Stan Slap – Under the Hood

Book Reviewed by Diane Byington, Ph. D.

Stan Slap, management consultant and keynote speaker has a new book. It’s called Under the Hood, and it’s about employee culture; specifically, how management objectives can be either supported or sabotaged by the employee culture. Slap’s definition of employee culture is:  “Your employees’ shared beliefs about the rules of survival and emotional prosperity.” An employee culture exists to protect itself; it is an information-gathering organism, designed to assure its own survival.

Which means it is anti-change, because change—including positive change–could threaten its very survival. You, even as a first-level manager, are not part of the employee culture. Instead, you are the key influencer of the culture’s survival and emotional prosperity. The culture is always watching you, noticing what you emphasize, what you reward, what you give priority attention to, and what you ignore. Based on its own perceptions, an employee culture rarely does anything illogical or unpredictable. It wants to do the right thing. But its idea of the right thing and yours are probably not the same. You want to change, and the employee culture wants to protect itself. This leads to tension. You can reduce the tension and improve performance by understanding how the employee culture works and managing it, separately from how you manage employees.

It’s an interesting idea. Slap discusses the seven deadly sins of cultural commitment, which he defines as what stops the commitment of your employee culture and how to start it. These include failure to respect the power of an employee culture, presumption of rapid behavioral change, plenty of management where leadership is needed, and asking for too much trust. They are relatively interesting, but I think the most interesting part of this book is the simple concept of employee culture. Slap fills the book with suggestions for how to influence the employee culture, how to walk and talk your values, and a host of other ideas. He’s also filled the book with stories about management initiatives that succeeded and others that failed.

One of my favorite chapters has to do with employee compensation. He suggests focusing on what money can’t buy, which might involve putting together a book based on interviews with managers about their most important lesson, incorporating employee life goals along with performance goals, including an employee’s family in performance rewards, or offering concierge assistance to help busy members of your culture. I pulled these suggestions from three pages of the book, and even within these three pages were at least a dozen other worthy suggestions. Every chapter is filled with ideas that are bound to resonate with managers at all levels of an organization. I laughed when I read his company’s recruitment marketing materials, which end with:  “We promise to pay you well, work you hard, make you laugh, drive you crazy, treat you with respect, and allow you to be great.” Who wouldn’t want to work for a company like this, regardless of the pay?

Slap is quirky, and this book is quirky. I found it a little uneven, with off-the-wall ideas mixed in with more traditional suggestions. I was a little frustrated because I wanted it to be more integrated with other research and theory, not just based on the author’s own experience. But if you want to read an entertaining management book and get some ideas for managing the employee culture, Slap’s your man.