Dave Yoho has been speaking to businessmen about the psychology of management for 25 years. But he must have found his setting one recent afternoon unusual.
The Kinney Shoe Co. has a prototype shoe store in its New York merchandising center, the walls lined with racks of footwear of every conceivable size, style, shape, color and price. The store was trimmed to every detail; even socks, laces, and shoe polish were on display.
Kinney had invited Yoho to address its 86 district managers--gathered for a week-long series of shoe-selling strategy sessions--at the mock-up store. The Kinney middle managers, collectively responsible for directing the operations of the chain's 1,500 stores, sat on chairs squeezed between the shoe racks.
By the time the 53-year-old Vienna resident went to work at 3:30 p.m., the smoke hung heavily in the air and the Kinney men and women, who'd been listening to this and that management report since 7:30 in the morning, slumped low in their chairs.
But Yoho, known in his trade as an inspirational speaker, was in his element. He is paid handsomely to boost company morale, provide tips on managing businesses, and enumerate ways to sweeten profits when the economy turns sour.
For Yoho's $2,000 fee, the Kinney people heard him lecture about "How to Create a Motivational Environment": a two-hour cram course in psychology, with miscellaneous applications to the shoe industry.
In it, Yoho lays out the five rules of motivation, explanations of emotional, cultural, and perceptual blocks, techniques on how to approach an adversary situation, and ways to encourage employes to overcome their weaknesses.
Businesses, looking for ways to up the sagging spirits and productivity of their recession-weary employes, are turning to him in increasing numbers.
More than 1,200 companies and associations will ask him to speak to them this year. He will actually address about 150.
He offers keynote and after-dinner speeches as well as seminars and workshops. You can even get Dave Yoho on tape--video and audio.
One of the reasons managers think they can't inspire their employes to be more productive, and why they are increasingly depressed themselves, Yoho says, is the tremendous amount of "negativism" that clouds our society.
"We're so steeped with so much negativity that it is very difficult to get up in the morning and be very positive," he declares.
"So if you want to stay positive, stop reading the newspaper," he recommends in all seriousness. (It's advice he says he follows himself.) "It's a very dangerous thing to listen to facts. They'll screw you up."
The thrust of Yoho's message is the "people-to-people" aspects of running a business, which he said aren't usually understood by most managers.
Much of the psychology he offered the Kinney managers is based on his five rules of human motivation:
* You can never motivate anyone to do anything at anytime.
* Everyone is motivated to do what they do at all times.
* People do things for their reasons, not yours.
* Any extension of anyone's behavior may be in fact an extension of a weakness.
* The person that knows the most about the circumstances or situation controls.
If businessmen apply these common-sense "truisms" and understand that most of an individual's behavior is set in early childhood and cannot be reshaped, he says, they will become more effective people managers.
Yoho used a fictitious exchange between a store manager (Bill) and his boss to demonstrate how not to tell a subordinate about a weakness:
"Bill, I just came back from a meeting and I want to tell you we are at the low end of the totem pole. Some of what you do looks sick and I'm going to tell you what your problem is. You go out on the floor and you're not exciting enough.
"You know, you got talent, baby, but I don't know where you're hiding it. Sometimes you go out there and you're almost like a nothing. You got talent but you just don't seem to use it. You're a lost cause."
This adversarial approach, he says, is guaranteed to leave the employe depressed, frustrated, probably a little bit angry, and certainly less productive. He suggests an alternate tactic:
"Bill, I just came back from a meeting and I want to tell you something. I heard some statistics about what some of the guys are doing, what some of the divisions are doing, and I wrote a note on one of these sheets and I said, I like Bill and I'm going to tell him that they have a couple of people that are performing like crazy and I don't think those guys are any brighter or any stronger than you.
"I think they use a skill that you may not use as effectively as you could because I see the skill in you maybe more than you see yourself. But Bill, I'd like to see you using the skill more."
"How many of you have store managers that are tardy, late people?" he asked the audience. "Tell me how you handle those suckers. What do you do?" Back come responses, "Cover for them," "Embarrass them," "Compare them to their peers," "Intimidate," "Plead," "Show benefit of coming on time," and, "When all else fails, fire them."
"Guess what?" he asks rhetorically, with the knowledge his group has responded entirely as planned. "Almost everything that you have on that list gives them exactly what they want: attention."
That, Yoho goes on, merely satisfies their aims and encourages them to return to bothersome, attention-getting tactics repeatedly.
He illustrates the point:
"A child goes over to one of your displays, kind of nicely put together, and starts to climb on the display." He walks over to one of the nearby shoe racks, motioning with his arms how a child might clamber on it.
"Shoes go down. Now the mother goes over"--Yoho backs up, then strides to the rack with the determination of an incensed parent--"grabs the child by one arm, picks it up in the air and with this hand slaps it on the rear end." As he hits the imaginary child, the veteran shoe men nod: "We've seen it, we've been through it."
"And in the middle of one of your stores," he continues, "the child starts screaming. Now tell me, who is in charge?
"The child is in charge. It's got mama's attention, totally, unconditionally."
Yoho says the way to cope with employes who want attention, like children, is to acknowledge the behavior but not give in to it. Show that you care about the person, he says, but do not accept the behavior.
A member of the audience asks how to deal with store managers who refuse to complete reports and take inventory on time.
No problem, he demonstrates, launching into some impromptu role playing, switching back and forth from the district manager's part to the store manager's part:
District manager: "Let me ask you about the skills that go with your job. Which ones don't you like?" Yoho spins 180 degrees.
Store manager: "I don't like screwing around with your inventory, I don't like the damn reports, I don't like making out the reports." He spins again.
D.M.: "I see, and why is that?" A half turn and an aside: "And I'm going to smile when I say 'why is that.' "
S.M.: "I don't think the damn things are read by anybody. You make me send them in to New York and nobody reads them."
D.M.: "You want to find out if they're read? Write across the bottom 'Went to the IRS today and demanded an audit of our company.' "
The shoe executives loved it. In fact Yoho was such a hit that the company has invited him to do six more meetings around the country for the chain's 1,500 store managers.
Besides delivering inspirational, motivational, and practical advice to 150 clients a year, Yoho also runs his own 11-person consulting firm based in Fairfax.
Born with a congenital speech impediment, Yoho's success as a professional speaker is particularly remarkable. He says it took seven years of "very painful" childhood speech therapy to overcome his handicap. There's no question that it spurred him to rise to the top of his profession, he adds.
Yoho has garnered several professional awards for his speaking talent. In 1981 he received "The Cavett" award, known as the Oscar of public speaking. In 1977 he was award the C.P.A.E. from the National Speakers Association, the initials for a Latin term meaning professional excellence in speaking. The C.P.A.E. distinction has been conferred on fewer than 60 speakers in the world, including Ronald Reagan.
"Regardless of what you think of his programs," Yoho says, discussing the president, "Ronald reagan is a hell of a speaker. There ain't no question, he knows the technique."
And what is the technique, the secret to successful public speaking? To Yoho, it is simply knowing your audience: "The measure of all communication is based on whether people can understand what you've said."