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We're lost, but we're making great time.


Almost 20 years ago, Fred Luthans wrote an article suggesting that we were lost in a management jungle and had, in fact, been lost for over a decade. He reviewed Harold Koontz's work that described six schools of management thought, all of which were competing for the honor of being selected as the "best way out."

I suggest that we are still lost. While many trails have been blazed, while many road maps have been published, none of them have been the path that we are so desperately seeking. Interestingly enough, accurate sign posts were put up in 1916 by Henri Fayol when he described the management process in a very straight forward manner: to plan, organize, coordinate, direct and control. Since those signs went up we have managed to rewrite them, to add to them, to reposition them, and in some cases to ignore them; but nothing has worked, we cannot find the right road. What's wrong? Is there no way out? Surely, Total Quality Management (TQM) is the right way, or leadership is the right path, perhaps the next management craze will be the real way out. Our past efforts can be summed up by a very popular axiom: "When you don't know where you are going any path will get you there."

How many roads?

Koontz's work dealt with six different approaches to management: the mathematical, decision theory, social, human behavior, empirical and management process schools of thought. Each had its own approach to solving the management problems that we were facing, yet none of them seemed to work. In the early 1960s, "management theorists" plotted two new paths, each claiming to be the right way. The quantitative school relied on mathematical models, operations research, and began to think about simulation. Good business decisions, based on hard, factual data, would indeed blaze the trail. The other fork in the road became known as the behavioral school and it relied on human relations, teamwork, and a refinement of the management process to mark the way. At this junction an interesting phenomenon began to emerge. These were not new paths, we were plowing old ground. All we did was rename the paths that had already been declared dead ends. Predictably, these paths led us nowhere.

A new path was suggested, it was named the contingency or situational approach to management. Some very wise guides suggested that no one path was going to lead us out of the jungle. They suggested that different situations, various roadblocks, would demand that managers be prepared to use one management approach and then another; they said the path out of the jungle would twist and turn, double back and that the walk would be long and hard.

Unfortunately we tired of this approach; we wanted an easy answer, a short cut. Perhaps this inability to stay the course, this desire for a quick fix, should have been a warning that selecting yet another path was not going to be the answer. But we pressed ahead. Koontz concluded by suggesting that all that was left to do was find a "contingency" approach that would fit all occasions.

The next trail that we picked up was Management by Objectives (MBO). Books were written, consultants crisscrossed the country, managers were asked to define the company's major objectives; they were asked to determine "what was their business" - the very same questions Peter Drucker asked in his book Management several years earlier. The MBO keys to success included worker involvement and one on one meetings between supervisors and subordinates so everyone would understand the company's goals and objectives. Action plans were developed; people, not organizations; were put in charge of those plans and periodic reviews of the plans were scheduled. This revolutionary approach to business asked organizations to plan where they were going, to determine who had the taskings, to ensure people interacted, to direct action and to control the process. Surely this new approach would lead us out of the jungle.

But wait, we were traveling in circles, and a new path was discovered. This path was marked by MBAs.

MBA courses sprang up overnight. We discovered that decision-makers needed hard, cold facts. Cost/benefit ratios would lead to the right decision; decisions could be made mathematically; the quantitative school was making a come back. At the same time, several secondary roads joined the main highway. Strategic planning was taught, organizations were asked to define their businesses, to establish what they wanted to do, to determine objectives. However, we discovered we had traveled this road once before and we soon tired of this approach. Some began to blame the MBAs for our poor showing in the international business environment. People said this road ignored people; it did not include them in the decision process. Management got a bad name.

We had arrived at a very important fork in the road. We discovered that we had failed to find a way out of the jungle because we lacked leadership. The managers were no longer path finders, we needed leaders. Books were written, consultants were hired, schools changed their programs, managers were out and we even learned the leadership style of Attila the Hun. We knew that leaders would decide what the organization needed to do, that they would plan ahead, and that they would lead us out of the jungle. But even this approach is losing its following.

Although we have not completly abandoned the leadership path, a new path was needed. Total Quality Management (TQM) was discovered. Books have been written, consultants have flocked to the concept, companies have reorganized; at last the true path out of the jungle has been found. How could we have been so misguided? All we have to do is follow TQM. New road signs have been put up and they read:

* A long-term perspective must be developed.

* Participation from all levels of the organization is needed.

* A system approach is required.

* Finally, we need upper level commitment and leadership.

Concurrent with TQM's phenomenal rise in popularity, another "management" tool is making a comeback. The Deming Approach, reportedly the key to many of Japan's successes, is hailed as the answer; its premise: statistical quality control.

I give up, we have gone full circle, we have discovered "POC DC" (planning, organizing, coordinating, directing and controlling). Please do not misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that these techniques, concepts, models, schools, paths are wrong. Quite the contrary, as an industrial engineer, I have grown up with these concepts. Quality control was a cornerstone of my education. I taught MBO. I applaud planning. What bothers me is our preoccupation with rediscovering, renaming and repackaging the same concepts. Each and every one of the paths, no matter what they say, are all based on the same principles, they all say the same thing. We love to remarket things, but there is nothing new.

So where are we? Are we still lost? If all we have done is repackage the same concepts, how do we find our way out? The path is well marked and it can lead us out but we refuse to take it. We say we are following the road signs, we say we are committed to the principles of TQM, we say we have plotted the right course, but we have never really looked beyond the next curve in the road.

We are not looking for a way out of the jungle; we are only worried about where we will sleep tonight. Our short-term mind set and our preoccupation with tomorrow (maybe next year but never five years from now) has been the cause of our downfall. All the commitment in the world will not help if we are committed to the wrong objectives.

Short-term approach

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study, conducted by 16 of its leading scientists, engineers, and economists and recently published as a book called Made in America - Regaining the Productive Edge, concluded that American firms set high goals for quick return on investments primarily because of the importance attached to short-term results. The study continues: "Our insatiable demand for immediate profits forbids our making investments or fighting battles that realize some years to produce those profits...we cannot fix things by simply trying harder to do the same things that failed to work in the past."

I would suggest repackaging or renaming doesn't work either.

An example of this short-term approach can be found everywhere, not just in business. It has become an art form in politics as decisions are made to insure reelection, not for the long term good. Our decaying infrastructure is a testimony to the practice of putting off maintenance because it does not add to the short term bottom line. Decisions are made to paint over a problem, not repair it, because "success" is based on today's performance. We are destined to make great time with each new "management" fad but we will remain lost. We refuse to address the real issue. Facing that issue is tough because it requires a real change in the way we approach business. We will have to measure success over the long-run. We will have to accept short-term setbacks. Political futures will have to be set aside for the common good and we will have to get serious about paying our own way instead of pushing the bill to the next generation.

Will we do it? I fear not. New paths, leading to the same starting point, are waiting to be discovered. We can say we have found the right path and we rearrange the road signs, but as long as we reach for short-term success we will remain lost. We continue to make great time. Too bad we are not heading in the right direction.

Jack T. Baker, PE, a senior member of IIE, earned a B.A. and an M.A. in IE from Ohio State and an MBA from Wright State University in Ohio. He has been actively involved in facilities engineering and management for over 20 years.
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Title Annotation:an evaluation of total quality management
Author:Baker, Jack T.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Previous Article:Strategic planning, company beliefs and applied IE.
Next Article:The use of scenario-based planning for management executives.

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