It’s all too common to view employees as things to be controlled: workers are compared to lines of code, errant children, swarming robots, or ants in a colony. But people aren’t machines or insects, and can’t be directed as such. Instead, successful managers will optimize for the absence of control. They make explicit certain operating guidelines, but then they let their people flourish, each in their own unique way. When we counsel managers and executives, we've found five questions that can make managing better for both manager and employees.
Five Questions to Ask Yourself
- Have I hired people who can do more with the work or am I just hiring to fill open roles? Quit debating the talent “chicken and the egg” (which comes first, a stellar organization or stellar talent) and challenge your every operating rule by hiring only the best candidates you can find. They’ll reshape you because that’s the only way they know how to work.
- Have I clearly explained the WHY behind how we work? A clear process is good at reducing errors, but too often, processes are introduced without an understanding of the contextual errors needing to be corrected, resulting in new problems and over-burdened workers. Think of the yearly planning cycle: while well-intentioned, it sucks the creativity and flexibility out of most organizations.
- Am I setting direction or dictating everyone's actions? Everyone marching in lockstep looks great... until they march off a cliff. The more crowded and competitive a market, the more variety and spontaneity you want in your own workers. Once you explain the purpose, let the team work through the process on their own. Don’t mistake an orderly team for a productive one.
- Am I actively investing in helping my people gain new skills? Schools don’t train people to be creative workers, capable of generating inspired insights and taking ingenious action. Most organizations don’t either—but yours can. Training should be a persistent activity in your organization, and it should go beyond HR requirements. Find a learning and development program for your team, or carve out time weekly teach your team something new.
- Am I encouraging everyone to spend more time with our customers? Management processes tend to insulate the organization from the market. Instead, strip away abstractions and distractions in order to knit the customer directly to each employee.
Takeaway: Good leaders continually introspect and adapt their behavior to create more clarity, order, alignment, and empowerment.