Managing By Ice Cream

Dan Schneider, who’s been someone’s boss since he was 16 years old, spent his early years as a “stereotypical lunatic C.E.O,” he tells the New York Times’ Adam Bryant.

Then he realized how to manage without looking like a jerk: ice cream.

When one employee’s hard drive failed with no backups of a major project, “everybody looked at me like they thought I was just going to fire him or kill him. And I don’t know where I got the idea, but I just said: ‘You’ve got to go buy everybody ice cream. We’re having an ice cream party.’ Because I realized that if I yell at everybody, they’re just going to figure I’m a jerk. But if we’re all sitting around eating ice cream, everybody knows why we’re eating ice cream — it’s because this guy screwed up. That will set in and they’ll remember it and then just maybe they’ll think, ‘Oh, yeah. We had ice cream last week. Maybe we should back up our work.'”

Since then, his company has had three or four other ice cream parties, and Schneider thinks the tactic is working.

He also, Bryant reports, refuses to hear bad news after 3 p.m. “Because in the last two or three hours of the day, we’re not going to be able to fix it, and then you’re going to go home with that, and you’re not going to enjoy the rest of your night.”

But getting back to ice cream (it being unseasonably warm on the east coast, or at least here in D.C.), there are other reasons why “managing by ice cream” is a good idea. If you’re a boss and your employees are rebelling, you can buy them an ice cream and give them a chance to talk “rubbish,” as one manager in the UK put it. “People will come for a tea/coffee or an ice-cream only if they are at least ambivalent to the provider. If you really dislike someone, who cares about an ice-cream? The serious malcontents will stay away and this helps identify people who really are not happy with you {so you can beat them mercilessly of course – or, if you’ve progressed beyond the school-yard, put some thought into why they are unhappy and what to do about it}.”