The other day I read an article that claimed it had been ‘proven’ that open plan offices were
productivity killers and that workers have greater output working from home. It went on to
say that like many other management fads, time had been called on open plan. Among the
other failed management fads listed was Six Sigma, where the handing out of different
coloured belts to workers was also ‘proven’ to be ineffective, divisive, and well… just another
fad. As a professional passionate about continuous improvement to drive productivity, I was
The article believed all new management ideas were bound to be discredited as fads at some
stage in the future, as if managers have nothing better to do than concoct hare-brained
practices to manipulate workers.
In popular culture, a fad is “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something”, like
Pokémon Go and crochet shorts for men. Management fads are short-lived concepts too and
pass without much impact.
So we should ban the F word: fads. Most so-called management fads are well thought
through concepts that are poorly understood and therefore poorly implemented, with only the
visual and obviously elements followed (“Give them different colour belts!”). Once we
understand the purpose we can apply the concept correctly, like creative and collaborative
problem solving supported by open plan offices and report writing and deep thinking by
working from home.
Any lean or continuous improvement concept misunderstood and applied wrong will
invariably fail, but that does not make the concept wrong. A tool-based approach, copying
what great firms do but not understanding why or how, will invariably fail. It’s like using a
flute as a straw!
So before you blindly follow the next management concept, ask yourself, are we doing this
with purpose? Do we understand what problem we are trying to solve, what change we are
trying to lead. Why and how this makes sense in the context of the work we do? Ban the F
word – work with purpose.