Published January 13, 2004
Workers beware: Tony Soprano (search) may soon be showing up at your office.
Managers are thinking outside the box to get more results from their cubicled troops, throwing out their training manuals as well as the furniture and looking up to a mob boss for motivational advice.
Deborrah Himsel, vice president of organizational effectiveness for cosmetics giant Avon (AVP), is an avid viewer of HBO's "The Sopranos" and became inspired by Tony — "a catalyst for learning about both effective and ineffective leadership practices."
Himsel compiled Tony's mafia-style management lessons into a book, "Leadership Sopranos Style: How to Become a More Effective Boss."
While she doesn't recommend managers put out a hit on deviant staffers, she does encourage face-to-face sit-downs like Tony's that get to the heart of things quickly.
Using the technique of a sit-down as a conflict resolution device is a skill Tony has mastered and other leaders need to work at, particularly during these high-tech times, said Himsel.
"A lot of times if there is conflict people try to deal with it in a barrage of e-mails and voicemails. If you're ticked with somebody, try to say, 'Hey we have an issue here -- let's just lay our cards out on the table,' as Tony says."
Tony's ability to say what he means and mean what he says is something leaders should pay attention to, Himsel advises in the book. She points out that Tony's way of requesting feedback from a team member is: "Well, spit it out!"
"As anyone who has ever watched the show can attest, Tony is not one for long diatribes. He gets right to the point, using as few words as possible to get there. He also uses everyday language — no big words that you have to look up in the dictionary. His guys respect Tony's style because they know he doesn't hold back."
Himsel says that many leaders today wrongly believe that "flowery language is needed to convey key points, that in business settings, they need to speak differently or more formally than they ordinarily would."
Another boss is saying "Fuhgeddaboutit" to furniture in the name of increased efficiency.
Nick Braden, managing director of the U.S. division of L'Occitane (search), a French-based beauty-products company, is planning a conference room that will keep everyone on their toes. He's decided to ditch the chairs and bring in a table about the height of a bar for staffers to stand around (sorry, no cocktails served).
Braden told the New York Times he expects the design to cut meeting times in half because people will get to the point quicker and will have everyone's full attention. ''You can't lean back in your chair with your BlackBerry (search). You have to pay attention. There's no hiding.''
Other creative-minded managers are found in a recent issue of BusinessWeek, which highlights the country's best managers.
Editor Diane Brady said top bosses share similar qualities: "The good ones are able to motivate and inspire a team of people to reach beyond their grasp. Not simply a case of the lone ranger at the helm."
Creativity and vision are essential for leaders today, when CEOs are being closely watched after so many have fallen, said Brady. "I don't think anyone can achieve in this environment by putting their head down and focusing on cost cutting."
Two managers on the magazine's best list are boosting their employees' morale in fresh ways.
Business Week praised George David, chairman and CEO of United Technologies Corp. (UTX), who guarantees all of his employees a college education through the company's $60 million-a-year Employee Scholar program. Unlike some company tuition programs that mandate courses must be relevant to employees' duties, UTC employees are allowed to study anything they like.
"David feels a more educated work force is a better work force regardless of what they are being educated in," Brady said.
The magazine also applauded Vivek Paul, who manages India's largest listed IT services company and commutes between California and India. He runs with his company remotely using video-conferencing and e-mail, but stays in contact with his 25,000 employees via an internal Web site where they post their achievements and he highlights the best of them for all to see.
Paul, David and other innovative managers have "an unusual commitment," said Brady. "And a broader vision for what they want out of a company rather than having people simply put widgets together."