I miss Sam Kinison.

Kinison was the comic, killed a few years ago by some drunks in a pickup truck, who fell into fits of screaming with the voice of a dull hacksaw attacking an I-beam.

Sam’s spirit occasionally invades my flesh, like the time I heard a consultant compare management to raising children. Sam came to me then, and I felt like Dr. Strangelove fighting his own hand. I wanted to jump up and scream like Sam, “NO IT’S NOT! IT’S NOTHING LIKE RAISING KIDS! I HAVE A SIXTY-YEAR-OLD MOTHER OF FIVE WORKING FOR ME! SHE’S AN ADULT! A GROWN-UP! AHHHH AHHHH AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

This all came back to me as I read the megabytes of responses to my column on the 70% solution — the arithmetic that says you’d better create 70% more value than your salary or your employer loses money on you.

I did get two flames (one reader misunderstood the point, agreeing with me after we exchanged messages), but most readers endorsed the point enthusiastically. In fact, I received the ultimate compliment from one, who tacked up my column in his cubicle right next to Dilbert.

And these weren’t only managers wanting a whip to flog the hapless analysts who work for them. As many hapless, and for that matter hapful (there must be such a word, don’t you think?) analysts, and programmers, and other people who have to produce Real Stuff (RS, to use the technical term) for a living, were at least as supportive.

Employees want to succeed. They want to produce real value for their employers. Along the way, they want to enjoy their jobs, but that’s no trouble at all: let them produce real value and they’ll enjoy themselves, because most people naturally want to do exactly that.

Don’t believe me? Next time you have some strange assignment or other, call five people in your organization you’ve never met before, tell them what you’re working on, and say, “I was told you may have some good insights on how to approach this problem. Can you spare an hour to help me get my thoughts together?”

I guarantee you, at least six of the five will offer more help than you have any right to expect. And when you’re done, they’ll thank you. People want to create value for other people — that’s where self-esteem comes from.

The whole idea of empowerment stems from this basic realization about human nature. Very few employees go to work just to get a paycheck. Yes, that’s a part of why they show up, but it’s not the whole taco.

Every survey ever done on this subject reveals the same result: employees rank money between 7th and 10th in what they find most important in their work environment. (There are some qualifications on this statistic … the employees have to be making enough to have some disposable income, for example.)

Want more proof? Listen to what people gripe about. IT’S NEVER THEIR SALARY!

Employees complain about office politics. They complain about too many meetings. They complain about the food in the cafeteria. They complain about the number of meetings they have to attend. They complain about ridiculous procedures and regulations. And of course, they complain about having to go to too many meetings.

Every … every complaint you’re likely to overhear has to do with distractions from producing value.

Want happy, motivated, high-morale, high-performing employees? View every distraction they have as leg irons and hand-cuffs. Get rid of all that stuff.

Most of all, treat employees as adults, not because it makes them more effective, but because that’s what they are. They may work for you. If you’re doing your job, they look to you for leadership. They don’t need you as a parent.

So watch out — if you treat your staff like children, Sam’s going to come back and visit your office.

* * *

I still miss Sam Kinison. And I still like this column, all these years later. My only regret, when re-reading it, is that I missed pointing out that when you treat adults as children they’re likely to start living down to your expectations.

– Bob, 3/7/2016

Bob Markman, a talented financial advisor of my acquaintance sees Japan entering a lengthy period of decline. His logic: China will become an economic superpower and the other “Tiger” nations will continue to thrive. Since the rest of Asia has long memories, Japan’s actions before and during World War II will lead to the rest of Asia excluding it from joint ventures and regional development efforts.

Time and the global economy will reveal Markman’s ability to prognosticate. I thought of his analysis after reading that both CompuServe and America On Line initially chose to deal with Netscape, largely spurning Microsoft. Not very long ago, Microsoft announced its entry into the on-line services business, describing cut-throat pricing and bundled interface software. This led to jitters throughout the on-line services industry, and a great quote from Steven Case of AOL: “Tell Bill Gates this will be his Vietnam!”

I thought of Markman’s analysis again now that both CompuServe and AOL have signed deals with Microsoft. It appears America On Line follows the lead of America On Earth, which counts Japan and Germany among its close allies.

Some of us admire Microsoft’s aggressive business practices, others decry them. Regardless, I wonder if it will find itself in the position Markman predicts for Japan: will companies base future alliances on the memory of Microsoft’s past tactics, or will they follow the American model, pragmatically allying with former enemies?

The same issues apply on an individual level – to you and your business relationships, which usually follow the Asian model. Adversarial relationships can last a long time.
People care deeply about the programs they sponsor and adopt. People view projects, programs, vendors … stuff they’ve bought into … the way they think of their pets (hence “pet project”) or maybe their children. They … we … become personally involved, and sometimes lose perspective completely.

In the heat of the moment it’s easy to focus on winning this one issue, losing track of the larger context in which you’re operating. When you choose tactics to win that damage your relationships in the organization, you’ve reduced your ability to win the next point. Eventually, the process of winning will result in your complete inability to function, and you’ll have to move on to the next jungle, where you can start your practice of slash-and-burn agriculture all over again.

So here’s some practical advice: choose antagonistic relationships (the word “enemy” is so melodramatic!) carefully.

Whenever you’re trying to make a point, win an argument, sell a program, or whatever, you’ll encounter resistance from one quarter or another. I suggest the following 5-step approach:

1. Take a deep breath and decide how important it is to you. Is it worth your full effort, or does it make more sense to simply make your case and live with whatever decision happens?

2. Exploit your relationships with key decision-makers, guiding them to the “right” perspective, which is to say, yours. If you haven’t built strong relationships yet, get going. They’re more important than all the logic you can muster.

3. Build a relationship with those taking the opposite side. Try to win them over, if not to your opinion than to understanding you’re taking a legitimate, professional position. Create mutual respect.

4. Find something to create the appearance of a compromise – something to give your adversaries in the process. In other words, make it look like both sides win … to your adversaries, not just to outside parties.

5. Don’t be a sore loser. If it doesn’t go your way, don’t walk away grumbling about office politics and plotting your revenge. This is an opportunity to show some class. Take advantage of it. Buy the winner lunch and figure out how you can jointly sponsor the next program.

And how should you deal with your adversaries in the future? Opinion: holding grudges is a mistake. Forgetting character is an even bigger mistake.