Don't look for the growth of management fashions to abate soon. The forces of rapid change, competition and ambition that have increased the number and reduced the life spans of management fads for decades are still in place. However, the nature of this moment, emerging from a downturn following a historic expansion, suggests that the next set of management trends will conform to a certain shape.
Management of innovation will be one major trend, according to Steve Ellis, a director of Bain & Co. and head of the consulting company's San Francisco office. With capital tighter and tougher standards for justifying growth forecasts, entrepreneurs need better, fresher ideas for products and services than ever. That's a challenge. "A lot of companies are going through a crisis of confidence in their ability to be innovative," Ellis says. "That's going to be a focus going forward."
After many years of increasing investment in technology for managing businesses, Ellis now sees a trend toward management investing in people to enable and encourage them to use all those billions of dollars' worth of computers, broadband data connections and software. "People haven't moved nearly as fast as the technology," he says. "Management is now wrestling with the reality of what information technology can really do to increase organization effectiveness. In conversations with CEOs, this is a major topic."
A third emphasis, Ellis says, will be on interacting with customers. Much technology has been introduced recently-Web-based ordering, for example, where a customer never talks to a person. Customer relationship management systems, online auctions, Internet comparison shopping and electronic procurement also serve to erode loyalty and separate sellers from buyers by a wall of electronics. Now companies are threatened with losing human touch with their customers. Says Ellis, "All the change that's going on is as much a threat as an opportunity."