Go Forth & Multiply

Styles of the Times

In addition to being shorter-lived and more numerous, many of today's management trends revolve around three overriding themes: reengineering business processes, managing knowledge and learning, and facing the changing dynamic between management and employees.

Starting in 1993, thousands of firms experienced massive change as processes from purchasing to customer service were reengineered and made more efficient. Knowledge management and the learning organization, concepts championed by General Electric CEO Jack Welch and others, encouraged companies to ensure they were open to new ideas and to put systems in place to capture and share valuable knowledge with everyone who could use it. The manager-employer relationship was affected by several phenomena: reengineering-inspired downsizing, worker empowerment and a historically tight labor market. Perhaps most important was a growing sense among employees that their own skills and employability were more important than loyalty to an organization.

To Jack Duncan, a management professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and author of Management: Ideas and Actions (Oxford University Press), the change in employee relations is perhaps most significant. "The whole idea of the employee has been radically altered in the last five years," Duncan says. Concurrent rises in free agency, telecommuting and collaboration among employees have drastically changed the way people have to be managed, Duncan says. "It's more of a networked or virtual organization than a hierarchical organization."

WHO YOU CALLING A TREND?

10 MOVEMENTS WITHSTANDING THE TEST OF TIME

1. Balanced scorecard: As the Enron fiasco has proved, it's good to grade your company on more than financial success.
2. Benchmarking: Keep up with the best in your field, or get left behind.
3. Continuous improvement: Almost nothing is more powerful than steadily getting a little bit better over a long period of time.
4. Core competencies: For small companies especially, the importance of knowing what you're good at, and focusing on it, is paramount.
5. Customer relationship management: Customers, and your relationships with them, are what it's all about.
6. Learning organizations: Knowledge is increasingly the most important asset, and it's hard to overestimate the value in constantly gaining more of it.
7. Mass customization: Information and manufacturing technology meet here in an effort to give every customer exactly what he or she wants.
8. Mission and vision statements: Some may sneer, but they're among the most popular and long-lived management tools around.
9. Reengineering: The 1990s were the reengineering decade, but we'll benefit from improving business processes for years to come.
10. Total quality management: Over two decades, TQM has led to a turnaround in the way businesses regard quality and the attempt to achieve it.

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This article was originally published in the May 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Go Forth & Multiply.

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