Academic journal article Irish Journal of Management

Have Total Quality Management, Business Process Re-Engineering and the Learning Organisation Been Replaced by Knowledge Management?

Academic journal article Irish Journal of Management

Have Total Quality Management, Business Process Re-Engineering and the Learning Organisation Been Replaced by Knowledge Management?

Article excerpt

An Exploration of the Meaning, Popularity and Practical Relevance of Late 20th Century Management Theories


Total Quality Management (TQM), Business Process Reengineering (BPR), the Learning Organisation (LO) and Knowledge Management (KM) are just four of many management techniques that emerged in the latter part of the 20th century. All four techniques have been called fads or fashions, by definition easy to dismiss with each new idea replacing the last, KM heing the latest technique, subsuming the LO and superseding TQM and BPR. However, just because these initiatives are labelled as fashions, this does not mean that they do not have enduring effects. "Management fashions are not cosmetic and trivial. Management fashions shape the management techniques that thousands of managers look to in order to cope with extremely important and complex managerial problems and challenges" (Abrahamson, 1996: 279). In a turbulent and changing world there is a "desperate quest" for new approaches to management (Eccles and Nohria, 1992: 2). This desperation has led to dissatisfaction with existing paradigms of management and the search for new paradigms (Hamel and Prahalad, 1994).

This paper examines the fashion metaphor as a descriptor tor the growth and decline of management initiatives. In addition, the characteristics and lifecycles of fads and fashions are outlined. The four discourses (TQM, BPR. LO and KM) are compared and discussed in light of the fashion metaphor, with particular emphasis on the origins of each technique, problems of definition and reasons for decline in interest. Finally, a bibliometric analysis is employed to evaluate the adherence to the fashion metaphor of the four management approaches and the results are discussed with respect to existing theory.


In order to answer this question a distinction needs to be made between classical management theories and management theories that adhere to the fashion metaphor. Classical management theories such as division of labour have enduring qualities that are applicable and repeatable. Classics emerge from practitioners' response to social and economic challenges and are "complex, multifaceted, and applied in different ways to different businesses" (Miller and Hartwick, 2002: 27). The four management theories under discussion have arisen in response to social and economic challenges hut the main exponents of these theories are "iashion setters" and their place in management history as classics is questionable.

The Fashion Metaphor

The fashion metaphor is often used to describe thr adoption, diffusion and decline of management ideas, with the terms fads and fashions being used interchangeably. However, there is a subtle difference between the two: fads peak and decline within five years, whereas management fashions are more enduring, briefly showing signs of maturity before declining (Ponzi and Koenig, 2002: 2).The two terms will be used interchangeably in this paper.

Fads and fashions are developed by fashion setters who, generally speaking, are consultants, management gurus, business schools and business mass-media publications (Abrahamson, 109(1). Others hold that it is the adopters themselves that create the fads that in turn influence the management rhetoric (Carson, Lanier, Carson and Berkenmeier, 1099) or at least play a part in the diffusion of fads (Newell, Robertson and Swan, 2001).

Characteristics of Fads and Fashions

Kieser (1997) outlined two main characteristics that define a fashion. Firstly, the "new" management idea is presented as a radical departure from current practice and so is not merely "old wine new bottles". secondly, the idea is presented as an imperative to prevent disaster. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Miller and Hartwick (2002) presented a comprehensive list of qualities that typify tads incorporating Kiesers characteristics (Table 3. …

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