Chasing the shiny new things
Last week in a tweet I mentioned fad-surfing and some of my followers were not aware of this and requested an article – so here it is! Fad surfers are the management or leadership equivalent of the magpie, they love collecting shiny new things from other people. A management or leadership style where there is a lot of sizzle but little substance
What is “fad surfing”?
In simple terms
Adopting one fashionable management style or strategy after another.
The term was first brought into print in 1993 in an article by T. George Harris called “Fad-Surfers, Risk-Dodgers, and Beloved Companies,” in the Harvard Business Review. Harris quoted Eileen C. Shapiro as saying “Too many consultants and clients end up fad-surfing together rather than working on the real problems…”. Subsequently Shapiro went on to publish the book “Fad surfing in the board room” in 1995.
To me fad-surfing is one of the worst traits of a leader, manager or consultant. It is one where management jumps on to the latest bandwagon of ideas, thoughts and concepts to initiate change. It has become commonplace, although the term “fad-surfing” has been conveniently forgotten. Fad-surfing is going from idea to idea because the previous concept has not delivered what was expected, as fast as was expected. Much like this change model:
Where there is pressure for change >>> Implement initiative >>> Results fall below expectations >>> A new “fad” is sort to resolve the under-performance >>> leads to more work…. and the cycle continues.
Some of the historical management fads have included:
- Flat organizational cultures
- Matrix management
- Open environments
- Open door policies
- Customer focus
- Upside-down pyramid
- Six sigma
- One minute manager
- Situational leadership
- Helicopter view
- Blue-sky thinking
- Learning organizations
- Participative management
- Reality check
- 360 feedback
- Value proposition
Well you get the idea! And its not just business that we have fad surfers – Bottled water, food/ cooking, TV producers, fashion, automotive, building design, software, social networking… etc.
Shapiro defines fad-surfing (n) as: the practice of riding the crest of the latest management panacea and then paddling out again just in time to ride the next one; always absorbing for managers and lucrative for consultants and frequently disastrous for organizations.
Leaders which have their own goals and vision may well seek out a model, theory of approach to support the implementation of their idea, however they do not attempt to implement a strategy because they read about it in their preferred journal or heard an idea at a conference. Riding an idea is not in itself a bad thing – it is what we do next that counts. Implementing a culture change or management style can take many months or years to embed properly. As the saying goes practice makes permanent – so practice right!
We know from cognitive studies that habits take time to learn and unlearn. the same is true when implementing a new idea or concept. It is not just a simple logical change. We want people to change and adapt their behaviours, often physical and mental habits. For that we need to give people the tools and the time.
To change a habit
To change habits at an individual level according to Professor Ian Newby-Clark there are five things that we each need to individually do:
Work on One Habit at a Time. If you work on changing more than one habit at a time you run a serious risk of overwhelming yourself and changing no habits at all.
Create a Plan and Write it Down.
Refine Your Plan. Now you need to refine your plan.
Make SMART Mini-Plans.
Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!
This of course is on the assumption that we want to change – this is not always the case when the organization insists on a change!
Change your habit in 21 days…
Well maybe not… There is an often repeated statistic that you can change your habits in 21 days, Oliver Burkeman wrote recently about: How long does it really take to change a habit? In addition according to a recent study, a daily action like eating healthily or running for regularly took an average of 66 days to become as much of a habit as it would ever become.
Just how long it takes to change a habit has so many variables that it is difficult to say with any precision, we are after all human and there are 3 important things to remember about employees and managers:
- People are different
- People are different
- People are different
What we do know is that for people to change, they need to understand and buy-in at an emotional level to the changes being imposed.
Back to fad-surfing – as a habit is is not productive, but does buy a few years for a leader before they are eventually “found out”.
Much better to have a vision, communicate it, stick with it (providing the evidence keeps saying its the right thing to do), repeat, repeat, repeat, and practice, practice, practice. It is consistency that always rules the day.
The only panacea for effective leadership is consistent hard work and a clear vision…
Article Written in December 2009 – reviewed Nov 2014