Management Tools: Cycling through the concepts

Rita McGrath
5 min readJul 19

Everybody wants to be the author of a popular management tool. But at the end of the day, it’s useful to realize that many have a lot in common — what makes the difference, as with any tool — is the skill of the person using it and the consistency with which you stick with it.

For some time now, I’ve enjoyed regular conversations and spirited exchanges between a group of thought leaders convened by Steve Denning and named, by him, as the “Fortnight Group.” Among them is Bain & Co’s own Darrell Rigby, who for many years was a co-author on Bain’s regular surveys on how executives use management tools. It’s fascinating to see tools come and go, which they do, a lot. Four have remained in the ranking since Bain first started collecting information on tool usage in 1993. These are Mission and Vision statements, customer satisfaction, total quality management and benchmarking. Others proved far less durable — I mean, who talks much about quality circles these days?

Everybody wants to claim center stage for their tool

Waterman and Peters’ book In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies was published in 1982 and became a runaway best seller. It brought the whole consumption of management tools to a broad audience and perhaps singlehandedly created the category of the mass market business book. It also maintained that strategy was perhaps less important than organization for long-term performance. Given that Waterman and Peters were both consultants at McKinsey, a firm whose bread and butter depended on firms handing over large sums for strategy advice, this might not have been the most politically astute position to take…Peters didn’t last long at the firm after taking this position.

So what were the magical practices that characterize the best-run companies? The authors found 8 that they argue make all the difference.

  1. A bias for action — a preference for doing something — anything — rather than sending a question through cycles and cycles of analyses and committee reports.
Rita McGrath

Columbia Business School Professor. Thinkers50 top 10 & #1 in strategy. Bestselling author of The End of Competitive Advantage & Seeing Around Corners.