PORTLAND, ORE. — I'm sorry I never got to meet the late management guru Peter Drucker because the two of us would have shared numerous agreeable opinions. I know Drucker was right on target with his observations about workplace efficiency because I came up with many of the same conclusions independently, and I'm not saying that to be snide. Sometimes the greatness of a man lies in his ability to show everyone around him an obvious but overlooked fact.
A lot of news stories recounting Drucker's career stated that one of his major achievements was "recognition that dedicated employees are the key to success of any corporation." If I wanted to denigrate Drucker, I could point out that the value of dedicated employees is perfectly plain to anyone who has ever watched "A Christmas Carol" on TV or in a theater, or heard the brilliant radio version performed by Jonathan Winters. The firm of Scrooge and Marley would have been toast if not for the tireless efforts of a humble clerk. Bob Cratchit was carrying that company on his back.
But in the real world, what seems clear and logical to one person may be a total revelation to someone else. I experienced this lesson firsthand several years ago during my only paid performance as an actor. My role was a very minor one in an instructional video that was part of a system to improve relations between managers and the workers they supervised.
I won't say the name of this particular training method because it may still be in use. What I can tell you is the system encouraged supervisors to use positive, respectful messages when dealing with employees, and showed how threats and insults were not helpful in solving problems. It's the same basic premise that caused the British and American navies to abandon flogging as a punishment option. The notion that any company would pay money for what seemed to be common knowledge is amazing to me, but obviously there's a significant market for it.
While Drucker was correct in emphasizing the importance of dedicated workers, it's also important to acknowledge the flip side of that insight: employees who look for ways to avoid their workplace responsibilities. The memoirs of soldiers and sailors who served during the past 50 years are filled with such slackers, and the favored term to describe them was "goldbrickers."
What leads some workers down the path of dedication while others veer onto the goldbricking road is a mystery we may never unravel. In my own life, I make an ongoing effort to seek out the former and avoid the latter. Find those crackerjack employees at your bank, supermarket, bookstore, and everywhere you do business. Support them, encourage them, and keep them in your personal network.
For those readers who have job interviews coming up, it might be wise to ask your prospective employer what he or she thinks about the management ideas promulgated by Peter Drucker. And be wary of any boss who scowls and exclaims, "Bah! Humbug!"
• Jeffrey Shaffer writes about media, American culture, and personal history.