February 4, 2000

On Managing

“I Borrowed the Shoes, But the Holes Are Mine”: Management Fads, Trends and What’s Next?

What management “fads” spring to mind? How much of your personal list of notable management theories, fads and trends duplicates mine? I have had first hand experience with most of these, from fearlessly co-authoring, in my youth, Library Systems Analysis Guidelines (1968) to spear-heading (not quite so fearlessly) the team-based TQM  initiative at the Duke University Library in the mid 90s.  

“Fad” Formulas   

Bureaucracy, Scientific Management (Taylorism), Total Systems Analysis, and  Zero Base Budgeting (ZBB).
Management by Objectives (MBO), Strategic Planning,
and One-Minute Managing.
Situational Leadership, Teamwork, Participatory Management, Empowerment
and Coaching.
Future Search, Continuous Improvement (CI) and Total Quality Management (TQM).
Re-engineering, Pay for Performance, and Scenario Planning

“Fad” Philosophies  

Ranganathanism, Theories  X and Y, and  Zero Defects (ZD)
The Pursuit of Excellence
and The S-shaped Curve
Customer Service, Lean and Mean
or Fat and Mean, Downsizing and Rightsizing.
Core Values, Dilbertism, and Self-organizing Systems

These two lists present the best and the worst of contemporary management practices. I’ve tried to arrange them chronologically. That’s not easy since few are ever totally discredited, most stage a comeback, sometimes in disguise. Others merge or fade away, their paraphernalia relegated to quick-sale counters in office supply stores. Some are purely prescriptive, telling us what to do, like ZBB. Others are all about attitude and style - how do to it, like Core Values.  A few strive to be both, like TQM.

I suppose a first question is,  Why such a multitude?

To quote Frederick Taylor: “The principal object of mgt. should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee.”

Or, according to Douglas McGregor: “Management is responsible for organizing elements of productive enterprise – money, materials, equipment, people – in the interests of economic ends”.

Managers are indeed expected to organize people to get the most work done at the lowest cost and to make a “profit”. Optimizing the current operation is full time work for most managers, including those working in libraries.  Looking for ways and means to do a better job, to make the organization’s dollar go further, makes good sense. And, the pervasive dissatisfaction with the bureaucratic model, our “longest running fad”, also spurs our scanning the horizon.


The Managerial Continuum chart is one way of looking at organizations(1). I use it here to suggest the major components that are often targeted for change.  Where would you locate your current organization between each “extreme” for the major functions? For example, is your organization’s funding model closer to the roll forward (incremental) variety or closer to the highly fungible and fluid version? Is it where you think it should be? If not, how will you move it?

(Note to editor: have a broken line, of equal length, between each line’s “extremes”, for example:

Org structure: Rigid _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Flexible,

so that this becomes a chart on which the reader can “rank” himself. Thanks. Au.)

The Managerial Continuum: Where Are You?

Management System (decision making):

              hierarchical…………staff empowered
Organizational structure:      rigid…………flexible
Information flow:                    limited (filtered)………organization wide

Work environment:                individual centered        
                                                (supervisor : worker) …………team based

Work process:                       procedure -based    
                                                (“By the book”)…………improvement oriented
Response to stimuli: defensive…………open
Budget  model:                      incremental…………fluid, fungible.

Douglas McGregor gives us a useful framework in which to locate the various management formulas (2). His Theories X & Y fit on an axis along of values and beliefs shared by leaders about work and workers.

I’ve given the “Management Inquiry”, a self-test for X and Y, to hundreds of workshop participants. The results show that library managers are distributed all along the X & Y axis but, that most  will show a preference for one style more than the other. We will be more X than Y or more Y than X.

Theory X advocates believe the worker:
invariably resists change.
inherently dislikes work; 
is indolent by nature,
must be coerced, controlled, and directed in every move
wants to be led, has no ambition, and, desires above all, security.

Therefore, the manager must:
Motivate the worker
Lay out rigid job responsibilities
Mandate objectives (employee input is invariably suspect)
Reward those who stay inside the system and punish deviants

Lest you think this produces the-boss-from-hell, think again. Even benign bureaucracies , like libraries, are structurally more X than Y. Like scientific management, theory X has gotten a not totally deserved bad name – all of us can envision work conditions where the “take charge” boss is best.

At the other end of the scale, a theory Y manager believes her role is to make it possible for people to recognize and develop to their fullest extent the commonly shared attributes that most workers bring  to the job.  

Theory Y advocates believe that workers:
are not by nature passive or resistant to organizational needs.
like to work, just as they like to play.
learn not only to accept but seek responsibility
are under-employed
have  potential for development 

Theory Y need not be a permissive approach – the inmates do not get to run the asylum; rather theory Y environments often have high standards, excellent feedback and high expectations, along with high risk  and error tolerance.

Taylorism (or scientific management) is said to be the most theory X , but in reality, it is less so than we’ve been led to believe. Certainly, Taylor believed workers “soldier” (his term for a person’s shirking work), but he was convinced that managers aggravated, even caused,  the problem through ignorance of and a lack of attention to what the worker was doing (3). To quote him:

“…Those in the management… should also guide and help the workman in working under (scientific management), and should assume a much larger share of the responsibility for results …

…This close, intimate, personal cooperation between the management and the men is of the essence of modern scientific or task management.” (emphasis added).

Why Does a Perfectly Good Idea Become a Fad?

Understandably there are many reasons why all but the most superficial change efforts come up short. 

These are the knock-out reasons:
un-informed leadership,
staff and management suspicion of motives,
resistance based on previous change efforts that went nowhere,
a leader’s failure to practice in the executive suite what she preaches outside of it, and
unclear goals, roles and expectations.

In my experience, managers, consultants and the organization’s leadership grossly underestimate the necessary time, resources, and commitment for an organizational change.

To illustrate: My current organizational research is with a women’s sports team. Over the last several months, I’ve discovered new meanings about “teamwork” and what it takes for a team to achieve ambitious goals. And, I’ve gained insights into what coaching is about.

Here are some of  the factors that contribute to team development and performance. All require involvement  by “management”  (4 coaches) and an intense commitment to working together by all 13 players:

Clarity of individual and group roles.  The coach meets with individual players and then with the team at large to clarify individual roles and to help players understand the rationale for their role.

Team goals are set by players. Players express personal and team goals; then the team decides the team goal for the season.

Communication and feedback is immediate, frequent, explicit and specific.

The feedback is balanced and respectful - for every criticism of a bad play, three or four positive comments will be made by the coach and other players.

”If the coach is doing her job, she has to yell at you”, was one player’s comment to me. These are highly skilled scholar/athletes who want to do well – they expect to be held accountable, share high expectations and demand intensity of each other in practice and in games. However, when there is yelling, it is about something within the player’s control, (e.g. playing below  one’s ability)

Confronting conflict is no easier in sports than in the library, but these players know they have to work on conflict avoidance:

“We’re a true team in all we do. We just need to make sure that everyone feels like they can approach anyone on the team so the two of them can deal with whatever problem that may arise.” - player

Extensive time is spent by coaches with players in working one on one and in groups. The camaraderie and fun are palpable.  Everyone comes early to practice (work!). And players, when not in class or practice, spend a majority of their time with each other. They hang out together. The resulting

friendships, the coaches tell me, will last long after the end of their college careers.  

Team activities and customs promote individual and team development:

Each player and coach gives a brief talk on a team word, e.g. “respect”.
A player and a coach co-present scouting reports on other teams.
Players outline a play  – the player becomes the coach.
Team captains (there are three) counsel other players
Every player has a “buddy”.
Huddles, with or without coaches, during games and practice serve ceremonial and bonding purposes.
Touching, (high-fives, hugs, handshakes) is common among players, coaches and even the student assistant staff.

The women’s team investment into becoming a team far exceeds what we are able (or willing) to do in integrating teams at work. The preparation:work ratio on the sports team is inverse to that same ratio for work teams.  

Not surprisingly, after a week-end long team-building workshop, we may well be disappointed on Monday with what we get:  “I’m all for teams, as long as I get to be captain!” – Unit Head 

What’s Next?

Work systems will be more participatory than hierarchical. The Internet has freed up communication systems inside and outside work. Downsizing and re-engineering have made it clear that job loyalty is an out-of-date concept. The challenge then becomes how to retain the best people, when many of the structures and supports for doing that are no longer present. The best people will move from project to project and expect far higher levels of freedom.

Having said that, we have a ways to go yet.

While walking last Fall in New York’s garment district I came across a  store front work shop straight out of  the 1920s: Behind the plate glass, I could see a roomful of sewing machines lined up on tables in assembly line order. I’d estimate a maximum of 9 square feet of space for each worker.

Later that day, I was in a high tech Internet design firm near New York University. Not one of the several dozen staff was over 30 years of age. There was a bottomless coffee pot and “free lunch”. Still, I was surprised to see that the workspace for the designers was identical to that in the garment district store front - instead of sewing machines the designers operated lap tops!


My purpose in writing this essay is at least three-fold. One is the value of reflecting on how we have been working during the past several decades – to take the time to recognize that many of the “fads”  are in fact based on sound and humanistic ideas.  

A second purpose is to explore the reasons for failure so that we can better understand what a new way of doing things will require.

And thirdly, it is to prompt the reader to think about their own ideas about the workplace. Consider this: If you could design the ideal organization for a library, what would it  be? Would it resemble the prevalent Prussian bureaucracy model or would it be something more collegial.

Personally, my hope remains undiminished that most of us prefer the latter. I am encouraged about the collaborative model because collaboration is increasingly becoming an accepted part of our culture, schools and work places – we seek win/win results, more openness, greater trust, and less competition. The wider the acceptance and understanding of collaboration at large the easier it will be to apply it in the workplace. The lessons learned from the mistakes made by early implementers will not be wasted; rather they will help produce a hardier and more versatile strain, one that will thrive and flourish.


1.  The Managerial Continuum chart is a somewhat modified version of one developed by Jerry Campbell during the early 1990s at Duke University.

2.  Douglas McGregor, The Human Side of Enterprise, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960)

3.  Frederick  Winslow Taylor,  The Principles of Scientific Management,(New York: Harper, 1919)