“To make flexibility work, it is not only necessary to change our attitude about who is a good worker and who is not, but we have to train managers at all levels to recognize the difference between the number of hours worked and the quality of work produced.” Madeleine M Kunin
Smart leaders will know that strong talent is the key to success for any organisation. You can have the best strategy, infrastructure, policies and processes in place but without good people it means nothing. What people value today is very different to that of twenty years ago. However, is what leaders see and value as important today different to that of twenty years ago when it comes to how their people work?
As our talent pool is changing dramatically it’s important for a leaders interpretation on what a committed, dedicated and strong employee is changes too. All too often employees are considered successful and committed if they do the hours, are seen to do the hours and don’t cause any trouble. This was a constant frustration of mine in my corporate days but it seems this mindset prevails not only in corporate but throughout the SME market also. Leaders need to ‘see’ their people otherwise how do they know what they are doing? This screams a lack of trust to me but also a lack of adapting to the needs and values of our younger generation and the fact our workplace has changed dramatically.
When I led my largest team I did this remotely. I had 19 leaders and 130 people geographically spread across Melbourne. I couldn’t have my eyes on them so the idea of having to ‘see to believe’ they are performing is a little foreign to me. However I do understand the preference to have all your team under one roof and the benefits this provides. It’s easier to collaborate, communicate, get a feel for how the culture is and physically be able to see how your employees are doing. You can understand a lot from a person through their body language so it’s easier to see if your people are doing ok if you see them.
However, the research is constantly showing the benefits of a flexible workplace from higher engagement levels, to lower absenteeism, to an increase in productivity and lower turnover. We all want that in our businesses. And this seems to be what our top talent are looking for and value also, especially the younger generation. Flexibility is often thought about and offered to parents who have obligations to collect children or those who have carer obligations. Flexibility now means so much more than just leaving early and I know we knowthis as leaders but do we really appreciate and understand the benefits that providing true flexibility can provide us?
Whilst I was overseas recently I was chatting to Debbie who is a project manager. She fits into the Gen Y category, is single with no children. Debbie was telling me how much she values to opportunity to work flexibly even though she doesn’t need to. Meaning even though she doesn’t have children. Debbie says
“When I am given the freedom to work as I choose I tend to give a lot more to the organisation. I will work harder and to be honest I get so much more done at home as the distractions and opportunity to chat aren’t there. So I just focus. As long as I am delivering on profitability, meeting deadlines and no complaints are received from clients my manager is happy for me to do this. It works for me, as I hate the feeling of being chained to a desk when I’m dealing with high-pressure situations. Being in my own environment or even working from a café relieves some of the tension when things are getting tricky. My manager trusts me to do what I need to do, so I do more.
I’ve worked in both types of organizations and I will never go back to one that has to see me at my desk. I’m better than that and I expect my employer to be also.”
It makes complete sense and of course it does depend on who you have working for you. There are absolutely employees who will take advantage of a flexible situation but this will also reflect in their results which is the true reflection of whether flexibility is working or not. However, if you have employees in your business that you can’t trust or at least give them the opportunity to succeed if they are requesting to work flexibly should they be working for you in the first place?
I do love Madeleine M Kunin’s quote above. It’s not about the hours employees work, it’s about the quality of work produced and often this doesn’t need to be produced in an office but where the employee thinks and performs best. Relevant, 21stCentury leaders need to embrace the power of flexibility and not offer it to those who need it but offer it those who value it. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for some and that what adaptability and flexibility is all about which are great leadership traits also. As Debbie said, she expects her employer to be smarter. We need to step up to this expectation.