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SS 64 – The Ten Commandments of Management with K. Palmer Hartl

Episode: 64

Guest: Palmer Hartl

iTunes: Stream Episode

K. Palmer Hartl is the author of The Ten Commandments of Management. In his book, he incorporates biblical references into ten easily-to-follow management principles. Today, Palmer joins Jason on the Solomon Success show to talk about some of the specific commandments inside his book that can help you be a better manager and be more productive.


Key Takeaways:
2:00 – Palmer talks about why he decided to write the book.
5:20 – Ask specific questions during the hiring process to see if they are qualified for your company.
9:50 – People are complicated, so don’t beat yourself up if you hire the wrong person.
12:30 – People should manager others as adults, not children. Palmer breaks down what that means in this segment.
16:40 – Are your employees emailing you for permission?
19:10 – Do not try to change someone’s behavior – it won’t work.
21:45 – Make sure you document everything during the hiring process.


“The hire process is not a science, it is an art form.”

“Thou Shalt Manage People as Adults, Not as Children.”

“I can’t change somebody’s behavior. They have to want to change their behavior themselves.”


Mentioned In This Episode:
The Ten Commandments of Management by K. Palmer Hartl



Jason Hartman:
It’s my pleasure to welcome K. Palmer Hartl to the show. He is the author of The Ten Commandments of Management, biblically inspired methods to success. Palmer, welcome, how are you?

K. Palmer Hartl:
I’m good, how are you?

Give our listeners a sense of geography, tell us where you’re located.

I’m in Philadelphia.

How did you come to write the book?

Well, it’s sort of a combination of a long career. I’ve had sort of a dual career in that I am a Parish Priest in one of the local episcopal churches where I still volunteer my time, but I actually made my living from being a management consultant in the field of leadership and management and organization development. So, over the years, I worked with many managers and leaders to try and help them improve their capabilities and it occurred to me it might be interesting to see if I could put together all of those thoughts and ideas I used to share with those people in a management book that could be used by people as sort of a desk reference. In fact, one of the people that I had in mind as reader of this book is a young manager who has never managed before, so I thought if I could put together a group of management practices that would help that person be more effective that’ll be great. Then, if I could tie it to some biblical principles as well that will also be good.

That is sorrily missed in today’s worlds. So, you have these 10 commandments and let’s pick a few that might be your favorite. I would definitely like you to touch on number one, which is Thou Shalt Hire the Right People, which I think is a huge problem for entrepreneurs getting that right fit. You know, it’s so kind of ambiguous. It’s just not easy to do that, people are an ambiguous commodity, if you will. Tell us about that one.

Well, I couldn’t agree more, in fact, what I start out with saying is that if you hire the right person you solved 80% of your management problems, but having said that, I also realize it’s very difficult to hire the right person and the best outcome for hiring could be, would be, to find somebody who felt like the job that you had to offer was really a calling for them and this is where the tie in comes to the biblical texts that I use in this book and I talk about the calling of disciplines by Jesus and it was something about the way he put the message to them that they felt they were called to drop their nets and follow him and figuratively speaking at least, that’s what I hope to have happen when somebody is being hired for a job.

Now, to up the chances that you’d get that, what I talk about are several techniques in this chapter, one of them is called behavioral interviewing. In behavioral interviewing, what you’re trying to do is to get the person to talk to you about situations that they had experience in their past and how they handled them. In particular, if you know what you’re doing and practice doing this in advance as the interviewer you can formulate the kinds of questions that you want them to answer and see if they fit your job. For example, let’s say that you are hiring an administrative assistant, but that person is going to work for two or three different people.

One of the things that person will have to do is to juggle conflicting demands, so one of the questions you might ask and this is an example of behavioral interviewing is to say to the person, tell me about a time in the past when you had multiple people demanding things of you and too little time to accomplishment, how did you handle that? The effect of that is you find out one, whether the person has ever had to handle that kind of situation before and your interested in that, because you know that’s going to be a feature of your job and the second thing is, you can tell by virtue of the answer whether or not the way the person handled it the way you would have liked them to handle it.

So, it’s a useful tool in helping to find out what people have done before and we’re working on the assumption there that what people have done is more or less likely to be what they’re going to do in the future. Lots of time in interview situations people will ask them, well, what would you do about such and such situation and asking a person to predict what they’re going to do is not nearly as effective as asking what they have done in the past.

You know, Palmer, that’s somewhat common technique that I’ve heard recommended. You know, there are many books out there with suggested interview question for the employee and then for the candidate there are books for them too with these suggested answers, which is kind of interesting. I wish there was a more scalable way to do this. You know, with the, and this is not necessarily your area, but I just thought I’d kind of throw it out there maybe this thought is a little random, but you know, now a days with all of these online services where you can post employment opportunities, you can hire freelancers, of course, there’s Elance and Odesk and a zillion others out there, even employers use Craigslist quite extensively and that’s hit and miss for sure, but is there any sort of tool that you would recommend to kind of help sort people before you get to the interview, before you get to those questions? I know you’re not necessarily a tech person, but I just thought I’d throw that out in case you have one.

I don’t. Hiring is not the thing that I focused on in my career and I do know there are technical tools that people have that read resumes and look for keywords and all that kind of stuff, so there are things like that out there, but I am not acquainted.

Then there are the personality assessment tests like Kolbe and DISC and all those as well. So, it’s just kind of interesting, but good, okay. So, the past is not the future, but it helps to understand where they’re coming from, where they’ve been, what type of experience they’ve had by asking that question. There’s a reason it’s a popular question probably because it works. Anything else on the right people?

One other suggestion I make in that chapter is what I call moving in together. When I was managing a group, I always tried to see if I could the person to come to work for us on a contract basis for a specified period of time. There are lots of reasons why young couple today move in together, not all of them great, but there is some usefulness to that is, like, how you gonna really know what this person is like until you’ve lived some life with them and I’m here to tell you it has saved my bacon a couple of times over the years when I had somebody do that and I found out after six weeks that this was clearly not the right person and in several cases they agreed and so we were able to part company without any great level of animosity, but in today’s employment environment where there’s a surplus of workers, at least, I think that’s still where we are.

In this environment, if you can make that sort of arrangement with somebody, it really is a great way to do it. Another reason I suggest that is because even though many states allow you to have a probationary period of about 6 months to determine whether or not you want to finalize this deal, people are so loathed to fire folks that often they do not take advantage of that six month grace period to really evaluate whether or not you’ve made the right choice and that sort of leads to one other thing I would say and that is be willing to admit you’ve made a mistake.

The hire process is not a science, it is an art form. As much science thrown in as possible to help, like you were asking a few minutes of ago, the technology to help, but the fact of the matter is human beings are complicated and you don’t really know exactly what you’re getting until you get them and until you live some life with that person. So, sometimes you make the right choice and sometimes you don’t and the worst situation is that you keep somebody you know is not right and then you try fixing them and that leads to a whole another kind of problems.

Yeah, it sure does. It doesn’t work very well in relationships either, by the way. Personal relationships and I have to say I have tried that, it doesn’t work. You know, it’s interesting. Just an interesting commentary on what you said, Palmer, because you know it’s unfortunate really that it is so hard to terminate people, because that creates..You know, there’s enough emotional baggage that comes with terminating someone for the employer, you know, it’s hard to do, you don’t want to be mean, you don’t want to admit you made the wrong decision in hiring that person and so forth, but then you got all these legal hurdles and that really, really is very detrimental to the economy, because it actually hurts that person, because it’s going to limit their growth and career, that employee and it certainly hurts the employer because they’ve got this weight that they’re carrying around that’s slowing down that growth for that company that might otherwise hire more people if they got this bad apple out the door. It’s just really unfortunate that the government interferes so much with that. It’s just too bad.

By the way, a great comparison would be the disaster known as Europe and, you know, I have a friend that owns a company in Ireland, you can’t get rid of people! It’s like impossible to let people go there and, you know, it’s just a huge hindrance to progress.

It definitely is and we’ve, we’re not as bad as some of those more socialized countries, but we have our own issues as you’ve alluded to. I mean, one of the things that managers need to do to protect themselves and create the possibility that they can fire a person if they need to is to keep good record and to do the evaluations you’re suppose to be doing when you’re suppose to be doing them. You have to have a file. You have to have a record of having notified the person that they’re not living up to expectations in order to do it without the threat of a suit and that’s where a lot of people run into trouble is that they don’t do these evaluations when they’re suppose to and they don’t keep good records to boot.

And all the time they spend doing that, they could spend expanding their business and growing a company that would benefit everybody in the economy, but that’s my view on government and that’s sort of a different commentary, but there you are absolutely right. Okay, so what are some of your other favorite commandments?

One of the other ones I’ve spent a lot of time talking with people about is Thou Shalt Manage People as Adults Not as Children. We have an unfortunate employment paradigm in this country all too often, this is not true of all organizations, but far too many that I found where essentially the boss is cast in the role of the parent and the employee is cast in the role of the child and this is really unproductive. If an organization truly wants creative problem solving people in their organization to allow that kind of management paradigm to exist is very counter productive.

The problem is a lot of times people don’t know much more about management than what the kind of management is that they have personally experienced and far too much of what passes for effective management in this country over the years that I’ve spent counseling people who are managers is essentially a lot of what are called parental messages that many times you got when you were growing up from your parents. This is not the way to run the railroad, so to speak. This is not the way a manager should be operating. A manger should understand how to communicate from his or her adult and how to communicate to adult of the employee.

One of the problems in this current employment environment where many people are scared whether they’re going to hold on to their job is that far too many employees are acting out of their child, psychologically their child, and spending most of their time worrying about or too much of the time, let’s put it that way, worrying about whether they’re going to hold on to their position and far less time is spent doing the work they’re hired to do and exercising their creativity and individual expression.

One of the manifestations of this is that American’s are continuing to take few and few vacation days and as far as I concerned one of the reasons for that is people are scared that if they’re gone from their job very long that people will decide they don’t need them. That’s a child-like, psychologically, a child-like kind of fear. It’s really counter-productive to exercising creativity and moving business forward, because people who are acting in the work place as children are basically trying to survive and hang on and that’s, again, not productive in terms of creativity and movement the ball forward.

I would certainly agree with you. When you’re talking about this and the various other commandments that we’re diving into, you know, does that apply to a certain caliber of worker. I mean, certainly high-end employees in the corporate world, you’re absolutely right and the same goes with hiring the right people discussion we had that a lot of the Silicon Valley techie companies sort of give people a lot of freedom whether it be Google, etc. You know, what if you’re running a small business, you’re a solo entrepreneur with two employees, well, you’re not really solo then, but you get the idea. You know, are there any distinction you wanna make in terms of the caliber level of the employee and the company size.

Unless we decided that grown ups are not adults then I think it applies to all levels of employees whether they’re at the top of the house or not.

I couldn’t help as you were saying that to think about the person, you know, who runs a restaurant or something like that. Certainly adults should be treated as adults, I agree, but when you talk about vacation time and so forth and different industries that plays quite a bit differently.

That’s true. I was using the vacation example of one of the manifestations for those people have vacation time. Now, another way to tell whether or not you’re operating from your adult or your parent for the boss is how many emails do you get a day and in particular how many of those emails are from your employee’s asking you for permission to do something or asking you to make a decision that they’re are avoiding making.

Now, it doesn’t have to be an email, it’s just a three person business. The boss and two employees. The same thing can be communicated verbally. If the employees are always coming to you and asking you for permission to do something or asking you to make a decision for them, then you don’t have an adult…you don’t have, psychologically, you don’t have an adult in the room, so to speak. You have a person operating out of their child psychologically and asking daddy or mommy for permission to do something because they don’t want to get in trouble. That’s one reason.

Two, they haven’t had the proper training to know what to say, which is a shame, back to one of the things you commented on earlier, you talked about the idea of manager’s leveraging. Management is really about leveraging. It’s not about doing your employee’s jobs for them. It’s about you being able to do something else while they do the things you’ve asked them to do. That’s the way you get leverage. So, bosses have to be honest with themselves about how many times a day they either get emailed or asked in person to make decisions for their employees that they really should be making themselves or to give them permission to do something that they really should be able to decide to do on the own without a boss telling them yes it’s okay.

Yeah, fantastic. Okay, good stuff, good stuff. What about another commandment as we wrap up here.

One of the things I’m particular hip on and this goes back to something that we were talking about earlier is Thou Shalt Not Try to Fix Your Employees and this is something that I run to far too often in my coaching with managers and that is there will have a problem employee and back to our questions about firing, rather than firing the person or just saying this is not fit or you don’t have the right skills for the job, many managers will launch into trying to fix the person and by fixing, what I mean, you are trying to change your behavior in some where that fits with what you want and this is really counter-productive and usually ends in a lose-lose situation.

First of all, I can’t change somebody’s behavior. They have to want to change their behavior themselves and secondly it is, in many cases, managers are not making the appropriate distinction between what is a trainable skill that they could offer to the employee versus some kind of personality change that they want the person to make. Let’s take for an example, let’s say you’re a sale manager and you determine that Joe is not assertive enough in the way in which he interacts with his customers.

Now, assertiveness is one of those funny kinds of things that’s in the middle of a skill and a personality issue. Of course, there are classes that I can send Joe to that would teach him some of the skills, some assertiveness skills; there are classes like that and maybe I ought to do that. I could do that, but if Joe comes back from those classes and those skills seem to not have solved the problem, then I need to face the music that this is probably not a skill deficient, but it is a behavioral issue and behavioral issues are not something managers are equipment to deal with.

First of all, you don’t even know whether Joe wants to be different and as a former therapist I know that one of the key ingredients to a client changing, to making any changes in their lives is their desire to want to do that and secondly, most managers are not psychologist or counselors in any way. That’s not something that studied how to do. So, many, many people who go down this path of trying to fix the people who are working for them find that not only do they frustrate the lives that of themselves, but they frustrate their lives out of the people that they are relationships with and as I said in the beginning of this little section, this typically ends in a lose-lose situation where not only are you wasting your time, the companies time, but also the time of the employee when the employee could be off working for somebody where they fit and not the place where they are right now where they don’t.

It kind of ties back into what I said about government, so that’s very, very good points.

If government is the impediment, then you need to dot your Is and cross your Ts like I was suggesting earlier and make sure you record all of this stuff, because as a person, I wasn’t intimately involved when I was in the human resource departments of some organizations that I worked for, but I know that listening to the ones who did work on these kinds of cases, more often than not, the problem was not so much the government, although the government did create the hooks you had to jump through, but it was the lack of documentation that kept people from firing people and managers who spent years trying to fix people who weren’t going to get fixed.

Right, right. No question. Palmer, give out your website and tell people where people can learn more about you.

The website is and on that website you can find out a little bit more about me. Some of the clients I work with over the years. There are articles there that have been published, especially recent ones this fall since the book came out. There’s a blog where there are posts of different topics that I’ve written about and a bio about who I am.

Good stuff. Any closing thought?

My hope is that young managers will find this book really useful as a desk reference. Management is something you need to study to learn how to do and it’s not something you just come equip with. It’s not a gene on the genome and if you are in a management position, you need to take it seriously, you need to study how to do it right and my hope was in writing this book that the ten commandment of management that I would pick out tens things that are really critical for managers to know how to do. As I said in one bulb I did on the book, if you don’t know anything else at least know these ten things, because this will really stand you in good stead as oppose to just trying to do this on the basis of what you saw somebody else do one day.

Excellent point. Palmer Hartl, thank you so much for joining us today.

Thank you.