A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from March 10, 2013
Mushroom Management (Mushroom Theory of Management; Mushroom Treatment)

"Mushroom management” (also called the “mushroom theory of management” or the “mushroom treatment") is a jocular employee relations term. One worked described a company’s “mushroom treatment” in 1969:

“Well, first they cultivated us;
then they kept us in the dark;
then they fed us a lot of crap;
and then they canned us.”


“Mushroom theory of employe relations” was cited in print in January 1970 and “mushroom management” was cited in print in February 1971.


Wikipedia: Mushroom management
Mushroom management is an allusion to a company’s staff being treated like mushrooms: kept in the dark, covered with dung, and, when grown big enough, canned (fired). The connotation is that the management is making decisions without consulting the staff affected by those decisions, and possibly not even informing the staff until well after such decisions are made.

This phenomenon is an anti-pattern most commonly found in organizations which have a strict hierarchy and barriers to cross-organizational communication (especially those with a stovepipe organization) but can be found in any organization.

12 September 1969, New York (NY) Times, “Market Place: Funeral Homes Of America, Inc.” by Robert Metz, pg. 64:
“I don’t know about the others but we got the mushroom treatment. Right after the acquisition we were kept in the dark. Then they covered us with manure. Then they cultivated us. After that, they let us stew for a while. And, finally, they canned us.”

Google Books
Conglomerates and Congenerics
By Homer Kripke
New York, NY: Practising Law Institute
1969
Pg. 41:
LIPTON: What is the mushroom treatment?
THE CHAIRMAN: There is a story told about a fellow who had been the head of his own company, which was absorbed by a conglomerate. A friend saw him on the street and asked him how he was getting along with the conglomerate. He said he received the mushroom treatment.
“What does that mean?”
“Well, first they cultivated us;
then they kept us in the dark;
then they fed us a lot of crap;
and then they canned us.”

15 January 1970, Greeley (MO) Tribune, “‘Open Door’ Policy, “Square Deal” Guide Kodak’s Employe Relations,” pg. 14, col. 2:
Klopels said Kodak’s employe relations are more enlightened than the mushroom theory of employe relations, which, he explained, involves keeping employes in the dark, covering them with plenty of manure and canning them when they reach maturity.

Google Books
Welcome to Our Conglomerate - You’re Fired
By Isadore Barmash
New York, NY: Delacorte Press
1971
Pg. XII:
The New York Times wondered what happens when a company gets taken over by a conglomerate, noting that one executive said: “I don’t know about the others but we got the mushroom treatment. Right after the acquisition we were kept in the dark. Then they covered us with manure. Then they cultivated us. After that, they let us stew awhile. And, finally, they canned us.”

Google News Archive
24 February 1971, Glasgow (Scotland) Herald, pg. 4, col. 1 ad:
Miller Construction don’t believe in mushroom management.
Mushroom Management is defined as “being kept perpetually in the dark except when they come to throw manure at you”. Miller Construction work with the full lights on.

12 June 1973, Boston (MA) Herald American, “Howe Leaves Wings, WHA Jump Inevitable” (UPI), pg. 26, col. 4:
“I (Gordie Howe—ed.) got the mushroom treatment: they kept me in the dark and every once in awhile they would come and throw garbage on me,” he said.

16 December 1976, Mobile (AL) Press Register, “Hospital gains accreditation” by Martha M. Simmons, Baldwin County Edition, pg. 1, col. 5:
They cited a “whitewash” from officials concerning hospital problems, calling actions there “mushroom management keeping us in the dark, feeding us a lot of (Pg. 4, col. 1—ed.) manure, and hoping we’ll grow.”

Google News Archive
3 August 1981, The Age (Melbourne, Australia), “Weekend Viewing: Morals and expediency,” pg. 2, col. 5:
He can scarcely get on with the business of the government, we feel, when his permanent secretary, Sir Humphrey, plays out an elaborate and sophisticated version of the old Mushroom Management (keep your Minister in the dark and shovel on the odd load of manure).
(The television show Yes Minister—ed.)

Google Books
The Soul of a New Machine
By Tracy Kidder
New York, NY: Avon
1982
Pg. 109:
Alsing believed that the team’s managers, in handling the new recruits, really were practicing what was called “the mushroom theory of management.” It was an old expression, used in many corners of corporate America. The Eclipse Group’s managers defined it as follows: “Put ‘em in the dark, feed ‘em shit, and watch ‘em grow.” It was a joke with substance, Alsing felt; and he believed that their mushroom management needed an occasional antidote.

Google News Archive
13 June 1987, Palm Beach (FL) Post, “Politics” by Ray Huard, pg. 1B, col. 1:
Quoting them
‘Keep them in the dark and feed them lots of b.s.”—the “mushroom theory” of legislation advanced by one Tallahassee veteran who wished to remain anonymous.

Google Books
The Process of Excelling:
The Practical How-to Guide for Managers and Supervisors

By Roger E. Herman
Greensboro, NC: Oakhill Press
1997
Pg. 66:
["Mushroom Management” is the term used to describe how we manage people like we grow mushrooms: keep them in the dark and throw plenty of manure on them.]

Urban Dictionary
mushroom management
A management philosophy prescribing to the theory that to best motivate your employees, you must at all times:
1. Keep them in the dark.
2. Feed them full of shit.
(...)
by Lance Baxter Oct 7, 2005

Time magazine
March 08, 2013
“There’s an old saying in the Pentagon – they call it the mushroom theory, about civilian appointees: you bring them in, keep them in the dark for a year, feed ‘em bullshit, and harvest a new crop the next year.”
— Former Navy secretary and U.S. senator James Webb, speaking Thursday at the Center for the National Interest about the challenges facing new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel inside the Pentagon.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWork/Businesses • Sunday, March 10, 2013 • Permalink