Relax the Axe

Here’s an excerpt from a recent article from the Drucker Exchange (the Dx), an online resource that hosts an ongoing conversation about bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is produced by the Drucker Institute, a think tank and action tank based at Claremont Graduate University that was established to advance and build on the ideas and ideals of Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management. To learn more about the Dx and the Institute as well as to check out their resources and sign up for a free subscription to its online newsletter, please click here.

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If you’ve got employees who are “seemingly always part of problems instead of solutions,” get rid of ’em—and fast. That’s the word, anyway, from G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón of Maddock Douglas, a firm that consults with companies on innovation.

“You don’t want the victims, nonbelievers, or know-it-alls,” the authors wrote in a recent piece for Bloomberg Businessweek titled “Three Types of People to Fire Immediately.” “It is up to you to make sure they take their anti-innovative outlooks elsewhere.”

If Peter Drucker were looking to hand anybody the pink slip, however, our guess is that he’d pick Maddock and Vitón.

Drucker certainly believed in setting high standards, but he often took a dim view of terminations as a way of bringing this about. That’s because all sorts of managerial mistakes can take potentially good workers and turn them into bad ones. So it’s worth answering these questions before wielding the axe:

[Here are three of the questions recommended.]

1. Are your employees buried by trivial meetings and paperwork? “This is not job enrichment,” Drucker warned in Managing For the Future. “It is job impoverishment. It destroys productivity. It saps motivation and morale.”

2. Do your employees feel they can go straight to the top, if need be? “Every employee at IBM had the right to go directly to the company’s chief executive officer, that is, to Thomas J. Watson, to complain, to suggest improvements, and to be heard,” Drucker pointed out in The Frontiers of Management.

3. Do your employees understand how what they do fits into the bigger picture? Many fighter-plane factories during World War II had high turnover and bad morale. Then, at one factory, the boss arranged to have a completed plane brought to the plant. “To his amazement, this visit created the most intense excitement among the workers and resulted in an almost unbelievable increase in morale and productive efficiency,” Drucker recalled in Concept of the Corporation.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

G. Michael Maddock is chief executive, and Raphael Louis Vitón is president of Maddock Douglas, an innovation consultancy that helps clients invent, brand, and launch new products, services, and business models. Maddock is author of the upcoming book Brand New: Solving the Innovation Paradox—How Great Brands Invent and Launch New Products, Services, and Business Models (Wiley, April 2011).

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