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"Just do it," trumpets Nike's advertising. To the vast majority of managers, management is about action rather than ideas. They are motivated by the sense of achievement when they raise profits, successfully introduce new products into the marketplace, record a sale or bring in a new customer. Their language is direct, snappy, and peppered with talk of the bottom line. To them management is not a passive, studious, desk-based art, but something which is immediate and active. Management lives in the here and now.
Theory is what MBA students amass at business schools. The MBA covers ideals and dry case studies which invariably lack the direct immediacy of real management. It is theory without substance. It is one thing obtaining an MBA but, it is argued, quite another to convert what you have learned about a concept, such as strategic management, into constant practice across an organization.
The managers are right. Management is active, not theoretical. It is about changing behavior and making things happen. It is about developing people, working with them, reaching objectives and achieving results. Indeed, all the research into how managers spend their time reveals that they are creatures of the moment, perpetually immersed in the nitty-gritty of making things happen.
But, management is nothing without ideas.
"Nothing is so practical as a good theory," psychologist Kurt Lewin noted. Ideas drive management as surely as the immediate problems which land on managers' desks or which arrive via their e-mail. Decisions have to be based on ideas, as well as instinct. Without ideas managers flit desperately from crisis to crisis. They cannotknow where they are going, why they are doing something or what they will achieve, without the vital fuel of ideas.
This observation of the economist Keynes holds true for management: "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."
Ideas count. Look at the post-war resurgence of Japanese industry. Its growth was based on the precept of quality - this was largely based on the ideas and research of two Americans, W Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran. While the duo were listened to in Japan their ideas were all but ignored in the West until the 1980s. By then it was almost too late. The Japanese converted theory into practice and became a huge industrial power thanks, in part, to their highly effective implementation of the ideas of Deming and Juran.
The Japanese have a tradition of revering ideas and being able to translate them into dynamic practice. Early management thinkers, such as Frederick Taylor and Mary Parker Follett, were widely acknowledged in Japan while receiving only tepid reactions in their home country. In contrast, ideas in the West tend to be seen as distractions and are categorized as instant solutions or as simply impractical. There is often an unwillingness to try to understand or to try and make them work. The requirements of the moment take precedence in a world beset by ever-increasing demands on time, energy and money.
Paradoxically, though managers appear to be bogged down in the minutiae of the moment, they are hungry for ideas, new perspectives and fresh approaches. Management books sell in their millions Managers want to know and learn more. The problem is that they simply don't have the time. Research by the Management Training Partnership found that three quarters of personnel directors buy at least four management books a year. However, only one in five is actually read.i
Beyond the quest for one best way
That management books tend to be decorative is not the only problem. The key ideas which have shaped and continue to drive management are often regarded as inflexible. They concentrate on the "one right way" to carry out a task or achieve an objective. In reality, managers know that it is unlikely that one particular approach will solve all their problems. Reengineering, the latest in a long line of corporate saviors, was the idea of the early 1990s. It has since become a buried among the detritus of ideas past their use-by-date.
Ideas count, but they are not off-the-peg solutions. No matter what aconsultants might suggest, there is no panacea. Faced with a crisis, a manager cannot reach across for the file on "How to implement strategy" and hope for instant results. Achieving success involves a multitude of ideas, approaches and skills. The trouble is that managers appear addicted to the idea of the quick fix. There is still an air of desperation in the way that managers cling to new ideas. Fads and fashions emerge in a fanfare of superlatives only to disappear almost as quickly.
The learning organization was another of the fads of the 1990s. Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline led the way. An international bestseller, it propelled the MIT professor to international renown. By was receiving a less enthusiastic response. "It's part of the fad cycle," he told the Financial Times. "People consume then a drop fads and ideas all the time and corporations are no different."
Ironically, blame for this obsession with the latest trend can be partly attributed to the professionalization of management. Once a management became regarded as a profession, it was assumed that there were a number of skills and ideas which needed to be mastered before someone could proclaim themselves a professional manager. The skills of management were regarded like a bag of golf clubs. When the occasion demanded a particular skill it was extracted from the bag and put to work. New skills could occasionally be added to the managerial bag of tricks when, and if, required.
Unfortunately, managerial life is no longer so straightforward. a Typically, work by the UK's Management Charter Initiative to identify standard competencies for all middle managers emerged withseveral hundred. Simplifying the complex is never easy. (And, when a they are simplified, competencies become meaninglessly generic.)
Despite this, the faddishness of managers continues as they seek a out new skills and new solutions to perennial problems. "It has become professionally legitimate in the United States to accept and utilize ideas without an in-depth grasp of their underlying a foundation, and without the commitment necessary to sustain them," observes Richard Pascale in Managing on the Edge.
The fad industry has emerged and the chief beneficiaries are a management consultants and business schools. The search for the secret of management has taken managers and organizations through bewildering loops and has spawned an entirely new vocabulary. Managers have embraced brainstorming as a useful tool; they have explored Douglas Macgregor's Theory X and Theory Y; a negotiated Blake and Mouton's "Managerial Grid"; been driven on by "Management by Objectives"; discovered strategic management through Igor Ansoff in the late 1960s; been converted by Tom Peters a and Robert Waterman's In Search of Excellence; and have, no doubt, also tried their hand with quality circles and various forms of Total Quality Management. And yet, there is no single best way to a manage - simply a rag-bag of shared experiences, short-lived best practice and high expectations.
It is not that these various ideas are poor concepts. Many do work, but they are not set in tablets of stone. They have to be flexible, and used when needed, rather than as all-encompassing a "solutions." "Management has always been beset by fads and fashions, gurus and demagogues. But never before has there been such a sheer volume of new approaches," says Edward Lawler of the Center for Effective Organizations. "This has led many managers to reach one of two incorrect conclusions: that the new approaches are all hype with no substance, or that a particular program is the answer. The reality is more complex and challenging."
Using this book
So, where does this leave managers? Often, the answer is confused and cynical. They have heard the fanfares so often that it is hardly surprising that their pulses don't race with excitement when they hear the next big idea.
Yet, they remain hungry for knowledge. This book aims to satisfy atheir hunger. It provides a potpourri of the ideas and the pioneerswho have shaped management and which affect the behavior,expectations and aspirations of managers every day of their amanagerial lives. The ideas are not quick fixes. But, if they are understood and applied at the right time in the right environment,they can help bridge the gap between theory and practice.The principal ideas covered in Key Management Ideas areorganized under eleven headings: The new world of management
- The new world of organizations
- The challenge of technology
- Creating and implementing strategy
- New ways of managing people
- Careers and working life
- The quality revolution
- Reinventing marketing
- Learning and development
- Global management.
The wide-ranging nature of modern management means that 3 managers need constantly to bring in concepts from among the plethora of leading edge ideas now at their disposal. This book aims to make these ideas more accessible, fitting them into place amid the pantheon of management pioneers and thinkers. For quick reference, the Glossary includes an A to Z of key management thinkers with details of their main ideas and publications.
The third edition of the book has been substantially updated. It a includes new sections on subjects including intellectual capital, lean production and the balanced scorecard. There are two entirely new chapters on The challenge of technology (Chapter 3) and Careers a and working life (Chapter 6). Future editions will ensure that Key Management Ideas remains as up-to-date and as practically useful as possible.
While th fundamental truth remains unchanged: management continues to represent a huge challenge to those who put it into practice every day throughout the world. This book will not lessen the challenge, but may help to make the trends, influences and people behind them, more intelligible. The acid test is action. Can managers translate the ideas in this book into activities and initiatives which change the way they do business? In the hyper-competitive business environment there is no choice. Concepts must be made to work To be the best, managers and their organizations must learn from the best.