As leaders, we always want to get the best out of our people. So it’s not surprising that many brilliant thinkers have spent a lot of time pondering management theories.
When great men and women contemplate a problem and creatively try to solve it, great ideas come forward.
“How can I make sure my people are working to their fullest potential?”
“How can I make sure I am managing them well?”
“What can I do to keep my employees engaged and energized about their work?”
Answering these questions has led to some interesting management trends—or fads—over the past century.
The word “fad” has a pretty specific meaning, and it doesn’t have the most positive connotation. Take a quick look at the definition:
fad (noun): an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities
Short-lived and without basis…ouch. I would argue that these management fads do have some basis for the problems they are trying to solve, and I think we can all learn some valuable lessons from each of them. Let’s take a deeper look at six of these management “fads.”
1. Matrix Management
If you’re thinking Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus, you’re a bit off track (but seriously, who doesn’t love the Matrix?). Matrix management has more to do with the reporting structure of the people in your organization. For instance, Bob is the principal architect on two high-profile software projects. He reports to Karen primarily for project alpha, and he reports along a dotted line to Steve on project beta. The dotted line reporting structure and multiple paths to management are key components of matrix management.
You see this structuring often in large enterprises, where a specific skill set is needed across many domains. This can look like a formal management relationship, but it more often plays out with informal reporting structures where the line of authority is uncertain.
When the line of authority is uncertain, I would argue there is no authority. This type of structure can help spread knowledge and expertise within an organization because teams can share resources. But often, matrix management confuses employees about where their priorities and loyalties lie.
2. Theory Z of Ouchi
In 1981, Dr. William Ouchi published a book called Theory Z: How American Business Can Meet the Japanese Challenge. The main idea of Theory Z is that employees want stable and long-lasting employment, so companies should provide that by creating very strong relationships between employers and employees. Ideally, the employee has a lifelong job and the employer is committed to the employee’s wellbeing both on and off the job. The benefit of this relationship is a happy and engaged workforce because employees are secure in their careers and will learn more and more about the company they are working for. Ouchi’s theory played out during the Asian economic boom in the ’80s, so his ideas were taken quite seriously.
We can learn a lot from Ouchi’s style. Common sense tells us that a strong relationship between employee and employer would benefit all parties and make for a more productive work environment. However, this model doesn’t quite match the realities of American workplace culture. Lifetime employment is not ideal for those who seek upward career advancement, and there is a growing sentiment that companies are no longer loyal to employees.
3. One Minute Management
The One Minute Manager is a book written by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson that centers around three “secrets” to better management: one-minute goals, one-minute praises, and one-minute reprimands. The “one minute” provides employees with a near-immediate response when it comes to goal setting and feedback. Managers should set goals that they and their employees mutually agree on and take a minute every so often to review them. When your employees are doing well, praise them right there; “it only takes a minute.” When employees are not performing well, a one-minute reprimand (following strict guidelines) is enough to get your point across.
Although there is some controversy about the book and where the ideas really originated from, the ideas themselves are solid and still apply to today’s workforce. Setting goals and giving employees regular feedback, both positive and negative, should be a regular practice. This avoids sluggish, once-per-year goal setting sessions and having employees caught off guard by the feedback during annual performance reviews.
4. Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)
Management by wandering around is rather self-explanatory. In fact, it’s a little bit surprising it’s even a management style! MBWA is believed to be coined by executives at Hewlett-Packard in the 1970s. MBWA’s central concept is that the manager walks around the workplace to check in with employees (Peter, did you get the memo about the new cover sheets for the TPS reports?). The manager gets to survey the goings on by having face-to-face interactions with employees. Individual workers are happier because their boss is engaged with them. The manager is happier as well because she gets to build personal relationships with the employees.
While “wandering around” sounds aimless, the manager in this scenario is intentionally checking in with her direct reports while also trying to build a relationship with them. There is intentionality in the wandering. The technique might sound and feel a tad underhanded, but it does promote engagement on a human level. In the end, this can make the employee feel more valued.
The current climate of increasing numbers of remote workers and increasingly global teams may have rendered this management style a fad. Fewer and fewer managers have all of their direct reports in the same building at the same time.
5. Delayering/Flat Organizations
When you think about a traditional company and its reporting structure, you probably think about layers of management. The idea of “climbing the corporate ladder” refers to an employee trying to ascend to those higher positions of authority. Delayering aims to cut out the middle layers, resulting in a “flatter” organization so that employees have fewer hoops to jump through to get to the top. Who needs middle managers anyway, right? The goal is a more engaged, self-managed workforce with greater authority.
A manager in this scenario has a great number of employees, and employees are only one to two steps away from the leader of the company. This approach devalues the role a manager plays in an organization (think about when things go wrong) and requires highly self-motivated employees to manage their work while also managing the priorities of their peers.
There are also concerns about how well this approach can scale, how employees can advance their careers, and the burden flat organizations place on the management layer they do have. In addition, empowering employees to make key decisions like these requires them to have a deep understanding of the company’s visions and future plans. Managers provide a crucial role in setting goals, coaching and developing their people, and handling a wide variety of workplace issues.
In the end, without middle management, you are relying on individual employees to each have excellent skills, be self-starters, and work well together. This all sounds great, shifting the onus of managing people to an outstanding hiring process that trains employees as soon as they arrive. But it makes one wonder: if there are no managers, how good will the hiring process be? Who has time for interviews, anyway? If anything, this approach highlights the need for layered organizations with leaders and decision makers at each level.
6. 360-Degree Feedback
360-degree feedback is the practice of an individual receiving feedback not only from his managers and leaders but also from peers and even their subordinates. The goal is holistic feedback from all areas of influence. And yes, the people you lead, and the peers you interact with, now get to weigh in on how you are performing your job.
The first time I heard about 360-degree feedback, I was rather excited to hear what folks had to say about me. However, the more seasoned managers and leaders I spoke with were not as enthusiastic about the process. The concept of receiving feedback from equals and subordinates is fraught with problems of motivation. Peers are competing with you for promotions; should they really have any impact on your performance review? Consider the employee who feels scorned for being appropriately reprimanded for a policy violation. In his anger, she then decides to deliver some negative feedback about her boss on the next 360 review. There are many other scenarios like this one where giving a subordinate the power to impact a performance review is flat-out inappropriate.
A New Horizon for Management
As we work to better our management skills, it’s worthwhile to review what people have tried in the past. Reviewing past fads teaches us valuable lessons about what does and doesn’t work. We can move forward and become better leaders because of what these people were brave enough to implement.
I am excited to see what the great minds of the next century come up with regarding leading and managing people. With the challenges of global teams, heightened technology, and even artificial intelligence, the possibilities seem endless. “Alexa, how productive was Bob yesterday?”
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