Why managerial restraint is so important in protecting employee productivity

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Why managerial restraint is so important in protecting employee productivity

When should managers restrain themselves from taking advantage of employee fears? Since the days of slavery, those in power have faced the temptation to use workers’ anxiety as a way to get work done. These recessionary times are no exception, but today this behaviour comes at a cost: a possible drop in employee productivity.

While our economy is showing some welcome signs of life, few believe that employment will improve in the short-term. As a result, over several hard years, employees have become pliable: more likely to follow orders.

Unfortunately, this situation also hurts managers. Robbed of critical feedback needed to do their jobs effectively, they make simple mistakes that add up, reducing the company’s productivity. Here are three everyday examples.

  1. Grabbing personal time from employees via smartphone.

A growing number of managers have figured out a tricky shortcut. Giving you, their employee, the gift of a smartphone is seen as an investment with a hefty ROI. The logic is simple. As a senior HR manager explained to me: “When the company gives you a smartphone the ‘obvious’ expectation is that you must make yourself available at all times to answer it.”

While the policy she described wasn’t written anywhere, as its unlikely victim you would quickly come to realize that your new gift comes with strings. Now, you are expected to carry the device with you, answering it on weekends, vacations, sick days and overtime hours… at home, in church, during parties and even while you are lying in bed. Like many behaviours of this kind, you may not be able to see the problem by yourself. In extreme cases, it may take a spouse or friend to point out the obvious: “You have become a modern-day slave to a 24-7 obligation.”

When I make this observation to executives, it’s usually impossible to find someone who is willing to take responsibility for the problem even though it’s not irreversible. Managers have a powerful weapon in their arsenal—restraint. With mindful behaviour, they can turn the tide. When they go further and advocate proper policies, they can make a difference for everyone, preventing the worst from happening… such as a bitter war waged by email which breaks out one Sunday morning at 5:00am.

 

  1. Forcing employees to respond to email quickly.

This particular problem starts slowly. A manager expresses annoyance because you, her employee, has not responded to a message in her Inbox in a timely manner. She demands better performance. Unfortunately, your answer is to develop the new habit of checking email up to 15 times per hour, just in case.

This has an immediate effect – your manager is happier, especially when other employees follow suit in  order to avoid her wrath. But it’s a pyrrhic victory. After a while, you and your colleagues develop a worst-practice that’s hard to shake: multi-tasking.

The manager who is aware of these repercussions learns to restrain her annoyance. She adopts a best practice: refusing to use email for urgent communications. Instead, she reserves time-sensitive conversations for two-way channels, such as in-person meetings, phone conversations or Whatsapp.

The best managers understand that without this practice, it’s easy for one annoyed manager to set off a contagion of time-wasting. Once again, the only way to turn back the tide on this dangerous expectation is to implement explicit written policies that protect everyone.

 

  1. Insisting on lowering walls to watch employees and cut costs.

A top executive once told me that she ensures that staff has low cubicle walls so that she can “keep an eye on them.” It’s a popular technique used by managers in environments of low trust, even when workers have multiple university degrees. The root causes are never truly explored. Instead, they are justified by comparing the out-of-pocket expense of low versus high walls. When a recession is raging, any reason to cut a cost becomes a good one.

Unfortunately, there’s a high price to pay. Recent research shows that open office plans destroy productivity by offering up a slew of visual and audible distractions. They prevent employees from entering the flow state where their best work is done. Instead they are forced into “Continuous Partial Attention” where one distraction interrupts the other, leading to a host of unfinished tasks.

Frustrated employees learn that the only way to do good work is to come in early and leave late, or give up weekends, holidays and even sick days to work from home. Ultimately, low cubicle walls represent a “shortcut which draws blood”—a long-term obstacle to high productivity and engagement.

It’s all too easy for the clueless manager to operate in the dark, inflicting these three behaviours on a fearful staff. Fortunately, neither restraint nor explicit policies are expensive remedies, but they do require a level of enlightenment that is far too rare in the 21st century Jamaican workplace.

 

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

 

 

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170226/francis-wade-managerial-restraint-important-protect-employee-productivity

Why developing personal habits is more important than intelligence or force

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Why developing personal habits is more important than intelligence or force

Why is there such a gap between average and high performing employees? While there’s no simple solution, recent research suggests that your company may be looking in some of the wrong places for answers.

The difference between the best and worst companies is huge, according to The Economist: the top 25% of companies are a full 40% more productive than their counterparts. It’s not luck – they have learned how to inculcate repetitive behaviours.

Most of us don’t relate to habits this way. We are surprised by their power and unaware of their origin. Generally, we refer to them as negative practices we want to get rid of, but cannot.

This popular but limited understanding blocks us from a higher realm. For high performers, habits are actually a creative enabler.

Unfortunately, habit-building is not a part of our schools’ curriculum. Instead, we are encouraged to get results by being smart, or forceful.

The Limits of Being Smart

As Jamaicans, we have a propensity to “big up” intelligent people who establish a track record of academic success in GSAT, CAPE and university exams. Typically, we encourage them to enter established professions such as law, medicine, accounting or engineering.

However, if you have ever sat waiting in a doctor’s, dentist’s or lawyer’s office wondering how they manage to keep any of their customers, you may know why intelligence is not enough. It’s necessary, but not sufficient to run these tiny, one-person business ventures.

As a tool, being smart doesn’t scale very well. A small company which fails to develop the habits required for good customer service or time management is one which needs more than book smarts. It requires a very different approach.

The Limits of Using Force

We Jamaicans have a love-hate affair with the use of force. Strongman leaders ranging from Bustamante to Dons gain our admiration when they intimidate others into action. We want more.

However, when we are on the receiving end of forceful treatment, we complain about injustice and resist. This makes force a double-edged sword. Even though a few bosses bully their way to success, it’s always short lived. Over time, they develop a well-earned reputation for abuse which repels good people.

The fact is, force only works with those who are fearful so like smart-ness, it’s only effective in a few narrow situations – it just doesn’t scale.

What Works – Habit Creation

A habit is defined as an action which is performed without conscious effort. It’s a cognitive freebie which is triggered by something in our physical environment or by a specific event.

Unfortunately, the skill of developing positive habits and practices so that they drive business processes isn’t taught. We certainly are never shown how to develop them consciously. The lack of this knowledge hamstrings your company in several ways.

  1. Underestimating the slow, steady approach to learning and training

When you don’t understand the power of habits, you rely too much on smarts and force, believing that a sudden flash of brilliance or a single decisive action are remedies to complex business problems. They are just “shortcuts which draw blood.”

Even most training has the same fault. We are impatient, putting faith in a solitary day of instruction, while studies show that a behaviour change which starts in the classroom is just the beginning. A full 60% is driven by what happens after the class, rather than during it.

  1. Not uncovering key behaviours

In my work with companies I am often surprised to learn how little effort is spent to decode the keys to their success. As a result, managers are blind to places where their idiosyncratic actions lead to unique, positive results.

By not deciphering their hidden code, they dishonour it; the first step towards losing it altogether. Over time, unexplained, preventable failure sets in.

  1. Not showing employees how to teach themselves new habits

Perhaps the biggest failing of all is that companies don’t instruct employees how to pick up and learn new behaviours, then turn them into habits. Instead, this skill, which benefits every single area of corporate life, is left to chance.

When you teach employees the mechanics of habit-creation, they learn how to baseline their current behaviours. This baseline becomes a starting point for developing higher-level skills. Then, habit development is far more than a matter of luck – it’s a conscious act which, when repeated, sets employees up for success.

Over time, an organisation filled with such people outperforms its peers who are looking for short-term improvements. There’s no need to outmuscle or outsmart the also-rans. Instead, focus your attention on specific behaviours which can be turned into habits. Collectively, they represent a unique source of sustainable competitive advantage.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.