by Chuck Violand

Lately, I’ve found myself wondering what’s so wrong with some of the ‘old ways’ we used to manage our people in our cleaning and restoration companies.

Why does everything have to be so touchy-feely? Are we so concerned about being politically correct or hurting people’s feelings that we can no longer simply say what we’re thinking?

What happened with being direct in our management of people? Tell it like it is, don’t sugarcoat it, soft-pedal it or obscure your real meaning with smoke and mirrors? Or, as a former office manager of mine used to tell me, “If you’ve got something to say, by all means… say it!”

I thought this would be a good time to investigate a few of the old tried-and-true management styles to see if they still hold water, rather than simply throwing them out in favor of the newest theories coming down the pike. Perhaps by exploring some of the old techniques we’ll gain a greater appreciation for the newer techniques.

Let’s start by looking at a few communication styles employed in managing our people.

Management by terse communication

Small business owners are not usually comfortable with long-winded communication. They prefer giving short, concise answers to the questions they’re asked. They prefer even shorter sentences when it comes to giving directives to their people. In the interest of keeping things efficient and not wasting time on flowery ways of saying things, many have gone to a short and snappy, three-word management style.

To name just a few, there are, “Are you nuts?!” “Get over here!” “Get outta here!” and, “Knock it off!” When they’re feeling especially verbose they’ll expand their directive by adding a name like “Bucky” to the end of the sentence. So now it sounds like, “Knock it off, Bucky!” My apologies in advance to anyone named Bucky. No, wait a minute. This article’s about candor, not political correctness. So, forget it, Bucky!

Shrinking things even further, some managers have gone to one-word communication. Some examples include, “Hey!” “You!” “What?!” “Chill!” And, of course, the invective that conveys one’s disgust with any situation is “Jeeze!”

Some have even carried this to an extreme by eliminating all words from their communication. Instead, to communicate their feelings they’ve mastered the physiologically difficult skill of raising only one eyebrow, shaking their heads, or simply uttering an assortment of grunts, groans and snorts.

Now that I think about it, the reason these techniques may have worked in the past is that people actually needed jobs. So they were willing to put up with lousy communication to make sure their families got fed.

But that’s not the case in today’s workplace. Today, people want to have a voice in the decisions that affect their jobs. And having a voice necessitates communicating.

Management by mood swings

This one is guaranteed to keep everybody off-balance. Better yet, it keeps them subservient. You know the one I’m talking about here. This is the one where employees peer out the front windows as the boss walks up to the building and they try to gauge his mood for the day.

If he seems to be in a good mood, you can almost hear the collective sigh of relief that emanates from the group just before he walks through the door. But if he’s in a foul mood, the speed of cellular technology pales in comparison to the speed with which this news is communicated via the “office buzz” network throughout the organization. People scatter like mice.

Their own moods turn sour or, at best, cautious. Heaven help the first person whose name the boss calls out after he walks in. Fellow employees watch as that poor soul walks into the boss’s office head down, shoulders stooped, feet dragging, like he’s being led to a sacrificial altar. Only when he exits the boss’s office with his head still on top of his shoulders do they exhale.

The boss has everybody just the way he wants them…everyone’s head buried in their work, no unnecessary fraternizing by the copy machine and certainly no frivolous, time-wasting conversations taking place. Life is good. Or is it?

What happens if people start withholding information from the boss because they don’t want to rouse the bear? People find themselves sniping at each other for no apparent reason. Too often, as a result, they tend to carve out territories to insulate themselves, almost like kids in the back seat of a car. Nobody better cross somebody else’s line, or there will be heck to pay.

Now consider the effects of stress and emotional turmoil caused by the boss’s mood swings. People’s stomachs start to turn over… sometimes starting the previous night as they think about the next day at work. They start to exhibit physical signs of prolonged stress: Fatigue, headaches, upset stomachs… which explains the bottle of Maalox in the secretary’s desk drawer.

People’s moods turn somber and employee morale heads south. Soon people are looking for any excuse to call off work, show up late, and take extended breaks and lunches. Eventually, some may even start looking for someplace else to work. Now where’s all the productivity the boss thought his “management by mood swings” was producing?

This method may dupe the boss into thinking he’s in control, and it might even appear that way to people looking in from the outside. But in reality, he’s not in control. Any business owner who can’t control his moods or, worse yet, who intentionally uses them to manipulate his people, is in for a long, lonely ride as CEO of his company.

Management by rumor

This technique is a little more subtle, but it’s just as effective. It’s amazing how powerful a few well-placed rumors can be, and the effect they can have on an organization.

Do you want productivity to pick up? “Somebody may be looking for a new job” is all you have to say. Do you think sales could improve? Announcing, “Over the weekend my brother-in-law was talking to me about a sales job,” might do the trick.

If somebody confronts you about the rumor, you can simply reply, “Did I say anything about somebody getting fired? I was just saying….”

As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to start a rumor for this strategy to be effective. Sometimes all it takes is a well-timed whisper to an employee so no one else can hear you, while being sure to do it where everyone else can see you.

The problem with management by rumor is it doesn’t work long-term. Eventually, people stop paying attention to the rumors and go on about their business. Plus, rumors undermine the integrity of the owner. It can also be tough to control them once they get started. It seems everyone wants to add their own little bit to it.

Management by bullying

This one is a throwback to the Neanderthal days of managing people when wielding authority meant wielding a club, and broadcasting a memo meant shouting at the top of your lungs… even when the recipient was standing three feet away.

I’m not talking about your basic garden-variety bullying. I’m talking about your chest-puffed-out, red-faced, finger-pointing, expletive-spewing, threat-shouting bullying. I’m talking about a real ripsnorter!

The beauty of this management style is that it plays right into the highly emotional temperament and hair-trigger temper some business owners have.

Fortunately, this method has gone the same way as mimeograph machines, cash payrolls and the Berlin Wall. And for good reason. Although it might have momentarily allowed a manager to wallow in self-righteous indignation at his obviously inferior employee, it does nothing to change an employee’s behavior or improve business. Besides, what self-respecting person will continue to work for a manager who acts like a cartoon character?

After exploring some of the old-time management techniques that used to be employed in business —and, unfortunately, sometimes still are — it sure is good to see that contemporary management techniques have matured. At the same time, neither the older styles nor newer styles of management are effective if they’re taken to an extreme.

A good choice might be to combine the straight-forwardness of yesterday’s style with the enlightened approach of the today’s style. That is, if you want effective results.

Chuck Violand is the founder and principal of Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Violand is a recognized industry leader for advising entrepreneurs on the unique challenges they face both personally and professionally. Through VMA, he works with business owners and companies to develop their people and their profits. Violand is the president of the Restoration Industry Association (RIA). To reach him, visit or call 800-360-3513.