Pervasive Management Fashions: What’s Hot and What’s Not?

Some things never go out of fashion...

Some things never go out of fashion…

It was a slow day at the office. Over a leisurely breakfast, I sat listening to the John Murray show on the radio. RTE rolled out a woman called Angela (I missed her surname), an expert on fashion. So, for those of you who have a ‘real job’ and can’t spend the morning hooked to radio broadcasts, here’s the skinny on style in Autumn 2014:

Jumpers: Comfort is in. Apparently, Sweaters are the best invention ever in the entire history of mankind. Angora sheep are always warm. Who’d have guessed?

Suits: Not androgynous outfits that make you look like David Bowie’s aunt. Get yourself a stylish suit that highlights your femininity (hey, I’m just trying to accurately report what Angela said).

Colour: You will be amazed to hear that ‘colour is everywhere’ this autumn. Colours that many of us never even knew existed. Apparently Cobalt is big, along with Neon Yellow and Acid Blue (perhaps a cultural spill over from Breaking Bad?).

Hemlines: Going up. But, and this was stated emphatically, when the hemline rises so too should the neckline. Listening to Angela, I realised that I’ve been in fashion faux pas territory for so many years! It’s acutely embarrassing. I’m going to burn those short-sleeved check shirts and dump those sandals.

Clutch Bags: There is a return to the ‘60’s look – and these are often in fake fur. If you feel the need to be authentic, go out and kill a squirrel (Angela didn’t actually suggest that; I threw that one into the mix myself).

Knee-High Boots: Yes, quickly moving on… (this is a family blog).

Managerial Fashions: That radio slot caused me to think about managerial fashions. Staff Engagement, Aerobic Coaching and Big Data are ’in season’ right now.   But, are there some enduring managerial ideas that never go out of fashion? No doubt you could construct your own list, but here’s a couple of ideas that occurred to me. In a moment of wonderful originality (not) I’ve labelled these the Magnificent 7.

Magnificent 7 Management Ideas

BIG idea #1: Customers Are Right: Even when they are wrong. You figure out your promise. It’s unique, interesting or cheap enough to be valuable. Then you deliver on this. No excuses. If you can’t do this in a sustainable way, nothing else matters. Get off the road – you’re blocking progress. So, what’s your promise and are you delivering against this?

BIG idea #2: Fog Clearance: As a junior consultant, I carried Dr. Eddie’s Molloy’s bag for a couple of years. I asked Eddie how I could help clients dealing with complexity. He said:   “Imagine you’d never seen a deck of cards. What would happen if you then saw a deck of cards strewn across the floor?”

“It would probably be very confusing”

“Now, imagine that I asked – how many colours do you see?


“Have you noticed anything about the numbers?”

“They run in sequence from 2 up to 10 and then there are picture cards”

Eddie was making the point that the role of consultants was to help the fog shift for clients. Complexity made simple. We can extend this idea by stating that the role of managers is to help to shift the fog for employees. Why? Because our brains have a bias for simplicity.

Simplicity = Beautiful: Consider the addition problem outlined below. Run down through the numbers (starting at the top of the column) and quickly add them up in your head.









What answer did you get? If you came up with 5,000, try again. The correct answer is 4,100. So, what went wrong? According to Kevin Dutton (Flipnosis), when you reach the penultimate sub-total of 4,090 the brain expects that the final total will be a nice, round cuddly number. So, it takes a gamble on the number that comes quickest and easiest to mind: 5,000. Staff like simplicity. Your job is to satisfy that need.

BIG idea #3: Noble Mission: Senior staff often have the mortgage paid by Tuesday afternoon. How are you going to motivate them for other 3 days? People are drawn to a cause – to being the ‘best’ or to adding value in some way. At the extremes, people risk their lives for this (e.g. Médicines San Frontièrs volunteer Doctors and Nurses). Have you communicated a noble mission to the troops? Caveat: Helping the Chairman to buy a new boat doesn’t qualify under this heading, even if he is quite excited about it.

BIG idea #4: Fast Movement: When I was 40 (ahem, some time ago), Linda bought me a driving lesson in Mondelo Park. You get to drive around a racing track in a Formula something or other car and feel like a mini-hero. I went along with my buddy Jim Bashford. The women had conspired to send us together, knowing that this would add to the level of competition. In the drizzling rain, the track was wet and slippery. After the safety talk, we donned the gear and were driven around the track at speed, being shown the ‘racing line’ by a professional driver. Sitting on the starting grid, with the engine in full rev mode, my palms were sweating. It was now or never. I drove that car faster than any other car I’ve ever been in – really scary stuff. Post race, one of the instructors asked: “Who’s Paul Mooney?”. I said “that’s me”. He said: “I’ve been working here for 8 years. Now, I’d have to check the official records, but I think that was the slowest lap I’ve ever seen”. Both instructors fell around the place laughing. My mate also thought it was hilarious. About a week later, so did I. In managing, you often need first mover advantage. Based on incomplete data, you use speed as a competitive weapon. Not all the time (sometimes, you can ‘fast follow’). Tear up that fable about the Hare and the Tortoise. Getting there quickly provides a competitive advantage. Speed is always in fashion.

BIG idea #5: Truth Telling: I have a friend who has a large house, in negative equity. To help pay the bills, she took in students. One guy was from Greece and he had a somewhat unusual habit. After using the toilet, he would put the used paper in a bucket in the bathroom. And my friend had to clean the bucket. Now, while the Greeks have made many contributions to the human race, indoor plumbing is not one of them. So, she had to have the ‘conversation’ with him. She did. It wasn’t that bad. And the problem went away. In Pfizer they have a cultural philosophy known as ‘Straight Talk’. Taking a leaf from Anthropology 101, they even have a ‘coin’ and managers can use that coin at any time to basically say: “This is bullshit. Now lets have a real conversation” (they are too polite in Pfizer to use coarse language). While you may not need a coin, Truth Telling never goes out of fashion and should become your ‘coin of realm’.

BIG idea #6: Warm Spirit: In the book. ‘The One Minute Manager’, Kenneth Blanchard coined the phrase ‘Catching people doing something right’. So many executives try to make themselves look clever by making other people look stupid. It’s a mistake. Nice guys don’t come last (only in movies). You can be successful without being a jerk. Hey, give it a go! And ditch those Wall Street braces. They are sooooo last season.

BIG idea #7: Keep Learning: It’s never too late to become smarter. Successful people keep getting better at what they do. You become arrogant when you stop growing, when that little inner voice tells you not to bother learning anything new. Why? Because, you are making the statement: ‘everything I need to know, I already know’. Right now, I don’t feel young enough to know everything. It’s a delicate line to walk – being satisfied with who you are (which is the root of confidence) yet wanting to keep getting better. Just because you’ve arrived, doesn’t stop you from travelling forward. A poor sentence – but you get the point!

Do I personally live up to all of the above? Absolutely not! These ideas are like the North Star. They guide behaviour, but are never quite attainable. Now, I just have to find my Azure Gucci golf pants and slimline Ray Bans. The lads will be impressed with my new Autumn dress code! Thanks Angela for the tips.


PS Lighter Note: I’ve always liked Jewish humour. A little bit ‘non-PC’, here’s a flavour of the genre…

Q: Why don’t Jewish mothers drink?

A: Alcohol interferes with their suffering.

Q: Have you seen the newest Jewish-American-Princess horror movie?

A: It’s called, ‘Debbie Does Dishes.’

Q: Why do Jewish mothers make great parole officers?

A: They never let anyone finish a sentence.

A man called his mother in Florida. “Mom, how are you?”  “Not too good” said the mother. “I’ve been very weak” The son said, “Why are you so weak?” “Because I haven’t eaten in 38 days” The son said, “That’s terrible, why haven’t you eaten in 38 days?” The mother answered, “Because, I didn’t want my mouth to be full in case you should call” 

Q: Why are Jewish Men circumcised?

A: Because Jewish women don’t like anything that isn’t 20% off

Double Speak (this one courtesy of Niall Glynn): “The Kremlin insists any Russian soldiers in Ukraine are either on holiday or lost.” Who said the news can’t be funny?

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organisation development.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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