July 2001, Vol. 107, No. 1, pp. 147–182.
  • Crainer, Stuart and Des Dearlove," Whatever Happened to Yesterdays Bright Ideas?,” Across the Board, Vol. 43, No. 3, May/June 2006, pp. 34–40.
  • Paul, Annie Murphy," I Feel Your Pain,” Forbes, Vol. 174, No. 13, Dec. 27, 2004, p. 38.
  • Ken Hakuta 1988. How to Create Your Own Fad and Make a Million Dollars. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0-688-07601-6.
  • Malone, Michael S.," A Way Too Short History of Fads,” Forbes, Vol. 159, No. 7, April 7, 1997 ASAP supplement.

For a critique of the practice of branding new management ideas as fads, see

  • Collins, David, "The Branding of Management Knowledge: Rethinking Management Fads’," Journal of Organizational Change Management, 2003, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 186-204.
  • Collins, David, "The Fad Motif in Management Scholarship," Employee Relations, Vol. 23, No. 1, Feb. 2001, pp. 26–37.

For a listicle see:

  • The 8 Stupidest Management Fads of All Time, CBS Money