The number-one management style in this country, say management specialists Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, is the "Leave Alone-ZAP," and they think it plays a big role in employe unhappiness and reduced productivity.

Bosses who use this procedure customarily keep their mouths shut when employes put in a hard day or do an especially good job, but if these assistants make a mistake -- ZAP! -- they're clobbered.

"Most people don't hear about what they've done," say the pair, "unless they do it wrong."

In their travels about the country, Blanchard and Johnson make it a point to ask people they meet: "Are you doing a good job?"

The most frequent response: "I think so. I haven't been chewed out lately by my boss."

This focus on punishment instead of praise -- and employe uncertainty about how they rate with the boss -- stifles motivation, Blanchard and Johnson contend. This can lead to a host of worker ills, including lack of interest in the job, stress, burnout, absenteeism. And these, in turn, can be blamed -- at least partially -- for the sorry state of the country's economy.

"People really don't like the way they're being treated," says Johnson, and America is paying the price in low productivity.

"The number-one motivator of people," both specialists maintain, "is feedback on results." Rather than concentrating on reprimands, they tell bosses "to catch their staff doing something right. Give them a praising."

Although the proffering of praise may seem a simplistic solution to resolving the nation's economic woes, Blanchard and Johnson are convinced America needs a "quick fix" and that they have an answer. Their strategy is laid out in a small (111 pages, large type) and expensive ($15) book, The One Minute Manager, initially self-published and now picked up by Morrow for a major nationwide push this fall. The first printing was 100,000.

Blanchard, 43, is founder of a California-based human resource consulting firm, Blanchard Training and Development, Inc. of Escondido. He also is a professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the University of Massachusetts.

His colleague, Johnson, 43, of San Diego, earned a medical degree but turned to writing on medicine and psychology as a profession. He has also authored the ValueTales series, 27 children's books aimed at teaching moral values to the young. The idea for the series came to him, Johnson says, while he watched the Senate Watergate hearings and concluded his and other children could profit from lessons in morality.

In The One Minute Manager, written as a parable that takes about an hour to read, Blanchard and Johnson describe the effective manager as one who:

* Establishes and explains goals thoroughly. They are written out briefly (no more than 250 words each) and agreed upon by boss and subordinate.

* Practices one-minute praisings.

* If necessary, takes an employe aside for a one-minute reprimand. Following immediately is the boss' reminder to the employe of his or her value to the firm.

These three principles form the basic philosophy of one-minute managing. "There is really nothing new to this," acknowledge the authors. "If you see successful managers, this is what they are doing."

The book has received high praise from a number of business, education and government managers. Gen. David C. Jones, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who attended a recent Washington workshop on one-minute manager strategy, is quoted heavily in the book's publicity.

"I particularly like the advice to catch someone doing something right," says Jones. "The government bureaucracy has fallen into the trap of believing the best way to get quality is to inspect it into the system. We have tens of thousands of inspectors, auditors and kibitzers who find nothing but shortcomings."

"Almost everybody wants to be working in a meaningful way," says Johnson. "They want to feel like they're making a difference." If they feel appreciated, "they will knock themselves out for you."

Adds Blanchard: "So many managers walk by their people and think, 'How lucky I am to have that person,' but they don't tell anybody." When employes hear only a boss' complaints, "they spend a lot of energy trying to avoid punishment. And no work is getting done. That's the American style."

In their workshops, Blanchard and Johnson use a "you're-getting-hotter/you're-getting-colder" kind of game to illustrate the difference between punishment and praise as a management tool. Two participants are sent from the room, and those who remain establish a task for them to perform -- the goal -- such as moving the speaker's charts from one part of the room to another. The two outside the room aren't told what they are supposed to do.

The first participant who returns is rapped with a rolled newspaper each time he or she fails to make a move toward the charts. Characteristically, the person -- so frustrated at getting hit -- quits in disgust before discovering what must be done.

In contrast, the second participant is directed to the task by ringing pens against water glasses, the more enthusiastic the ring (a sort of applause) the closer the person is to the goal. Invariably, say the two authors, this person completes the task in a couple of minutes.

Praise works particularly well as a training aid, say Blanchard and Johnson, with the boss praising an employe doing something "approximately right, not exactly right." In time, a worker should acquire such a strong sense of self-worth that frequent praisings are unnecessary.

One point the authors stress is that any compliments must be specific. Random pats on the back as the boss strolls through the office don't mean as much as a few moments of appreciation for a particular job well done.

Praise can be equally effective outside the business setting, with the family and especially children. When the youngsters are tiny, says Blanchard, almost everything they do is cute so they get a lot of loving attention. When they grow into teen-agers, too often their parents highlight any negative behavior, forgetting to remark on positive qualities. (Johnson is incorporating the one-minute manager tactics into two upcoming books on the one-minute mother and the one-minute father.)

Reprimands should be tackled as soon as an error is discovered. Once again, say the authors, people should be told specifically what it is they did wrong and how the boss feels about it. There should be a pause "for a few seconds of uncomfortable silence" to let the subordinate feel how the boss feels. But then the boss should shake hands to let employes "know you are honestly on their side" and that it is their performance, not them as individuals, that is being criticized.

Sometimes "you have to care enough to be tough," say Blanchard and Johnson, "but only on the performance . . . never on the person."