Trucks at Work

Shock therapy

I lack small-muscle skills and have a mechanical IQ of 32, but I became adroit with all infantry arms. I had no choice. It was that or my ass.” -William Manchester, from “Goodbye Darkness,” a memoir of his service as a Marine in World War II

It‘s the little things about my dad that always got my attention. Growing up, I didn‘t get it: he made beds so well you could bounce quarters off them - literally. He ironed and pressed his dress shirts, slacks, even golf outfits better than any dry cleaning shop could. And the man could pack for any trip, for any length of time using any mode of transportation (luggage for the plane, the car for a ski trip) with almost unearthly skill - folding and stowing with precision.

The reason he can do all that - as he‘s told me many, MANY times over the years - is very simple: he served in the Marines. You learned to do everything - and by God, he literally meant EVERYTHING, even how you ate food - the Marine way. And you never, EVER forgot how to do it. He could probably still field strip his weapons today if he had to, so ingrained into his subconscious is his Marine experience. “When you‘ve got a drill sergeant the size of a mountain in your face, it‘s amazing what you can learn to do - and what you‘ll never forget,” he told me.

I started thinking about this yesterday, after the proposed $700 billion bailout bill failed in Congress and the stock market nose-dived over 700 points. [There goes the retirement fund - now, uh, WHY did we have 401Ks again? Because there‘s less in my fund now than at the beginning of the year.]

I keep thinking to myself ... wouldn‘t it be great if we could gather all the financial wizards from Wall Street up and send them down to the Marine Corps boot camps for a few months, at Paris Island S.C. (for enlisted personnel) and Quantico VA (for officer candidates, where my dad went for his “time in the barrel” as he calls it back in ‘56). Maybe after a long stretch of weeks under the exacting tutelage of Marine drill sergeants the financial fools that got us into this mess could come up with some plans to get us out of it without the need for billions of taxpayer dollars. (Come to think of it - can we send ALL the members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, down there, too?)

Such “shock therapy,” of course, is only good for getting results in certain situations - such as creating Marines and other soldiers who go into harm‘s way and must be ready for anything. In the everyday business world, such drill sergeant tactics would send workers running for the exits and for good reason. But maybe, just maybe, we‘re at a point in time when the hammer needs to be applied to the executives in the suites of corporate America, to at the very least knock some sense into them.

That‘s one of the thoughts othat occured toProfessor Jerry Osteryoung from the college of business at Florida State University after watching the hideous reality show “Hell‘s Kitchen.” He couldn‘t stand the business practices of Chef Gordon Ramsay on the show ... but, given the current economic crisis, these are times that perhaps call for a little of that sound and fury. Professor Osteryoung, the floor is yours ...

“We frequently get called in to help a firm that is in crisis, and without quick action, the firm could easily fold. One such firm was preparing a large order for a very important customer, and the order got completely messed up. Management had to take quick and effective action to fill this order or their sales would fall by 30%. They had to use a different management style to get their staff to move quickly.

“One approach to quick crisis management can be seen on Chef Gordon Ramsay‘s three TV shows: ‘Hell‘s Kitchen and ‘Kitchen Nightmares‘ both on Fox and ‘Ramsay‘s Kitchen Nightmares‘ on BBC. ‘Hell‘s Kitchen‘ is a reality chef program where the winner gets a very prestigious job at the end. On ‘Ramsay‘s Kitchen Nightmares‘ and ‘Kitchen Nightmares,‘ Chef Ramsay goes into very sick restaurants and turns them around.

One day, my wife, who is a food TV junkie and a very good cook, said, ‘Jerry, you need to come and watch this program about Gordon Ramsay.‘ Well, I watched the program, and after seeing how he treated people, I wanted to vomit. It took me almost three shows before I could even watch the broadcast in its entirety.

For those who have not seen these shows, Chef Ramsay yells, swears, belittles and humiliates people to get the things he wants done. The abuse he doles out on these people is brutal, and they frequently end up breaking down in so many different ways. However, normally at the end of the show, the staff and management that he has berated seem to appreciate that this was the way to turn around their behavior and their restaurant.

What impresses me about Chef Ramsay is not the way he berates people, but the quickness with which he is able to change their behavior. In so many cases, he goes into a restaurant that has maybe two weeks to live and turns things around by changing the attitude of the staff and owners, and through his overall knowledge of the hospitality industry.

If he tried to be nice to get things done - clearly, not his favorite management style - it would take a long time to change behaviors. He needs to get into these sick restaurants and turn things around very quickly.

His management style is clearly not for everyone, and it goes against almost every management principle that I know of; however, it is similar to that of the treatment military recruits used to get at during basic training. I can still remember my basic training instructor at Lackland Air Force Base yelling at and humiliating me for my bed not being 100% perfect. This did make an indelible impression on me. I got the message pretty quickly, and the training instructor never yelled at me again.

In both the Chef Ramsay and the military situation, behavior was changed quickly, but it came with some risk. The risk is that the person whose behavior you are trying to change will just close down and give up. Additionally, it creates a climate of fear, which normally abates over time as staff gets used to these conditions. However, on the upside, both situations illustrate that this approach can change behavior rapidly.

Now, I am not even somewhat recommending the Chef Ramsay motivational approach. However, I am suggesting that there may be some situation that merits it. In a crisis situation, when there is not time to use the ‘warm fuzzy‘ approach, you might have to invoke a harsher methodology in order to get something done quickly.”

“Risky” of course is a VAST understatement when undertaking this kind of approach - and to conduct in the more typical “peace time” business environment would be suicidal I suggest. Still, desperate times call for desperate measures. Maybe a little shock therapy is just what we need.

[As usual, you can reach Professor Osteryoung by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 850-644-3372.]