Originally created 11/07/97

How to deal with employees

Management in the modern work place just isn't the way it used to be.

Forget sitting around and recalling the work ethic. That concept changes with each generation any way, and many employees these days obviously differ with older managers over the current standard.

I've been at a few management seminars where they take a stab at it.

At one, some experts were trying to teach us ways to help employees "cope with termination."

"Now she's talking," whispered the woman manager next to me. "We don't fire them any more. We shoot them."

(A later speaker, however, discouraged this approach on legal grounds.)

I've long felt that schedules were an effective management tool.

"You can't get blood out of a turnip," a young wise guy explained to me once after he failed to make a tight deadline on a story.

I smiled and said, "You're right. But I can schedule that turnip to work every weekend and holiday until the end of the year."

This, I've now been led to believe, also is apparently illegal.

Yes, while Congress and President Clinton were haggling over balancing the budget, someone amended the Constitution to provide an unalienable right not to work odd hours or weekends.

Personally, I think the thing that works best is flattery.

I learned this from an old friend at the Atlanta newspapers. He confessed that he had grasped the tactic in desperation to motivate a collection of independently wealthy Ivy League grads who seemed to enjoy nothing more than lounging around the office talking about their last trip to Europe.

"I'd lay it on thick," he said, "and they usually fell for it."

There are, of course, other management methods.

One is the Lombardi approach. Like the famous old football coach, you motivate through fear. Most bosses, however, cannot pull it off.

Lombardi's players -- his "employees" -- hated what he made them do, but loved him for the results. A lot of managers just get the first part down, without the rewards of the second.

Much more common in our era is the collegial style. You know -- be one of the guys, use a lot of rah-rah reinforcement. Say "That's super" a lot.

I've often found myself in a new territory of management for these days before the millennium. I call it the Hogan's Heroes approach after the 1960s TV comedy that featured a World War II prison camp where the prisoners ran things, not their guards.

This is close to the collegial style without the upbeat attitude.

The premise is, after all, that you're all in a prison camp.

With this limited range of expectations, the little pleasures, the small victories mean a lot. And I think it works.

In fact, if you ask anyone who works for me, they're liable to refer to me as "Sweet Old Bill."

Though for expedience, I've noticed, they often abbreviate it.


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