Some time ago I commented on how people tend to behave in group settings (see “The Stupids”). This led to a series of e-mails I received from people asking me where they could find more information on what I called, “Herd Management.” Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot to be found, not unless you are talking about the management of cattle, horses or swine. Then again, maybe that’s not a bad place to start as their objective is essentially the same as moving the human animal.

Herd Management is primarily aimed at moving a large volume of living organisms from Point-A to Point-B, which implies the development of a road map to get there. Like any management function, Herd Management requires considerable planning and tightly controlled execution to achieve the desired result. Beyond this, there are three other variables vital to success: Knowing your subjects, how to motivate them, and controlling their environment.

Before you can manage them, you must first know them, thoroughly. This is needed so you can know what they are thinking, what their interests are, what they are capable or incapable of doing, thereby allowing you to manipulate them accordingly. Even in the management of livestock, ranchers closely monitor the attributes of their animals. For our purposes, this suggests the development of a data base whereby each person is uniquely identified and defined in terms of their characteristics; e.g., address, contact data, age, height, weight, education, job function, salary, likes/dislikes, strengths/weaknesses, whatever is pertinent to motivate and manipulate them. Ideally, a cross-reference feature is available to track the person’s relationship to other people, such as friends and family, thus permitting the identification of those who may influence the person’s actions and decisions either positively or negatively. A tracking mechanism is also required, to monitor their proper and improper movements, and to steer them in the right direction. Such intelligence is essential to Herd Management.

The one element unique to the human animal is their brain and, as such, a feedback mechanism is required to closely monitor what the herd is thinking. The more management knows about what the human being is thinking, the better they can influence it. This is why opinion polls are so important. Beyond this, you will find moles among the herd who are charged with quietly listening, taking notes, and reporting back to management what the herd is thinking. Without this feedback mechanism, Herd Management will inevitably make erroneous decisions in terms of how to manipulate the herd, possibly even causing a stampede in the wrong direction.

The second variable involves motivation. A whip or cattle prod may be useful for animals, but you have to be a little more subtle in coercing humans to go in the direction you want them to. This involves controlling the information from which they form opinions and make actions and decisions. Three elements are involved: the actual content, the vehicle to convey it, and the spin of the information. This means controlling the media to communicate to the people. Suppression of information is hardly a new idea. Even if information is leaked that is damaging to your cause, it can be manipulated and spun in any direction to make it look better than it really is. When in trouble, a diversion is created to distract attention away from the subject at hand.

Essential to all of this is to make your position appear to be mainstream thinking (popular), thereby causing people to readily embrace it and defend its position over objections from dissidents and antagonists (who should be suppressed to maintain the harmony of the herd). People want to believe what they are doing is good and that their best interests are being maintained. To this end, rumors, innuendoes, and inaccuracies (lies) are acceptable, and even preferable for those who spurn the truth.

When communicating with large numbers of people, the message should be simple and easy to understand. This is why catch phrases are quickly adopted in order to communicate whole ideas through a few simple words, thereby achieving a Pavlov’s Dog effect.

The third and final variable is controlling the environment which is primarily concerned with eliminating potential obstacles and interferences that may cause delays or a shift in plan. Keep in mind, the mentality of the members of the herd is on autopilot thereby allowing them to focus on the subject at hand, such as your message. Unexpected distractions, such as a bolt of lightning, an explosion or a heckler, upsets the herd causing them to become less manageable. By carefully managing the environment, you make it easier to control the herd. To this end, Herd Management studies people’s wants/needs, habits, diet, affect of climate, and monitors behavior (such as pushing, shoving, and fighting).

Finally, you need sufficient force to control the herd. In the livestock world, we used to talk about cowboys and wranglers. Now we talk about guides and supervisors who keep a close eye on the herd, spot problems, and takes corrective action at a moment’s notice. To do so requires effective communications and a resourceful staff who can adapt to different situations.

No, you won’t find Herd Management mentioned in the business schools on college campuses. It might sound like “Big Brother” watching, but you’ll find it in the play book of everyone dealing with crowds, be it a sporting event, an amusement park, a political convention, or the public in general. It may not seem politically correct to talk about it, but make no mistake, Herd Management is very much a reality.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

For a listing of Tim’s Pet Peeves, click HERE.

Download Tim’s new eBook (PDF), “Bryce’s Pet Peeve Anthology – Volume I” (free) DOWNLOAD).

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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