17th August 2020

Moving to flexible work arrangements is simple.

You don’t need to be the most astute observer of organisation development to recognise a worldwide shift in attitudes to increased flexibility in where and how work is done. We’ve seen reports of even the most traditional organisations thinking “we can do that; we don’t even need a reason.”

Then there are the organisations who have made simple, yet powerful statements regarding their future approach to workplace flexibility.

From the beautifully simple:

“Our employees can work from anywhere they choose for an average of three days a week. Our office will become a hub for meetings and work that requires face to face interaction.”

To the even more simple:

“Our employees can work from anywhere they choose. Teams will have a budget and they can meet as necessary anywhere they choose.”

To this ultimate example of simplicity:

“Our employees can work from anywhere they choose.”

Putting these statements into operation is also simple, but some organisations however are struggling with the implementation.

That’s because they are more focussed on ‘the Policy and Procedures’ and not on dealing with the underlying drivers of success.

Increased workplace flexibility is premised on two simple underlying drivers. A focus on outcomes and expectations rather than tasks or time spent at the office, and secondly, having trust in employees and teams to deliver the best possible results for their customers and clients.

Have you spotted a theme here yet? You guessed it; I’m overusing the word simple. And I’m doing that on purpose. These things sound simple, are simple, but…

Simple ain’t easy.

That’s because the shift required in the mindsets and behaviours of (most) managers is huge and will be hard. In fact too hard, for some. On the flip side, the payback to organisational culture will be immense.

As we said before, increasing flexibility simply comes down to two simple things:

  1. Jobs need to be designed around outcomes and expectations rather than tasks, and;
  2. Trust must be the hallmark of every relationship within teams and between teams.

Jobs designed around outcomes and expectations, not tasks or time spent in an office.

Up to this point the foundation of pay and benefits for most jobs has been the tasks we perform and the hours we work. But the more flexible the arrangements the less this construct applies. Because at the end of the day what’s more important? The fact that employees and teams deliver on goals and projects to the expected standard. Or, the number of hours it took them to do it?

This should be a simple shift, after all, organisations themselves are measured by customers, shareholders, suppliers, and other stakeholders in terms of outcomes and expectations.

If an organisation is working to position descriptions that are long winded, jargon heavy or lists of tasks this will be a hard shift. Likewise if the way they set goals and manage performance is still a process trapped in the 1990s, it will be even harder.

The challenge here is to help employees and teams improve their ability to design outcomes, clarify expectations and learn the power of focus. This will probably mean recutting every position description to focus on the purpose of the role. The key challenges in the period ahead. The three to four ongoing deliverables or outcomes of the role. And, the decision making authority of the role.

Trust must be the hallmark of every relationship within teams and between teams.

The second factor to increasing flexibility is a simple matter of trust. However, trust is a most misunderstood and misused construct. For example when I hear a team say “we have high levels of trust”, it only takes a couple of questions to establish if, when they use the word ‘trust’, they actually mean they ‘like’ each other or they have a great camaraderie. Camaraderie is important. But it isn’t trust.

Trust is a balance of heart and mind and, using the definition created by Maister, Green & Galford in their seminal book, The Trusted Advisor, trust is all about four things. It begins with our perception of another person having the credibility and capability to deliver an outcome. Secondly, it’s based on the extent which they are reliable and consistent in their delivery. And thirdly, it’s reliant on how secure or safe we feel in sharing or being vulnerable with them.

The fourth and perhaps most important factor is the other person’s level of self-orientation, attention, and their focus. Are they focused on listening to us to help us or do they just need us to pursue their own goals? Are they more obsessed by their own desires to succeed, or to paying attention to whatever it is we need to succeed?

You can tell if you have a Manager who wants to build trust with you because they care about you as a person.

They take the time to get to know you and your individual circumstances. They give you the freedom to do your job and deliver outcomes as you see fit. You feel you can say anything to them about how you are feeling, good or bad and you are comfortable bringing them bad news. Above all else, when your Manager needs to deliver criticism or negative feedback, you should feel it’s being done in the spirit of helping you perform better.

The challenge here is if you can’t trust your Managers to empower their people, or your people to get on with delivering outcomes, then you have underlying problems in your approach to managing performance or in your approach to who you hire and promote.

In Conclusion

Of course, none of this is new. These are basic management principles, established and proven over many years. They apply across all roles, even those roles that can’t flex in place and or time. The thing is they are even more important if you aspire to a more flexible working environment. There is no point trying to increase workplace flexibility if work is not anchored in outcomes and expectations or underpinned by high levels of mutual trust.

If you plan to embark on a journey to increase flexibility and would like to have an open-ended discussion on how you might improve your approach to performance or increase trust within and between teams, feel free to get in touch.

We are always happy to help our clients and potential clients think through options and opportunities. We never charge for brainstorming. Through a free-flowing discussion of ideas we will find out whether or not there is a good fit between what you need and what we do well or not. If there is, we can keep talking so that we bring you good choices. If not, we will be the first to say so.

Justin Miles

Justin Miles

Manager Partner, Melbourne at Generator Talent
Justin is the Managing Partner of our Melbourne office, an outcome focused leader with a track record of driving business performance through proven talent and organisation development practices. Justin’s methods and skills have been shaped by working with performance oriented leaders in great companies including PepsiCo, The Campbell Soup Company, Diageo, Rip Curl, Fonterra and Wesfarmers, in Australia, the USA and Latin America.
Justin Miles

Categories: Developing Talent

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