Soviet management tips for the American executive

To celebrate having gotten through one month of winter, let’s turn our attention to things Russian (since they are the true masters of the cold).

Last year, I was invited to a family dinner in which the husband’s father is retired from managing a large Soviet enterprise (many bonuses and incentives for performance, so not actually all that different from running a bureaucratic U.S. company). The wife had recently been promoted to manage five divisions of a substantial U.S. company instead of just one. She described her frustration with workers who didn’t want to come back to the office. “Can you make it in every Wednesday?” was an unreasonable ask. Productivity was unimpressive and a lot of people had gotten comfortable with the previous manager, whose standards were low-to-mediocre.

We kicked around some ideas for motivating the workers and gradually acclimating them to the new higher standards. After 10 minutes of mostly unproductive suggestions, the father-in-law offered some advice…. “Old Russian saying: When whorehouse is losing money, you don’t change the beds. You change the whores.”

6 thoughts on “Soviet management tips for the American executive

  1. Nice family dinner! What was the reaction of husband’s mother? And of husband himself?
    For the record, jobs in former USSR were lifetime sentences; good workers were tolerated and nurtured even if were sleepy-drunk for a few weeks per season or if they were wife-biters etc…
    Maybe there were whorehouses for higher industry, government militia and party bureaucrats, there were rumors, but most people would not know for sure,

  2. Why would anyone in a U.S. corporation be motivated? Every org has 10% work horses and 90% slackers and middle managers who take the credit for the economic output of the 10%.

    It usually is the middle managers who push for returning to offices, because their non-productivity is easily noticed in a remote setting. In the office, they can go back to being people persons, charismatic and claiming they are brilliant strategists (like the plandemic desk warrior uncle Joe).

    I find it strange that the person managing five divisions would associate returning to the office with higher productivity. What are her actual contributions?

    • > Every org has 10% work horses and 90% slackers and middle managers who take the credit for the economic output of the 10%.

      So true. Reading this made me want to laugh, then cry.

  3. What is productivity? My best ideas on improving IT/OT for my clients happen when I’m sitting on the warm beach.

    I’m very glad I’m a member of the technical class and not the managerial one.

    (I’m turning 64 tomorrow and I’m still waiting for the alien starships to whisk me away to a better world. Oh well. Gotta dance with the planet that brung me)

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