Four Reasons Why Management Fads Are Doomed To Fail

June 4, 2003
"Flavor of the month" management systems are doomed to fail, say quality experts Stanley A. Marash, Paul Berman and Michael Flynn, authors of Fusion Management: Harnessing the Power of Six Sigma, Lean, ISO9001:2000, Malcolm Baldrige, TQM and Other Quality Breakthroughs of the Past Century.

According to them, each of the programs touted as the next great business solution has fallen short of its promises. Yet each has something valuable to offer, hence the term they coined, 'fusion management." The trick, they claim, is knowing what works and what doesn't, and how to implement real improvements in your organization that will reap real results.

"The problem is there is no 'one-size-fits-all' quality management program that is going to work for everyone," explains Marash. "What is needed is a new recipe that combines the best that the fad programs have to offer. Just as no two people have the same fingerprints, no two corporate fingerprints are the same. Fusion Management takes into account what works best for your organization."

According to Marash, Berman and Flynn, there are four central reasons why management fads fail:

Lack of Executive Leadership - Management fails to demonstrate its commitment by deeds to the process it is launching. Indeed, many such programs are initiated and led by mid-level managers with little, if any, involvement by executives. Even when executives become involved, their efforts are seldom substantive. The organizations that are successful over the long term, regardless of the program implemented, invariably feature the personal leadership of executive teams.

Failure to deploy - Management fails to support the program beyond the initial training or to deploy the program beyond the pilot department or group. After an initial round of improvement is achieved, no mechanism is established to keep the process going. Program activities are perceived as "homework," rather than "real work," and because many projects concentrate on "low-hanging fruit," the program stalls once its larger and less tractable problems are encountered. Other times, different groups within an organization adopt different programs, and then spend valuable time and resources hurling buzzwords at each other rather than searching for common ground. Successful organizations, on the other hand, synthesize their own programs from many sources, actively engage all groups at all levels and develop permanent structures to identify and resolve problems.

Seeking Shortcuts - Management adopts the superficial aspects of a program, hoping by name-magic to imitate the successes of the pioneer organizations. Yet, the pioneers usually developed well thought-out processes involving many contributing elements. Organizations that adopt some elements and ignore others fail to attain the synergy that the pioneers achieved and later proclaim: "We tried X program and it didn't work." In some cases, management does nothing more than attach a new, trendy label to an old way of doing business.

Inadequate Measurement - Management does not measure success properly. These organizations typically don't lack measurements. In fact, they are often guilty of overmeasuring. The problem with these organizations is that their measurements are detached from business results. Projects concentrate on making internal processes more efficient while overlooking customer satisfaction, because the former is easier to measure than the latter. Successful organizations, on the other hand, focus on the long term as well as the short term and on external as well as internal issues and tie their measurements to validated business results.

Too often, companies try to adopt a popular program without really comprehending what makes the program successful.

"They want the results but are unwilling to put in the same effort as the pioneers," the authors write. "They fail to measure their results and they lack clear, focused goals. It is almost as if ideas have a half-life, like fissionable materials, losing substance as they pass from organization to organization."

For more information about Fusion Management: Harnessing the Power of Six Sigma, Lean, ISO9001:2000, Malcolm Baldrige, TQM and Other Quality Breakthroughs of the Past Century, visit or

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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