The staff wasn't using the company software. The boss' response was disturbing

How can you persuade employees to embrace the software you provide? Perhaps not like this.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer on
Software developer with programming code reflecting in his glasses

He wrote what?

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Companies provide software so that their employees can be surveilled at all times.

Well, not just that.

The company believes software will make it more money more efficiently, of course.

Sometimes, though, employees don't warm to a particular piece of software. Sometimes, this frustrates their bosses. And sometimes their bosses completely lose their decorum and rant on a public forum.

I confess to wanting to check the year and month when I espied a law firm partner's reaction to his employees failing to use the firm's Clio billing software.

The timesheet thing can be a chore. It can be hard to flip backwards and forwards between billing and real work life, such as YouTube videos of sheep cuddling dogs.

Yet Gordon Oldham, senior partner at Oldham, Li & Nie, decided to interrupt his employees' online activities with an aggressive email -- one apparently sent to all his lawyers.

Captured by legal website Roll On Friday, Oldham's email will surely be taught in management classes for years to come. It will likely be embraced by IT managers and, um, chief revenue officers across the globe.

The only question is whether that embrace will be loving, or feel a little more like a choke hold.

You see, Oldham took a megaphone in one hand and a cudgel in the other.

Shame, Shame, Shame. Shame On You. If You Can't Dance Too.

His psychological mellifluence began like this: "I've learnt that you can motivate 90% of people through love, fear, or greed. I subsequently learned that you can catch the other 10% though embarrassment or religious guilt."

Yes, I'd like to see how he motivates by love, too.

But let's continue with elements of his email: "It seems that some of you are not in love with OLN and its success to actually mark your time. You don't fear any punishment and you are obviously not greedy enough to want to get commissions from the fees that you put in. So I have decided that maybe I can embarrass a few of you by showing you the attached which of course is for your billable time from the 4th to the 8th of January as recorded -- or in the case of [Associate 1], [Partner 1], and [Associate 2], not recorded."

Of course one can understand his frustration. Law firms need to make money so that their partners can buy second yachts.

But is this really the best way to get your people to dance to your tune and use your software? Where's gamification when you need it? Is it suddenly out of fashion?

One can, I suppose, (attempt to) embarrass some people through humor. Oldham eschewed that in favor of chewing people out till they squirmed. Even if they had only just started their jobs.

Sample: "[Trainee 1], unless you have been in suspended animation where you have absolutely no work, could you please find out how I discontinue a Training Contract halfway through where the trainee refuses/fails to carry out reasonable instructions from his principal!"

I hear you cry: "Shouldn't there have been a question mark at the end of that sentence?"

He did go after fellow partners too: "[Partner 2], congratulations, in 5 days you managed to record 1 hour."

However, the whole thing may, to some palates, smack of retrograde dribbling.

Rock On, Tommy.

When Roll On Friday asked whether this might have all been a touch misguided, Oldham volunteered: "My dog Tommy who is a very friendly Hong Kong Street stray only took one occasion when he backed into a hot radiator to learn his lesson. It seems that he can learn faster than some people these days who are being pulled kicking and screaming into the age of technology. Illustrating who is using technology and who is not hardly constitutes the shaming of lawyers. Not exactly Game of Thrones. Man up…or is that too gender-specific these days."

I wonder how an art school would describe this form of illustration. Bracing?

I hadn't been aware that young people needed grit-filled hectoring to wholly bathe in technology. Just give them an app with happy colors and they're away.

I had been aware that Oldham had mentioned his express purpose was to embarrass people.

I had also been aware that one or two bosses in tech do like to offer the pseudo-libertarian, everything-out-in-the-open, brutal-honesty-except-about-me approach. Perhaps they're at one with Oldham.

I'm sure many managers have their own methods to persuade employees to happily -- or, at least, efficiently -- enter their time into the appropriate software.

I wonder, though, how many of his employees wonder about Oldham's own management theories. How many believe he might see the imperfection of his email via the conduit of embarrassment or religious guilt? I can see no sign of either thus far.

How many might, though, try to adjust Oldham's thinking through love, fear or greed?

Oh, who wouldn't adore seeing an employee mosey into Oldham's office and soothe: "Oh, Gordon. That was such a lovely, thoughtful email. So perfectly forthright. I just wanted to say how much I adore working here."?

And, as Oldham perhaps begins to offer a shy, satisfied smile, the employee offers their letter of resignation.

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