Why Corporate America Needs a Fad-Free Management Diet

Diet crazes are as old as the hills. Beverly Hills, that is. In case you missed it, author Judy Mazel wrote The Beverly Hills Diet back in 1981. Her theory was that weight gain came from undigested food. The book sold more than a million copies. And it was complete nonsense.

We’ve since had the Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet, Low-Carb Diet, Hollywood Diet, Paleolithic or Caveman Diet, Acai Berry Diet, various cleansing diets, vegetarians and vegans, and now the Whole30 program. Lately, it seems that everyone is going gluten-free, whether they have Celiac disease or not.

Meanwhile, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) a few years back suggested that a sensible diet based on healthy foods like fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, whole grains and healthy fats is far better than low-fat or low-carb diets. It’s the quality, not the quantity of the carbs and fat that matters.

Well, duh. I’ve been eating that way for decades. So have most of the healthy people I know. And this is California, no less. Common sense doesn’t exactly grow on trees here.

In any case, when the JAMA study came out, it was big news. It was all over the Internet. For about a week. Then everyone went back to their crazes.

We’ve come to expect that sort of quick fix mentality from the masses. I guess it’s human nature to follow cultural norms and the latest trends … even if they are dumb. But you wouldn’t expect that kind of fad-like behavior from corporate executives, would you? Well, time to wake up and smell the crazy in the c-suite.

There have been at least as many management fads as diet crazes over the years.

Remember core competency? How about outsourcing, downsizing, management by objective and management by walking around? Let’s not forget Good to Great, matrix management, Six Sigma and lean everything. The One Minute Manager was good in its time, but business is so fast-paced today, it would have to be The One Nanosecond Manager.

Lately, it seems that executives are becoming more and more susceptible to whatever nonsense somebody decides to publish. If it sounds good and the social media / blogosphere echo chamber endorses it, the next thing you know, it’s the next big thing. And consultants make big bucks off the stuff.

There’s employee engagement (which is really just employee satisfaction rebranded), self-managed organizations like Holacracy, emotional intelligence, leadership development, executive coaching and my personal favorite, generational consulting.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that American companies spent more than $60 million on millennial consultants last year. For what, you ask? To learn that members of the newest generation to hit the workforce have short attention spans, like flexible work schedules and want their work to have a purpose. What a racket.

One of the consultants, Dan Schawbel – author of the definitive personal branding book, Me 2.0 – advised Red Robin Gourmet Burgers to allow employees to take Friday afternoons off and to ban Friday meetings, according to the Journal. And the company now has quarterly meetings at a local comedy club where execs do open mic duty mixing jokes with company news onstage.

No, I’m not making this up.

Last week, a friend forwarded a Harvard Business Review article by an executive coach and leadership development consultant. The Most Important Leadership Competencies, as it was called, was apparently culled from a study of “195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations.” There were no further details on the study’s methodology or how it defines “leaders.”

As for the top five “leadership competencies” (you’d better hold onto your hats, this is pretty exciting stuff), they were listed as: “Has high ethical and moral standards,” “Provides goals and objectives with loose guidelines,” “Clearly communicates expectations,” “Is committed to my ongoing training” and “Communicates often and openly.”

These are not serious competencies that distinguish great senior business executives. They’re more like checkboxes off an HR review form of a line supervisor. Interestingly enough, this “leadership consultant” has a PhD in, wait for it, “marriage and family therapy.” But I bet she makes big bucks consulting for her Fortune 500 clients.

You just can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Call me crazy, but I long for the days when people ate what they wanted, employees were employees, managers were managers, and a leader was in the Boy Scouts. Corporate America needs to go on a fad-free management diet, if you ask me.