vPsychology for Business


We are dedicated to bringing out the best in you and your employees

Volume 3, Number 21                                                             October 18, 2002



Psychology for Business is a free e-mail newsletter written by  Dr. John Weaver, Dr. Lynda Dahlke, and Dr. Paul Glass, business psychologists and independent consultants. It is published bi-weekly. You’ve received this newsletter because you’ve subscribed to it or it was forwarded to you by a friend or colleague. To subscribe sign up at our website,
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According to a recent study of 333 U.S. Companies by CCH, Inc., more workers are absent from work due to stress.  Absences due to stress jumped from 5% to 12% in the past two years.  These missed days of work cost an average of $789 per employee per year.  Emotionally healthy workplaces have reduced absenteeism.  This translates directly to the bottom line. 


by Dr. John Weaver, Business Psychologist and Executive Coach

Suppose you meet someone at a local business networking event.  In the course of the conversation, she asks you “how do you describe the operations of your business?” In your response you employ the image of a machine.  You explain to her that your business runs like a “well oiled machine” most of the time, but right now you have some “parts” missing.   

Do you realize you may be limiting your business success without even being aware that you are doing it?  

It’s in the words. The words we use to describe what we are doing can sometimes constrict our understanding as much or more than they help us to explain what we mean.  

Metaphor of the Machine

In this example, the workings of the organization are compared to the workings of a machine.  The machine metaphor is easy to comprehend (especially for males for whom interest in machines is a cultural expectation).  It is also convenient because this image is frequently used.  

Our current fascination with machines has its origin in the Industrial Revolution.  The human economy was transformed during this period as businesses emerged that were based on new technologies that drew people off the farms and into the cities.  Machines could do heavy, repetitive work faster and more precisely than humans.  As the technology progressed, machines were designed that could also mimic and sometimes even surpass the handiwork of artisans.  We wondered, “Is there a limit to what machines can do?”  

Machines had some attractive qualities.  In addition to the volume of work that could be accomplished, machines seemed predictable.  We could control the operations and even learn to predict under what conditions they would operate most effectively and under what conditions they might break down.   

It seemed natural to wonder if organizations could be managed in the same way.  By applying scientific rigor, we believed, we could increase the effectiveness of the workplace in much the same way as we improved on the machine. We looked for the conditions that would increase productivity and tried to identify what would cause the worker to break down.  If we could understand and control these factors we would have the most efficient workplace.  The entire organization was conceptualized as a machine and the employees were the parts. Both management theory and psychological investigations in the workplace (as well as much of the scientific application of psychology) used the machine metaphor to guide our understanding of how to create an effective organization. 

Sometimes the words we use to describe events and processes are so effective that we forget that they are only metaphors.  In a quote (paraphrased) attributed to Henry Ford, “Why is it that every time I need a pair of hands, I have to get a whole man?” this tendency is revealed. 

Alternative Business

Herein lays the danger.  Any metaphor not only illuminates but also obfuscates. Is there an alternative way to do business?

Organizations are not machines, they are living systems. 

The difference between mechanical and living is more than a difference in complexity, as is often assumed.  It is a qualitative difference.  Machines are subject to control and direction by the operator.  You cannot direct a living system, you can only disturb it (according to Frijtof Capra, in his most recent book, Hidden Connections)

By that I mean that humans and other living organisms are not controlled only by external forces.  There are independent internal events (like hunger or emotion) which also influence the outcome.  And there is choice!  

To illustrate, imagine saying hello to the receptionist at a busy office.  She might smile pleasantly and return your greeting (the hoped – for response).  She could also continue what she is doing and ignore your interruption.  She might even respond in an angry or defensive tone of voice.  The response of the machine is predictable and programmable; the reaction of the human is not.   

There are important implications for every organization in this realization.  Command and control strategies have a limited usefulness when dealing with the workforce.  Sometimes a direct command or an effort to establish control will have the results that are expected, while at other times the response will be resistance.  

For example, when top management agrees to implement a change for the company, the failure rates for making the change effectively and in a timely manner are astronomical.  Or it may succeed initially, only to have unforeseen consequences at a later time.  Humans are responding to the demands made by management, to demands in other areas of their lives, and to their internal perceptions about how they are being treated or about how important the change initiative is to their life.  And then they make a choice about how to respond. 

This is beyond the capacity of even the most complex machine. But it is the domain of every employee, even the least educated or least sophisticated.  Command and control strategies are ideal for handling machines.  They are not effective with people. Period. It is not a matter of needing better command and control.  Living systems will not be controlled. 

Where to Begin 

To be truly effective with the human resources of your organization, we must change the approach to working with living beings.  A workforce can be guided but it cannot be effectively controlled.  It can be encouraged to learn, but it cannot be subjugated.   

This is why the Gallup studies regarding effective managers reveal that the best results come from those who draw out the strengths of their workforce and provide each person with what they need to do a good job.   

It is why the Hay Group, in research conducted by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, found that among the six key qualities of leadership, the commanding style was the least effective and often hurt the bottom line, while other styles of visionary, coaching, affiliative, and democratic leadership were associated with improved results. 

It is why “learning organizations,” those organizations which foster continued growth and development of the workforce and establish the environment for creativity at all levels, are among the most profitable year in and year out.   

It is why those companies that have survived and are thriving after 100 years have fostered both a strong sense of community and a collective identity based on common values.  This is balanced by a tolerance for new individuals and new ideas and the ability to adapt to the ever changing landscape of modern business. 

In other words, business that honors the uniqueness of life among it human resources have consistently better results and are more profitable.  This should not be surprising.  When we recognize things as they really are, and respond to them appropriately, we get better results. 


Buckingham, Marcus & Coffman, Curt.  First Break All the Rules. Simon & Schuster. 1999. 

Capra, Frijtof.  The Hidden Connections. Doubleday.  2002. 

Goleman, Daniel; Boyatzis, Richard & McKee, Annie.  Primal Leadership.  Harvard Business School Press. 2002.

On Executive Coaching:  "Executive coaches are not for the meek. They’re for people who value unambiguous feedback. All coaches have one thing in common, it’s that they are ruthlessly results-oriented." FAST COMPANY Magazine

Did you know that executive coaching is not geographically limited?  Coaching by telephone is effective.  It is also an efficient use of time and resources.  You never need to leave your office to travel, nor do you need to pay travel expenses for your coach. We offer coaching either onsite or by telephone. To find out if coaching is right for you, contact us to schedule a FREE 1/2 hour consultation.  Or request a price sheet to determine the best value for your organization.  Call us at: (262) 789-2728 or email us at mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com. ============================================================================================================

About the Author

John Weaver, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist with 22 years’ professional experience working with organizations, groups, and individuals. He has experience leading groups and creating teamwork in organizations. His areas of expertise include executive coaching, conflict resolution, coaching teams and individuals to improve performance under stress, assessing employees and potential employees to ensure the right person for the right job, and training in stress management and "The Vitamin C’s for an Emotionally Healthy Workplace."  He is an experienced professional speaker and published author.

Based in Waukesha, WI, Dr. John Weaver is available for consultation or executive coaching by phone, e-mail or in person. He may be reached at (262) 789-2728 (office) or (414) 491-8719 (cell), by e-mail: mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com or: 

John Weaver, Psy.D. 
Psychology for Business
2717 North Grandview Boulevard, Suite 303
Waukesha, Wisconsin, 53188

Archives:  All our previous newsletters are archived at http://www.psychologyforbusiness.com/eNewsletter.htm. Check out the series on The Vitamin C’s of an Emotionally Healthy Workplace, the series on Dealing with Difficult Employees, links to our Published Articles and our newest series, Triple "A" Leadership.
NEW and FREE! 10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Coach is now available for download only to readers of PSYCHOLOGY FOR BUSINESS by clicking on the title or visiting http://www.psychologyforbusiness.com/questions.htm. Also receive your FREE copy of  9 Ways to Motivate Your Workforce by clicking on the title or visiting http://www.psychologyforbusiness.com/motivate.htm If you are interested in having Dr. Weaver speak for your organization, contact him at mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com?subject=SPEAK .

To order your copy of the book, MANAGING DIFFICULT PERSONALITIES IN THE WORKPLACE: A Manager’s Practical Guide, by Dr. Paul Kenneth Glass, send your name, address, number of copies desired and a check made out to Dr. Paul Kenneth Glass for $12 per book (plus $2 shipping per book).  Or order 10 or more copies for $10 per book and $6.95 for shipping (up to 50 copies).  No fluff, this book gets right to the point. Send orders to:

Dr. Paul Kenneth Glass
Psychology for Business
2717 N. Grandview Blvd. #303
Waukesha, WI 53188   

Email: mailto:pglass@psychologyforbusiness.com

To order the booklet: 41 WAYS TO IMPROVE THE EMOTIONAL HEALTH OF YOUR WORKPLACE, by Dr. John Weaver send a check for $6 and a self-addressed, double stamped business size envelope to:

Dr. John Weaver
Psychology for Business
2717 N. Grandview Blvd. #303
Waukesha, WI 53188


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© Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. John Weaver. Distribution rights: The above material is copyrighted, but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. If you would like to reprint part of this newsletter please contact me at mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com to make arrangements.


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Dr. John Weaver publishes another newsletter, co-authored by Darlene Weaver, THE CENTERED PENDULUMIt is our firm belief that lifelong patterns of “being” (personality, attitudes, emotions) and “doing” (lifestyle, adaptability, coping skills) interact with our genes and environment to create conditions of a healthy or a diseased brain.  If you would like to read previous issues of the Centered Pendulum newsletter or to subscribe, please visit the archives at http://www.centeredpendulum.org/newsletters.htm.