“If you hit a pony over the nose at the outset of your acquaintance, he may not love you, but he will take a deep interest in your movements ever afterwards.” – Rudyard Kipling (“False Dawn,” Plain Tales from the Hills, 1888)

Although KM doesn’t like for me to say so, New Yorkers have Rudy Giuliani to thank for making their city livable.

No, he didn’t (and couldn’t) prevent 9/11 — but the law-enforcement efforts he began in 1993 reversed about 40 years of rising crime that had made the city filthy, dangerous, and economically feeble.

During his tenure as mayor, Giuliani and his top cops brought the homicide rate down from 35 per 100,000 in 1993 to less than a third of that when he turned over the mayoralty earlier this year.

Since his departure, the rate continues to drop. It’s down an astonishing 40% this year (85 homicides in the first 10 weeks as compared to 141 in the same period last year), which, if things continue at this rate, will make the Big Apple as safe as it was in 1958, when Mickey Mantle played for the Yankees.

And it’s not just murder that has dropped in New York. Rape and robbery, felony assault, grand larceny, and auto theft have all plummeted as well, faster than in the rest of the country — even recently when other cities have experienced rising crime rates.

If you ask someone who doesn’t like Giuliani — or anyone who writes for the New Yorker magazine — he or she will tell you that rates have dropped because of some transcendental effect of 9/11 (don’t ask me!) or willcite the continuing drop as reason to believe it was NOT Giuliani. (This is equivalent to those who believe the U.S. economy reflects the actions of the current president, rather than the past — as if economic ramifications of regulations and policies are instantaneous.)

If you ask the guys who are doing the job — law-enforcement officials — they’ll tell you it’s just more of what has been working all along: getting tough and acting smart.

The winning formula is a combination of busting petty criminals for public drinking, panhandling, and loitering; coming down hard on the worst repeat felons; and using computers to track heavy crime areas and put more cops where the crime is.

One can draw a parallel between this and business. One can. I’m not sure I am the one, but I’m going to give it a shot.

When businesses get pretty big, they sometimes develop social problems — often manifested by groups of people (or sometimes entire divisions) that have very negative views toward the business, their bosses, and their customers. And these attitudes are reflected by poor work and bad customer service.

If you have ever experienced this kind of social problem, you know how bad it can be — and how difficult to eradicate.

I ran into social problems when I was very new to management. Sometime in my late 20s, I inherited a department of writers and editors who really didn’t like their jobs. They hated the company president. They viewed their customers as morons. And they  ridiculed the publications — even though they were the ones who created them.

The department was a mess, and I tried to improve it. I did so by (a) making sure that they all knew I was “on their side,” (b) listening to all their gripes (read: root causes of their crimes), and (c) addressing those gripes and making the department a better place to work.

What happened? You guessed it. Their complaints increased. Work slowed down. And the publications went from bad to worse.

A more chilling example: A doorman who worked for me when I was managing Dooley’s Restaurant and Bar in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1973) — a big, strapping black guy — was abusing our customers and even occasionally beating up people while they waited in line (but only if they were giving him “lip”). He played me like a piano for months and months while I attempted to correct the 400 years of oppression that he kept reminding me was the real cause of his violence. I swear that I did everything I could to appease that guy, so ardent was I in believing that I could make him right by being “fair” with him. And all along, he must have been smirking while he collected a nice paycheck for an endless supply of free booze and skinny young math majors to whoop.

There are two fundamental theories about how to deal with undesirable human behavior. One theory — that of NPR (National Public Radio) and many of my New York friends — says that bad behavior is caused primarily by a bad environment, that crime is the result of an unfair social system. To fix the behavior, these people forcefully argue, you must first fix the underlying social problems that are the cause of it.

 The other theory — the one that cops and firemen and elementary-school teachers are likely to arrive at — is that bad behavior is caused by people acting badly, by badly acting people who make the decision that some anti-social act will bring them more pleasure than pain. And, therefore, they do it. If you take this view, you believe that the way to deter anti-social behavior is to change the risk-reward ratio of negative acts and the probability of sanctions.

If you have a social problem in your business, you may be tempted to do what I first did when I walked into that malevolent editorial department 20-odd years ago. You may want to figure out why your employees are acting badly and try to fix those “whys.”

Or — if you want dramatic and quick improvements — you will do what Giuliani did in NYC:

1. Make a strong first impression by busting people for minor offenses.

2. Set up systems that identify where most of the problems are occurring and focus your attention there.

3. Encourage and reward the behavior you desire and punish — immediately and publicly — the behavior you don’t.

4. Lead the good people back to good behavior by focusing your time and energy on business goals, not social ills.