Dealing with Employees Defies Simple Theories

By Charles Kelly, President, Computer Exchange

I might be in the computer business, but all of us are in the people business. This is a reflection of what I have learned from the years of managing an often tumultuous business, filled with above average, yet unusual, people.

When I was a business major at Augusta College/Augusta State/GRU/Augusta University, I took a class from Dr. Holloman that was essentially a people management class. I was offered the Theory X and Theory Y methods of managing people and being a young idealistic person, I wrote my paper on the virtues of Theory Y, meaning that people want to work, you just need to find the right environment, empower them and they will want to do what is right. Money, it turns out, is not the biggest motivator of people.

As I was in the middle of my MBA classes, while working at Bulldog Computer Products, I was one of the last four people laid off from that once powerhouse company. I had been talking with a guy in Hop’s Plaza that had a store called Fred’s Used PC. (He did not have room for the “S”).

The day I was laid off, I struck a deal with him to open my own company, Computer Exchange. He took his product and I took the lease. We did well from the day we opened and I had a personal mantra that I would always satisfy every customer no matter the cost in time and effort.

Then we got employees, first one young man from Davidson Fine Arts and he was a brilliant technician from day one, and then Sonny Kim came along one day and fixed everything he touched. John Luther, my high school friend and former business partner in San Miguels’ Mexican Restaurant in Daniel Village (early 80s) approached me about opening another location and all went well.

We grew, and then I found myself in charge of employees with no boss above me to blame anything on and I had to put into practice what I believed about Theory Y. What I discovered is that, Theory Y and Theory X are both wrong and right at the same time.

For a small organization, with just the right people, everyone knows their job and no one is technically “the boss” or has to act with authority all the time. Everyone knows what to do and everyone works together as a team, the synergy is fantastic and things are as efficient as they can be. Long complicated meetings become a waste of time and everything is sunshine and profit…Not.

We have had periods like that when our staff was nearly the perfect staff and I rarely had to step in and simply decree things. Then we have had times where I have had to wrestle with employee problems and frictions every single day. It is a combination of X and Y that every organization must deal with.

In the United States Army, with over a million men and women under command, a “top down” structure must be in place with thousands of rules and regulations to keep all of the young men and women focused. However, when you drill down and look at particular units, you will find the epitome of Theory Y.

Army Medical Service Corps units, called Medevacs or “Dustoffs”are comprised of a pilot, co-pilot, crew chief, medic and a doctor or nurse. These five-person teams function as one highly skilled, highly motivated team, flying into combat zones to rescue wounded soldiers. The same was true in Vietnam when the 57th Medical Detachment began to disobey orders from superiors (Theory X guys) by flying at night and by flying into dangerous places to rescue the wounded.

These first crews were trained by my father, who while he could run Theory X up and down the flag pole as I have read from his diaries and efficiency reports in Korea, also knew that teamwork would be what saved the soldier on the ground when the team had to function as one to even entertain such a mission under enemy fire.

So, there is an example of a very large organization that is the prime example of Theory X using Theory Y to excel at one of the most important jobs of a soldier.

What I do for a living is not important or consequential or in any way comparative to those brave soldiers, but I always try to continue to learn from any great person or organization so that I can properly lead, coax and/or manage my staff to be better at what they do and to function as a team.

If you own a business, you are probably always adjusting your focus and your interests, constantly trying to improve the productivity and teamwork of your staff. After 21 years of doing this, I feel like I still have much to learn and I am always adjusting my ways of doing things.

I cannot say that I subscribe to Theory Y as much as I did in college, but I also cannot manage a company with Theory X. I guess it’s XY or Z… we all have to find our own balance of what works. But if your people understand that customer satisfaction is your primary drive and they see you do it, then they should value the customer just as you do. If that does not happen after a while, then you haven’t trained them properly-says some management theory.

On the other hand, if you have tried everything in your arsenal and they still have not changed, maybe they are suited for a different career.

My theory is that the customers’ satisfaction is paramount and I will use whatever versions of theory X or Y that I need at the time, but certainly my goal is the perfect Theory Y team. Then I could go home and mow the grass without my cell phone on my hip.

Charles Kelly is President of Computer Exchange, with four locations in the CSRA: South Augusta, North Augusta, Martinez and Grovetown. Computer Exchange specializes in computer solutions for home and business. For answers to your computer questions, email him at

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