Saturday, December 18, 2010

To manage well, focus on employees' core values

Stan Slap's successful management training program strives for authenticity and productivity

Bury My Heart at Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers 
Bury My Heart At Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers. Stan Slap. Portfolio 272 pages.

It's a reliable axiom that any book authored by a business consultant is essentially an extended sales brochure for his or her services. The initial 20 pages or so of this offering by management trainer Stan Slap is devoted to touting his program's overall wonderfullness, without establishing the foundation for the energetic self-promotion, which portends yet another instance of this phenomenon.

To be sure, there are copious portions of this boasting bonhomie larded throughout the book as he good-naturedly flogs his programs at every opportunity. The funny thing, though, is that Slap's shots aren't nearly as offensive or out of place as the customary self-aggrandizing scribbling.

This book is an emotional one. Slap's avowed goal is encouraging genuine and visceral connections between managers and employees, tying personal values and goals to the daily routine of working together. In addition to the prolific promotional copy, the text includes individual testimonials from executives who, after a head-slapping moment or two, linked their moral standards to their business ethics and operational methods to great effect. There's also one from Slap himself, detailing his challenging (to say the least) upbringing, which serves as both an inspiration and an invitation to amateur psychologists to connect it to his ongoing passions and methodologies. (I'll pass, thanks.)

So it's not out of place in the least for Slap to tout and reaffirm the awesomeness of what it is he's trying to do. In fact, if he'd failed to jump up on his own soapbox and testify, one would wonder why he wasn't doing just that. It would be weirdly disingenuous and he'd be guilty of failing to follow his own advice.

Slap provides checklists and other exercises for managers to assess their own values and advice for getting employees to do the same. He lays out a playbook for gaining acceptance by the staff and management so they're all not laughed out of the office, or worse. There are scripts and plenty of other tools for dealing with and possibly overcoming objections from above and below the corporate ladder, too.

He's an interesting and entertaining writer, and there are lots of little jokes, puns and asides strewn throughout the text. Slap is quite full of himself but acknowledges that, too, as it's all part of his shtick, although it's pretty clear that he takes it all pretty seriously despite implied claims to the contrary.

The only problem that I have with Slap's worthwhile book is that it's one of those alternate-universe deals. Most if not all of the companies that the rest of us encounter as employees and managers may profess their fealty and commitment to our core values and might declare their goal of engendering a familial environment. We may even have managers that we connect with as human beings, and respect and cultivate us in turn. But Slap recognizes that his is a revolutionary idea that's antithetical to many organizations in practice, if not theory.

In the meantime, he's provided the tools, the rationale and a very entertaining book. Maybe that's enough.
Originally published in The Miami Herald.

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