8/13/2009 - “Come all you young men, so young and so fine, And seek not your fortune in a dark, dreary mine . . . , Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines, It’s dark as a dungeon, way down in the mine.”

Merle Travis, 1946.

Some of the Best, Best Practices

One of the many joys of being married to my wife of 42 years is getting to know her family. Linda is a mountain girl. Her roots are in the Appalachians and they extend deep into the hills, valleys and hollows of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. She was born in Norton, Virginia, spent some part of her girlhood in Middlesboro, Kentucky, grew up in Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee, and went to Radford College in Virginia (which was then the Women’s Division of Virginia Tech, but she keeps that to herself . . . ). She has unmoveable mountain character, rock solid mountain integrity and sterling pure mountain values. One of Linda’s relatives was Uncle Frank Still, who was married to his wife Ida Mae for many happy years.

Uncle Frank was born and raised in coal mining country, deep in the mountains of eastern Kentucky and he spent his early years in hard labor, way down in the deep Kentucky coal mines. Later in his life, he attended Berea College and ultimately had a distinguished career as a federal agent with the FBI. Linda and I were visiting with Uncle Frank one cold winter’s evening sometime in the 1970’s, when I asked him, “Uncle Frank, how did you get out of the coal mines and go on to college?” He looked at me with that twinkle in his eye and said, “Well,” he said, “One Friday evening I came in from a week working down in the mines, hot, covered with coal dust, bent over and tired. I was sitting in a Number 2 wash tub taking my weekly bath, and I looked up to Idy Mae and said,‘Idy Mae, there’s got to be a better way.’”

Uncle Frank then applied to Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, a unique institution that charges no tuition and admits only academically promising, low income students, mostly from Appalachia. A young person, otherwise not able to afford college, can attend Berea and get a first class education. You can check it out at He worked his way through Berea, received his degree and was hired by the FBI when he graduated. Uncle Frank’s words still live today. In our family, when we’re faced with a tough nut to crack, either Linda or I will look at the other and say, “Idy Mae, there’s got to be a better way.” I feel that way, in particular, when making my way through an airport security line . . . .

I think Uncle Frank would like it if we applied his words to employment and when we do this, we could say that we find a “better way” through utilizing “Best Practices” in Human Resources Management. One of the best, Best Practices is the Employee Opinion Survey, where you ask employees, confidentially, what they think and how they feel about their work and their jobs. This accomplishes two goals – (1) it raises employee morale, and (2) it provides you with helpful information that you can use to solve problems, prevent difficulty, and make the workplace better. An Employee Opinion Survey is like a thermometer – it doesn’t cause employees to think one particular thing or the other, it simply tells you what they are already thinking. When you have that information, you are far ahead of the curve in making your workplace an even better place to work. An Opinion Survey is a positive experience that employees enjoy and appreciate.

Another best, Best Practice is Management Training and Development, where you teach managers and supervisors How to Interview, How to Counsel and Discipline Employees, How to Resolve Employee Conflict, How to “Do the Right Thing at Work” – Business Ethics, How to Motivate Employees to Superior Performance and How to Conduct Performance Appraisal on their employees each year. Managers achieve excellence in these skills by (a) being taught and (b) making habits of “Best Practices.”

Best, Best Practices also extend to resolving employee problems. If you have an employee problem to resolve, the Best Practice is to confront it and resolve it quickly. A friend of mine puts it this way – “If you have to swallow a frog, swallow it quickly. If you have to swallow two frogs, swallow the big one first.” Like the Second Rule of Thermodynamics, employee problems, left alone, tend to get worse, not better. For example, if you have a problem supervisor or manager, and you have reached the conclusion in your heart that he or she needs to be dismissed, it’s better to move ahead with the dismissal, take the heat of the moment, and let the healing process begin. Otherwise, it gets worse and worse, and it will be worse in the end than it is now. We’re not suggesting that you rush out and “win one for the Gipper,” but we are suggesting a systematic and prudent app roach to resolution of problem employees so that things get better, not worse. That’s a “Best Practice.”

It occurs to me that being a good manager means continually searching for better and better ways to do our work, not being content with status quo, but always looking for the better way. As it turns out, Uncle Frank was right – “Idy Mae, there’s got to be a better way.”

If you would like more information on the benefits of an Employee Opinion Survey, Management Training and Development, or resolution of Employee or Management problems, email Sandy at or visit our web site at And remember, if you have an employment issue or challenge, and you need an answer right away, and you want the very best Human Resources Management advice available, you need to call . . . The Seay Team! We are proud to be your trusted advisors in Human Resources Management.

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