Why employees need the power to say no

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This week, I created a video summary of the column.

 

 

 

Should an employee be granted the right to turn down a manager’s request to focus on a given task, thereby dropping everything else? And is it better to have a reporting relationship based on obedience or its opposite: independent choice? While there are no easy answers, the times are changing and so must leaders in your company.

 

Fortunately, managers who believe that their job is to do all the thinking while employees solely follow instructions are becoming rare. Yet, when the pressure is on, many managers become bossy. In the heat of the moment they give orders, and expect them to be followed without question. Resorting to anger they issue threats, stirring up fear in the hearts of others.

The worst rely on this tactic exclusively. Better managers initially start off being nice then turn into monsters later, arguing that people take advantage of the softer approach and therefore deserve this treatment.

They point to their personal experience as proof, which science supports. However, studies also show that this dominating technique has severe limits. While it gets action started, should it be a manager’s preferred tactic?

 

New research demonstrates otherwise.

 

A recent study led by Rom Schrift at the University of Pennsylvania shows that experimental subjects persisted longer in a task when they had the option to say “No.” It revealed that when they were granted a degree of autonomy, they performed better than others who weren’t given the same choice.

If you are a manager, it’s not hard to see why. In general, intrinsic motivation is a far better tool than its counterpart. In other words, you must give employees the option of saying “No” if you want them to perform at their best, especially if the task at hand involves more than a quick, physical action.

Let’s consider the extreme: what about the person at the bottom of your pyramid who is a simple laborer? I invite you to question your assumptions around this example from three angles.

  1. Should simple workers be in your firm at all?

A contractor once shared with me that his industry is the only one in which a convict can leave prison today, and tomorrow be hired to take orders on an active construction site. The consequence? Poor quality work, indiscipline, random departures and theft.

While this tactic guarantees a low wage bill, it simultaneously creates greater problems.

Unfortunately, this mindset of hiring “mere” workers pervades companies of all kinds.

Try a different one: even the simplest role expands in complexity when the person who performs it has some autonomy to produce superior results. Therefore, all potential hires have the capacity to make up their own minds, becoming better contributors over time.

Armed with this mindset, abolish the notion of a “simple” laborer.

  1. Should employees be calendar-trained?

Too many managers try to be omnipotent, believing that they can keep track of every employee’s calendar. In other words, they don’t trust staff to prioritize their work without being directed.

The solution isn’t to make an effort to become omniscient. Instead, managers need to train their workers to use better time management skills so that their calendar actually reflects the work they are doing from one hour to the next.

In habitual practice, the opposite is true. Most smartphone calendars are only used to track people’s appointments. All other tasks are left to memory – a sign of weak skills.

By contrast, employees with superior abilities are always looking at real-life trade-offs between activities. To make these difficult decisions, they realize they must use their calendar as a point of coordination. As such, their “No” is a reflection of a tough call, rather than a whim.

  1. Should managers be retrained?

As a manager, it’s tempting to jump in, give orders and negate your employee’s choices. Instead, when the impulse hits, restrain yourself. Have a conversation that looks more like an inquiry into priorities, than a demand for immediate obedience.

Why is this important?

Here in the Caribbean, our workers are sensitive: highly reactive to small slights which they take personally. The sad reality is that it only takes a single, harsh interaction to demote a newly hired eager-beaver. In the quint of an eye, they join the ranks of other sullen victims who only go through the motions. This coping mechanism got us through slavery, and the fact that it won’t change soon means that managers must un-learn the habit of routinely negating an employee’s “No.”

These three recommendations have a magical benefit: they grant employees the opportunity to say “No” in a way that keeps them motivated and productive. Take this power away and you risk miring your company in mediocrity.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

 

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Connecting Strategy, Performance, and Daily Activity

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How do you ensure employees are balancing their time between routine activities and long-term, strategic projects? Managers and their HR Partners have been tackling this problem for decades but continue to fail to separate the two different energies essential to sustain high performance. Here’s why.

Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was a cult hit, but his follow-up book, “Lila” offered important, practical ideas for every organization. He outlined two kinds of value in everyday life: Dynamic and Static Quality.

Dynamic Quality is the energy needed to make change happen. He defines it as a disruptive force which upsets the status quo, drives improvements and makes a difference. Its opposing “yang” is Static Quality, the energy needed to keep things the same. This is the source of maintenance chores; the continuous reliability which allows daily life to function.

Most people prefer one or the other, but in Pirsig’s brilliance, he brought the two together. Instead of seeing them as enemies, he imagined they exist in a symbiotic, alternating partnership.

He explains that each kind of quality has its season. There are dynamic moments when change must be driven versus its static counterpart where gains have to be consolidated. The key is to ratchet between the two at the right tempo, without getting stuck in either “harem-scarem” chaos or brain-dead stasis.

How does this idea apply to your organization?

Each year, when your firm conducts its annual strategic planning retreat, it’s allowing dynamic quality to run unbridled and free. Representing a dramatic departure from the routine of daily activity, it deserves its vaulted place in the calendar.

However, static quality probably reigns supreme on every other day. Immediately after the event, the status quo re-asserts itself, adding friction. Innovation degrades into wishful thinking. Customers remain upset, processes are never fixed, and profit margins don’t improve. The retreat is ultimately judged as an expensive waste. Some companies stop having them altogether.

In the 1990’s, to answer this problem, Drs. Kaplan and Norton invented the Balanced Scorecard. Along with the Strategy Map, these tools were intended to connect long-term plans with daily activity. After two decades, we now realize much more is needed.

The duo never imagined the mistake most companies make in implementing their ideas. In direct contravention of Pirsig’s call for clear separation, they implement performance management systems which throw dynamic and static quality into a single lump. As a result, staff is unable to answer: “What do I need to do to keep things the same, versus change, and how do I achieve a balance of time and effort between the two?”

The result? Staleness. Boredom. Failed improvement initiatives. Here are three tactics which will begin to break them out of their predicament.

  1. Bravely Separate Dynamic and Static Quality

In my firm’s planning retreats with executives and board members, we find ourselves working hard to keep the two energies apart. “The effort to envision a shiny future must be informed by the status quo but not limited by it,” is our mantra as participants reach for Dynamic Quality.

The very purpose of a retreat is to consider a brand new vision: a courageous act for most teams.

To wit, I have been in retreats where attendees risked their jobs to birth a breakthrough future. In one case, executives were collectively and ultimately successful; but they paid the price before their vision came to fruition when some were summarily fired. Needless to say, this is an extreme example, but Dynamic Quality always requires courage.

  1. Create Organizational Strategy and Business-as-Usual (BAU) Metrics

To strike a balance between the two energies, companies need to measure two kinds of activities after the retreat. The first set applies to the annual strategy and tracks its implementation. The second, BAU metrics, are ones required to maintain company functions and change little from year to year.

At the highest level, the CEO and employees must keep track of both. However, boards should demand to see the former, while saving any interest in the latter for the exceptional circumstance.

  1. Deploy Blended Performance Management

In most companies, the individual employee has no clue which parts of their job are strategic versus BAU in nature. Therefore, they have no idea where to focus. In its place, provide each person the means to define separate targets in both areas. Also, appreciate the fact that while some employees will only be doing BAU activity, everyone must be able to explain the difference between the two.

These practical steps help staff-members step out of muddy waters where Dynamic/Static quality, Strategy/BAU metrics are confused. Their clarity increases the odds that your futuristic plans succeed, while simultaneously ensuring the continuity of previous, hard-earned gains.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180408/francis-wade-connecting-strategy-and-performance