I have mentioned before that I enjoy reading old books on supervision and management. I have dozens of them from the early 1900s through each decade after that. I often find them to contain ideas we erroneously think of as having been introduced in our “modern, enlightened” era. However, sometimes I find them to have thoughts that make them seem even more dated than the copyright would indicate. I may be showing my antiquity when I say that on occasion, as I read about some aspect of work in the 1950s and 1960s or before, I wish we could duplicate some aspects of it–not all, but some.
I recently read a nifty book called Technique of Successful Supervision by Calhoon and Kirkpatrick. (Not Techniques, but Technique.) It was published in 1956, but apparently much of it was written in about 1948 to 1952. The book focuses on the role of a foreman or supervisor in influencing employee behavior. The material covers how to make a presentation to individual employees or groups, to help them accept changes or corrections, and to encourage them about work in general. The concepts are very good and would be useful any time, if adapted to a specific work setting.
Among the chapter headings:
- Influencing Employees Is Your Job
- Why Employees Behave As They Do
- Removing Resistance and Opposition
- Writing More Effectively
- A Program of Self-Improvement
The fact that the authors are professors of business rather than actual foremen is very obvious in some of the ideas. Add to that the fact that the book was written in a different era and for different work and social cultures and you get some thoughts that are inadvertently very amusing. I will mention one such example, but want to emphasize that I am not mocking the efforts of the authors or the situations they describe–it was just a different time. Also, I imagine their perspective of typical worklife was rather unrealistic, even in those times. After you read this and chuckle or shake your head about it, think about how it could be applied to your work situation. (The first paragraph could have been written today, it is the second paragraph that might not quite fit.)
Any experienced supervisor knows the importance of preventing resistance from developing. This can be done by raising and then rebutting the employee’s arguments in advance. Saying, “You may think…” or, “I know that you have had trouble…” does show understanding of the employee’s point of view and is intended by you to reduce the strength of his opposition. But, you need to consider some of the dangers of this approach. It may irritate the employee to be told what he thinks. Or, he may have the uncomfortable feeling that you are outsmarting him and he may resist, even though the logic of his position has been taken away.
On the whole, it is wiser to anticipate his objections by working answers to them into your presentation without specifically pointing out the objections. For example, you realize that close friendships built up in the gang are a major reason why an employee objects to a temporary transfer. In the course of the explanation, as one item, you can tell about the new group, describing how much fun they have together, such as:
“Just last month they got to talking together and thought it would be fun to get a bunch of ice-cold watermelon, go out to the edge of town, and have a watermelon cutting. Harry took his guitar, Pete his clarinet and Sam his accordion. They ate and sang until dark and had a heck of a good time. When you start in with them, they take you right in as one of the bunch.”
This would put a whole new spin on Choir Practice!
Here is the key point: You probably will not be able to picture your group involved in an activity like this. (Although you might be able to talk about volleyball, pool, video games or softball.) Nevertheless, the concept of anticipating concerns about any issue and addressing them is valid. Working with and through others to achieve the mission of the organization has not changed that much over time and we can learn from anything we read about it, from any era.
Before I do more reading, I will think about the good old days and listen to some accordion music. (As you may have noticed, each of us can think of times in the past–usually a few years before we were born until about the time we left high school–when the world seemed to be as it should be, at least in some ways. One day 2008 will be the good old days to many people. Scary thought!)
P.S. Here is a classical accordion CD that might appeal to those of you who equate accordion music with Myron Floren or Lawrence Welk performing a polka–although I think that is wonderful too! Check out this YouTube jam session. It isn’t a polka, but it’s good accordion!