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Good Management In Bad Times

November 25, 2009

Have you ever noticed that there is a predictable interval between the proclamation of new and innovative management practices and the onset of hard times. The continuing stream of bad news out of Silicon Valley, Peoples Express Airlines and other recent star business, reminds me that it wasn’t too very long ago that I was reading how the management practices in these very businesses would shape our futures.

If you have the right product and the right price at the right time you can commit a multitude of sins. If you commit those sins with enough fanfare, you can be considered a genius until your timing gets bad. When all is going well, it is not to difficult to attribute your success to innovative management. When the hard times come, good management shines through.

My experience is that good management hasn’t changed a lot over the years. Our problem in America seems to be that we are constantly seeking a new fad or solution that will short cut the process. We quickly christen new leaders as business gurus before their ideas have withstood the test of time.

Friday beer blasts, titleless organizations, no secretaries and on and on might appear to be contributing to success as stock prices soar and bonus checks are cashed, but the onset of hard times have taken a greater toll on many of the more innovative company’s of today.

The quick adoption of new management fads is a weakness that has been with us for sometime. It wasn’t too many years ago that Management by Objectives took the business world by storm. A great idea on the surface. Sit down together, management and employees, set out all the things that needed to be accomplished, who was responsible, how they would be evaluated and establish the rewards. A new manager’s dream. Sit back and watch it all happen as planned. What happened when things changed? Whatever did happen to all those MBO programs that were set up several years ago?

Remember GANTT and PERT? The whole process of comlexifying project planning brings to mind the exercise of making a journey by traveling half of the remaining distance on each successive step. While the planning becomes more detailed and the end comes nearer, it becomes logically impossible to complete the task.

The Gantt chart had much to offer. However, as management became enamored with the procedure and statisticians took charge, the process often consumed more energy than the project. Those of us who have been on the wrong end of a Pert chart can recall our admiration for this foolproof process. In the final analysis, there was no quick fix.

It wasn’t too many years ago that the business world moved full swing into ” zero-based budgeting”. The government had made the term popular and it seemed like a good idea. Every year we were to justify all our expenditures. Even if we had done it in previous years, something might have changed in the interim that we weren’t vigilant enough to adjust for. The problem was that the process took so long for most companies, big and small, that the budget became a costly item!

The quality circle phenomenon came upon us in a hurry. Enough people jumped on the band wagon that a national quality association sprung up to advise companies on how to permit their employees contribute to the production of quality products. Did anyone ever really think that the well run companies hadn’t been doing that all along? The advent of faddish and artificial employee groups would do little to help the business that hadn’t already made a long term and consistent commitment to quality.

Take a look at your business and see if you haven’t got any of the remnants of yesterday’s fads cluttering the landscape. There removal will reduce paperwork and free up time that can be directed at the basics.

Well thought out plans, careful execution, good measurements and standards, simple and effective controls and compassionate human relations have proved to be a winning formula that has withstood the test of time. Because it’s your business, stick with the winning formula and watch the management gurus rise and fall, the new fads come and go.

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