I hate managing people. Probably most people do. In my ideal world everyone knows what they have to do, they do it on time, without being reminded, and we all co-exist as a happy, independent – but also bonded – self-directed, motivated working family. Not so hard, right?
Well, it’s a tad hard actually.
Everyone has different skillsets, different brains, and different methodologies. Moreover, not everyone possesses a self-directed, entrepreneurial brain, despite the push these days to cultivate the intrapreneur. There will always be people who need specific direction and those that don’t, and neither is better than the other.
In a typical week I meet with my team to discuss agendas and ideas, then we break for the week, and then re-group the following week. I’m less concerned about adhering to a specific schedule or traditional workday than I am about giving people the freedom to work according to their individual style.
What I didn’t foresee when I started my leadership consulting business though is that:
too much flexibility and independence can set a low bar if not paired with strong accountability.
I’ve had my share of horrible bosses; I didn’t want to repeat their mistakes and bad behavior. I vowed to create a space where people could work and thrive independently.
Everyone was free to work according to their own schedule but when tasks and projects weren’t completed I allowed for further flexibility and understanding, which didn’t yield the desired results. I found myself repeatedly asking for work week after week that I wasn’t getting.
The following are some lessons I learned about how flexibility, understanding, and accountability work with – and against – each other.
1. Be specific about what you want so you get what you want.
It doesn’t make someone weak if they need specific directives. Have an initial conversation to uncover what kind of work style the person has (particularly in remote working situations) and what they expect from you. Maybe run an assessment on them so you get a glimpse into their personality. What you want to avoid is having this conversation repeatedly:
You: This isn’t what I wanted, this is what I wanted.
Employee: Oh I didn’t hear you say that.
You: I thought it was a given.
Was it a given? Or do you need to…
2. Manage your own expectations.
Not everyone is going to think like you. They may have the intrapreneurial gene but that doesn’t mean they will fill in the blanks for everything that needs to be done to carry the business forward. Develop awareness of your own expectations and of your employees’ abilities. Don’t expect someone with an “employee” mindset to be the best independent worker capable of doing what you haven’t outlined. On that note…
3. Don’t expect people to care as much as you do.
Even your hardest-working, most devout employee will never care about the company quite the same was as you. It’s not their baby, they don’t feel the day-to-day pressure that comes with owning and operating a business, and ultimately they can always leave if they want. This is a good starting point so you can…
4. Recognize everyone has strengths and weaknesses (including you) but don’t let them off the hook for their weaknesses.
People will favor their “strong arm” naturally but ignoring your weak arm causes injury to the rest of your body, so to speak. You owe it to your employees to challenge them to work on their weaknesses and hold them accountable for their development. If you allow them to only do what they’re good at, you will only give them certain projects, they’ll only expect to get specific projects, and you’ll end up doing work you probably should have delegated, which will build resentment, which is why you need to make it known that…
5. Flexibility is earned.
If they your people don’t do what they said they would, then they’ve lost their flexibility. They will feel the jarring brunt of that loss when they incur more attention on themselves and find they are being managed to a degree they hadn’t been beforehand. Or you may find it necessary to implement harsher consequences.
Netflix has been praised for having the ideal company culture under the umbrella of “freedom and responsibility.” You get all the vacation you want, you can expense without approval, they don’t have yearly performance reviews, you’re paid well, and you have the freedom to work and innovate without being bogged down by process. They take the high road and treat everyone as adults and as such they expect you to act and work like one.
They have a strong accountability in place: you’re expected to work at a high level or you might be asked to leave. Another way to phrase all this is…
6. The High Road i.e. “Don’t make me manage you.”
If everyone does what’s expected of them, then ultimately there’s no need for a “manager” per se. “Managers” exist when people can’t be trusted. They are carry-overs from the old guard when employees were considered “guilty until proven innocent.” If you set the expectations, are specific about what you want, and understand the work mentalities of your employees, then you state that your policy is the “high road” policy, where as long as expectations are met then flexibility is there for the taking. And if you find that you are not holding people accountable, then…
Ask yourself some hard questions:
Are you not being direct because you want people to like you?
Are you afraid to manage people?
Do you expect everyone to be entrepreneurs?
Do you in fact know what you want or were you hoping your employees would figure it out for you?
And when they didn’t figure it out did you then realize the onus is still on you to figure it out and now it’s one more thing you have to do?
And now you hate yourself and everyone else and you need go on a coffee run?
It’s ok, you can still…
8. Right the ship.
Start implementing continuous feedback and accountability. Create deadlines and don’t let people off the hook. A lot of pressure rests on the boss – and company – to build the perfect workplace culture, but it’s a two-way street: employees are also responsible for earning the flexibility and understanding. This is especially hard in remote situations, but make it a mantra that “accountability comes before flexibility.”
Create a working relationship where feedback is open and welcome; this is the only way you set the bar higher.