Management fad is a term used to characterize a change in philosophy or operations implemented by a business or institution.
The term is subjective and tends to be used in a pejorative sense, as it implies that such a change is being implemented (often by management on its employees, with little or no input from them) solely because it is (at the time) "popular" within managerial circles, and not necessarily due to any real need for organizational change. The term further implies that once the underlying philosophy is no longer "popular", it will be replaced by the newest "popular" idea, in the same manner and for the same reason as the previous idea.
Several authors have argued that new management ideas should be subject to greater critical analysis, and for the need for greater conceptual awareness of new ideas by managers. Authors Leonard J. Ponzi and Michael Koenig believe that a key determinant of whether any management idea is a "management fad" is the number and timing of published articles on the idea. In their research, Ponzi and Koenig argue that once an idea has been discussed for around 3–5 years, if after this time the number of articles on the idea in a given year decreases significantly (similar to the right-hand side of a bell curve), then the idea is most likely a "management fad".
Management fads are often characterized by the following:
- New jargon for existing business processes.
- External consultants who specialize in the implementation of the fad.
- A certification or appraisal process performed by an external agency for a fee.
- Amending the job titles of existing employees to include references to the fad.
- Claims of a measurable business improvement via measurement of a metric (e.g. key performance indicator) that is defined by the fad itself.
- An internal sponsoring department or individual that gains influence due to the fad's implementation.
- Big words and complex phrases (puffery).
Consultants and even academics have developed new management ideas. Journalists may popularize new concepts.
Like other fashions, trends in management thought may grow, decline, and recur. Judy Wajcman sees the human relations movement of the 1930s as a precursor of the later fashion of "transformational management".
The following management theories and practices appeared on a 2004 list of management fashions and fads compiled by Adrian Furnham, who arranged them in rough chronological order by their date of appearance, 1950s to 1990s:
- Management by objectives
- Matrix management
- Theory Z
- One-minute management
- Management by wandering around
- Total quality management
- Business process reengineering
- 360-degree feedback
Other theories and practices which observers have tagged as fads include:
- ISO 9000
- Six Sigma
- the tendency to replace every occurrence of "data" in compound managerial terminology with "information", see e.g. information integration vs. data integration
- Knowledge management
- Design thinking
- Lean six sigma
- Transformational leadership
- Agile software development
- Enterprise architecture frameworks
- "thriving on chaos"
- Open-plan offices 
- Stack ranking, where employees are encouraged to rat each other out in order to secure their own advancement and budget
- Consensus management
- Best practice
- The Tao of Leadership
- Philosophy of business
- Organizational performance
- Management consulting: Criticism section
- Hype cycle
- Business fable
- Christensen, Clayton M. and Michael E. Raynor, "Why Hard-Nosed Executives Should Care About Management Theory," Harvard Business Review, Vol. 81, No. 9, Sept. 2003, pp. 66-74.
- Ponzi, Leonard J. and Michael Koenig, "Knowledge Management: Another Management Fad?," Information Research, Vol. 8, No. 1, Oct. 2002, paper no. 145.
Clegg, Stewart; Bailey, James Russell, eds. (2008). International Encyclopedia of Organization Studies. Sage eReference. 1. Los Angeles: SAGE. ISBN 9781412915151. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
Business journalists [...] participate in the creation of management fads and fashions, and provide platforms or sounding boards for the teachings [...].
Wajcman, Judy (3 May 2013). Managing Like a Man: Women and Men in Corporate Management. John Wiley & Sons (published 2013). p. 1915. ISBN 9780745668963. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
[...] participatory involvement was seen as the key characteristic of management during the Human Relations movement of the 1930s and 1940s. Even so, this precursor of the current fashion for 'transformational management' was entirely identified as a male leadership style.
- Furnham, Adrian, Management and Myths: Challenging Business Fads, Fallacies and Fashions, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, U.K., 2004, p. 17.
Levi, Daniel (28 April 2010). "Understanding Teams". Group Dynamics for Teams (3 ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE (published 2010). p. 11. ISBN 9781412977623. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
Teamwork has become a management fad with its own set of problems.
- The 8 Stupidest Management Fads of All Time, CBS Money
- "Wilson, T.D., "The Nonsense of 'Knowledge Management'," Information Research, Vol. 8, No. 1, Oct. 2002, paper no. 144". Archived from the original on 2017-12-26. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
Kneuper, Ralf (24 August 2018). "Selected Current Trends in Software Processes". Software Processes and Life Cycle Models: An Introduction to Modelling, Using and Managing Agile, Plan-Driven and Hybrid Processes. Switzerland: Springer (published 2018). p. 322. ISBN 9783319988450. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
While there are some that would want to use DevOps for all types of products, applications, and organisations, others see DevOps as the latest fad that may work for small start-ups but not for any 'real' work.
Bratton, John, ed. (10 February 2020). Organizational Leadership. SAGE (published 2020). ISBN 9781529715460. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
Arguably, it was a mistake for the public sector to try to ape the transformational leadership fad that dominated some private companies.
- Agile software development#Criticism
- "Enterprise Architecture Frameworks: The Fad of the Century", Svyatoslav Kotusev, British Computer Society (BCS), July 2016
- "A Comparison of the Top Four Enterprise Architecture Frameworks", Svyatoslav Kotusev, British Computer Society (BCS), July 2021
- Kotusev, Svyatoslav (2018) The Practice of Enterprise Architecture: A Modern Approach to Business and IT Alignment. Melbourne, Australia: SK Publishing.
Furnham, Adrian (29 October 2012). "Early adopters". The Engaging Manager: The Joy of Management and Being Managed. Springer (published 2012). p. 70. ISBN 9781137273864. Retrieved 2016-09-17.
The catchphrases alone are enough to bring flooding into the memory some of the numerous time-and-money-wasting initiatives that went nowhere. Remember 'empowerment,' now replaced by 'engagement'? Remember 'thriving on chaos' and 'upside-down organizations'? [...] The change-ophile, wannabe consultant or desperate manager often embrace every new fad around.
- James, Geoffrey (2018-07-16). "It's Official: Open-Plan Offices Are Now the Dumbest Management Fad of All Time". Inc.com. Retrieved 2019-04-10.
- James, Geoffrey (2013-05-10). "World's Worst Management Fads". Inc.com. Retrieved 2019-04-10.
Cole, Mark; Higgins, John (15 August 2021). Leadership Unravelled: The Faulty Thinking Behind Modern Management. Routledge (published 2021). ISBN 9781000406849. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
[...] yet another management fad in the style of the Tao of Leadership [...]
- Crainer, Stuart and Des Dearlove, “Whatever Happened to Yesterday's Bright Ideas?,” Across the Board, Vol. 43, No. 3, May/June 2006, pp. 34–40.
- Malone, Michael S., “A Way Too Short History of Fads,” Forbes, Vol. 159, No. 7, April 7, 1997 (ASAP supplement).
- Paul, Annie Murphy, “I Feel Your Pain,” Forbes, Vol. 174, No. 13, Dec. 27, 2004, p. 38.
- Strang, David and Michael W. Macy, "In Search of Excellence: Fads, Success Stories, and Adaptive Emulation," American Journal of Sociology, July 2001, Vol. 107, No. 1, pp. 147–182.
- Ken Hakuta (1988). How to Create Your Own Fad and Make a Million Dollars. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0-688-07601-6.
- David V. Collins (2000). Management Fads and Buzzwords: Critical-Practical Perspectives. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-20640-2.
For a critique of the practice of branding new management ideas as fads, see
- Collins, David, "The Branding of Management Knowledge: Rethinking Management 'Fads’," Journal of Organizational Change Management, 2003, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 186-204.
- Collins, David, "The Fad Motif in Management Scholarship," Employee Relations, Vol. 23, No. 1, Feb. 2001, pp. 26–37.
For a listicle see:
- The 8 Stupidest Management Fads of All Time, CBS Money