he uniqueness (or even outrageousness) of a fashion, toy, or hairstyle creates “buzz” and publicity but also ensures that its appeal is only temporary (Ketchen & Short, 2011).
Fads also seem to be a predictable aspect of the business world (Table 9.9 “Managing Management Fads”). As with cultural fads, many provocative business ideas go through a life cycle of creating buzz, captivating a group of enthusiastic adherents, and then giving way to the next fad. Bookstore shelves offer a seemingly endless supply of popular management books whose premises range from the intriguing to the absurd. Within the topic of leadership, for example, various books promise to reveal the “leadership secrets” of an eclectic array of famous individuals such as Jesus Christ, Hillary Clinton, Attila the Hun, and Santa Claus.
Beyond the striking similarities between cultural and business fads, there are also important differences. Most cultural fads are harmless, and they rarely create any long-term problems for those that embrace them. In contrast, embracing business fads could lead executives to make bad decisions. As our quote from Colin Powell suggests, relying on sound business practices is much more likely to help executives to execute their organization’s strategy than are generic words of wisdom from Old St. Nick.
Many management fads have been closely tied to organizational control systems. For example, one of the best- known fads was an attempt to use output control to improve performance. Management by objectives (MBO) is a process wherein managers and employees work together to create goals. These goals guide employees’ behaviors and serve as the benchmarks for assessing their performance. Following the presentation of MBO in Peter Drucker’s 1954 book The Practice of Management, many executives embraced the process as a cure-all for organizational problems and challenges.
Like many fads, however, MBO became a good idea run amok. Companies that attempted to create an objective for every aspect of employees’ activities eventually discovered that this was unrealistic. The creation of explicit goals can conflict with activities involving tacit knowledge about the organization. Intangible notions such as “providing excellent customer service,” “treating people right,” and “going the extra mile” are central to many organizations’ success, but these notions are difficult if not impossible to quantify. Thus, in some cases, getting employees to embrace certain values and other aspects of clan control is more effective than MBO.