It’s been 30 years, but I still remember the Radio Volume Incident like it was yesterday. I was working in the clinical laboratory at a large children’s hospital in a major metropolitan area in Tennessee. The lab was fairly large and staffed accordingly. At some point in the history of the lab, the decision had been made to allow employees to keep small portable radios at their workstations, which only a few actually did. However, not long after I began working there, one lab employee began complaining that one other employee’s radio volume was too loud. The complainer would surreptitiously turn the volume down, and inevitably the complainee would turn the volume back up—perhaps even a trifle louder than it was previously. This went on for days, and tensions began to rise and tempers to flare. Harsh words were spoken and threats were made. Finally the issue became so acute that the lab director was drawn into the melee. Discussions were held between the director, the pathologists, and various other powers-that-were. Interestingly, the employees in question were not addressed directly. The end result was that a memorandum was issued to all lab personnel establishing an official policy which specified in excruciating detail the maximum allowable volume level for all portable radios in the lab—right down to precisely how far from maximum the volume knob or other mechanism could be set. Management had allowed a minor problem to escalate to the point where a ridiculous official corporate policy was created which had that distinct passive-aggressive tone which, I have come to learn, is practically de rigueur for such all-encompassing epistles. And for all that, the individuals involved were even more antagonistic toward each other, the entire lab staff was distracted for weeks, and the perception of management as bumbling idiots was further solidified.
And all because of the Sledgehammer Approach to Management, aka “SLAPM.”
The Sledgehammer Approach can manifest itself in various ways, but in every instance there are common themes which can range in manifestation from extremely subtle to harshly overt: view your employees as a mass rather than as individuals, assume the worst about them, and treat them accordingly. Especially in large organizations where SLAPM is the status quo, there seems to be the perception is that it’s too much trouble, takes too long, and costs too much to identify the actual source of employee dissatisfaction, lack of productivity, or unmet expectations. It’s simply easier to SLAPM with company-wide policies which, in intent, outcome, or both, are often punitive and ultimately counterproductive in nature. I’m sure numerous books, articles, and research papers have been written trying to explain how and where this management style originated. I could have spent copious amounts of Googling time trying to find examples of said tomes, but why bother when I can point to the enormous popularity of the multiple-award-winning TV series The Office or Scott Adams’ Dilbert comics? The SLAPM method is like a cockroach—it doesn’t really matter where it came from because now it’s everywhere, it causes chaos, and we all just want to kill it.
Of course, this begs the question: If something is so bad, why is it so prevalent? Why do we allow this destructive force to exist? The answers are pretty much the same for SLAPM as for a cockroach: we don’t know or don’t want to admit it exists, and it’s easier to just live with than try to eradicate. Tragically, ignorance, indifference, and resignation all contribute directly to the ongoing replication of the problem.
Let me be clear: the Sledgehammer Approach is one of most egregious examples of poor management. Whether the root cause is a lack of managerial competence, having too many plates spinning at the same time, or just plain laziness, the outcome is the same. As with the example of the Radio Volume Incident from 30 years ago, it’s easier to use a sledgehammer to try to smash a problem in one fell swoop than it is to find one loose nail and gently tap it back into place—or pull it out, if necessary. But what may seem easier or less confrontational or even cheaper in the short term very often turns out to be much costlier in a variety of ways.
Unfortunately, the long-term results of using the SLAPM method are just that: long-term, cumulative, and often not immediately noticeable. Nowhere is this more true than in the arena of employee morale. Many employees will suffer in silence under the pounding of the sledgehammer, at least for a time. Consequently, management assumes that what they’re doing is working fine because no one is complaining. Ironically, the same managers who assume that SLAPM is successful if no one makes a fuss may refuse to even consider the possibility that their management style is flawed when employees DO push back! A wise, competent manager is not afraid to look inward first before assuming the fault lies elsewhere. The first principle of good management is that it’s up to the manager to create a positive working environment for employees, not the other way around.
Since this article is being posted on a medical transcription/healthcare documentation company website, it is not only reasonable but imperative, in my view, to note that the Sledgehammer Approach to Management has wreaked havoc within our industry. Consolidation and amoral corporatization has transformed the very soul and nature of our profession, and not in a good way. There was a time when transcription companies tended to be smaller, and ownership and management were more closely tied to the actual practice of our craft. Now we have become just another commodity source, with management often literally and figuratively removed from those they manage, and more concerned about making money for investors than in treating their employees with dignity and respect.
Ironically, I predict it will be the SLAPM mentality that will ultimately destroy those organizations who refuse to acknowledge its toxicity. I truly believe that a shakeup of epic proportions in our industry is on the horizon, due to a convergence of powerful financial, political, and societal forces. But I also believe that when the dust settles, healthcare documentation companies such as WahlScribe, which understand that investing in the overall wellbeing of their employees is in fact the road to true success, will rise to the occasion and provide a resounding rejection of the SLAPM mentality. I’m immensely proud to be part of an organization whose principals have principles to which they are committed, and I’m encouraged to see other service providers in our profession who share that same commitment.
I’ll leave you with a paraphrase of a quote by Sir Richard Branson, a modestly successful businessman who has no use for the SLAPM mindset:
“Manage people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
–Jay Vance, CMT, CHP
Vice President of Operations