Saturday, October 22, 2011

On management by fear and intimidation....

I'm no Dale Carnegie and I'm not a Six Sigma ninja, let's just go ahead and get that out of the way right now, but I've attended many different flavors of management training, from Total Quality Management to Promised Based Management.  Everyone has their own management theory and many of them write books about them and make millions.  No I'm no Dale Carnegie, but I've been managing people for a little over 20 years and I'm here to tell you that you can toss out TQM, Six Sigma, Promised Based Management, and any other theory that someone who probably has no management experience has written about.  In this post I’m going to share with you my philosophy on how to motivate people and get the most out of them. 

Let's start with the overriding principle of my management technique.  What is the number one thing that motivates people?  Money?  Pride?  Recognition?  All three are good answers, but think big picture; what is the most powerful motivator of them all?  The answer of course is fear.  Fear makes you run faster, jump higher, it keeps you safe and prevents you from making mistakes.  Fear is what prevents you from speeding, but it's also what gives you that little extra boost of energy when you're being pursued.

Most management philosophies will tell you that you should manage fear and try to eliminate it; that fear is counterproductive and leads to discontent and lowered productivity.  This is simply not the case.  Instead, if you instill an environment of fear every action that your employees take will be guided by that fear, which will in turn lead to better decision making.  I you take nothing else from this post take this: lack of fear leads to poor decision making.  How many times have you heard someone say that Suzy acts that way because she gets away with it?  Basically what they are saying is that Suzy operates without fear.  When people think that they can make a mistake without ramification there's no limit to what they can screw up.

So instead of trying to manage and eliminate fear I try to create it.  One thing I do to foster an atmosphere of fear is to keep a list of employee names, both past and present, on the whiteboard in my office.  As people leave, either through natural attrition or by being terminated, I cross through their names.  To me it’s just a list of names, but to the people listed it’s an ominous sign that they spend hours worrying about.

When someone leaves the company I don’t tell my employees why, even if that person left to pursue a better opportunity.  Instead, I allow everyone to think that they were terminated.  I don’t actually say that they were terminated, you really don’t have to, I let those left behind draw their own conclusions.  If someone suggests that a person left for more money, more responsibility, etc., I just say that there’s more to the story in order to create a seed of doubt.

Calling someone to my office always makes them nervous and I always get a "did I do anything wrong" question, or "is this going to be bad".  When they ask that I don't allay their fears by telling them everything is okay and that we just need to have a friendly chat.  Instead, I respond with "it's best if we just discuss this in private".  If it isn't bad news and they say something like "thank goodness, you scared me" or some such nonsense I always tell them that they were right to be scared because next time the discussion may not be to their liking.

I pretend to leave stuff at the printer to scare them.  For instance I will create a fake email to a company Vice President saying that everything is ready for the move.  I only have to leave it for about two minutes before everyone in the building knows about it.  When asked about it I simply say something  about hoping that our improved performance will make a difference.  You would be amazed at how this increases productivity.  There is nothing that motivates a group more than fear that they're going to have to move, or lose their jobs entirely, if their performance doesn't improve.

Another method I use to foster fear is to close my door and act like I'm having a telephone conversation with someone.  I yell key phrases like "that is totally unacceptable", or "I warned you about the consequences of this before", or "if you had listened to me before this wouldn't be necessary", then I storm off for lunch.  If anyone asks I just roll my eyes, shrug and say something like “what are you going to do” and walk off. 

When I worked at this one company there was a VP who I really admired and he was the basis of my Management by Fear and Intimidation philosophy.  I was a business manager at the time and we were blessed with the opportunity to discuss market results with him on a monthly basis.  He would scream at us frequently, say that we were incompetent and threaten our jobs.  He would move revenue from one market to another without telling us and then scream at us when we couldn't explain how we failed to make our forecast. 

Once on a conference call we could hear his kids in the background.  Without skipping a beat he immediately launched into a profanity-laced tirade on the inappropriateness of addressing him while he was on the phone.  This was a guy who lived Management by Fear and Intimidation, it wasn't just a philosophy for him, it was the guiding principle behind everything he did.   I wish that I had been given the opportunity to learn the techniques of this management style at the tender age of 8 and 10 like his kids did, but alas I didn't have a father figure around to teach me such valuable life lessons. 

On another occasion a manager was absent due to the death of an employee and this VP made someone call the manager and tell him that he had 15 minutes to get on the call or he could find another job.  He did allow the dead employee to take the day off though, so it's not like he lacked compassion.  I could give you a couple dozen more examples that would inspire awe, but suffice it to say that this guy was a tremendous influence on me. 

Was this VP pleasant to work for?  Heck no, but every single decision I made was done with the understanding that a poor decision on my part could render me unemployed.  As a result my work was meticulous and when it wasn't, I learned to blame it on others.  Ironically this always worked and our monthly conference calls turned into finger pointing sessions; blaming provisioning, billing, operations, anyone but ourselves.  Now that I think about it, maybe I need to go back to the drawing board and rethink this philosophy; I might get stuff blamed on me.

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