As a business school professor who deals with top management thinkers and senior executives day-in and day-out, all I hear about these days is ‘we need to be more agile,’ ‘Agile is the new digital’ and other various praises of Agile management.
For those of us that have been in the world of business for a long time, once something gets this popular, it is healthy to be a little skeptical that the bubble might soon burst, and we’ll be on to the next new trend.
What makes something a fad?
A management fad is a collective belief, disseminated by trend setters, that a management technique will lead to progress. In the last 20 years, we have seen many fads ranging from business process engineering (BPR), balanced scorecards, knowledge management to ambidextrous organizations. While many of them have created buzz, they were often cyclical phenomena and reactions to external events. For example, in the 90s, business process engineering which focuses on rethinking and redesigning the way we work came about as a reaction to the economic crisis.
Agility seems to be THE hot topic in management right now, but it is also somewhat reactionary. New entrants and companies from emerging markets are arriving on the scene and challenging once dominant players. Tech sector companies are moving into all industries and increasing the speed at which traditional competitors need to respond.
Let’s look at a few statistics that illustrate these changes:
- A third of Fortune 500-companies in 1970 were gone by 1983. And many of those that were in the top-10 in 2015, didn’t even exist ten years before that.
- The “topple rate” at which big companies lose their leadership positions, has more than doubled, suggesting that “winners” have increasingly precarious positions.
- Product vitality rates, which measure the percentage of revenues coming from new products during a certain time – usually three years – are going up.
In addition, work priorities are changing. Companies are going from having employees with fixed employment contracts and life-long company affiliation to hiring a project-based, temporary work force. And digital challenges are diluting both the time and space of work engagements. Another important reason behind all the hype agility is getting is partly created and reinforced by those who stand to benefit the most from it – management consultants. Today, nearly every major consultancy firm has something to say about agility.