Good Leaders Care

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Rosabeth Moss Kanter writes about the four key messages a good leader should convey to their own staff while making public communications (‘Every Leader’s Real Audience‘ – Jan 30, 2014). The one that stuck with me the most is this:

“I care about your work. Your work is important.”

I cannot agree more that leaders should be able to demonstrate that they care about the work of their teams. It can very easily inspire people to feel that their work is valued by those in leadership positions. But that message can so easily get lost in the other demands on a leader’s time.

In a former job we had a visit from our CEO to a HR department meeting, which was a wonderful chance to get to know him a bit better, pick his brain, and find out what he really wanted for our organisation. In a Q&A session at the end of the meeting my colleague asked the CEO what he wanted from us as a department, whether there was anything he wanted more of or for us to change? His answer was short and simple: ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing.’ And with that faces fell around the room. It became immediately apparent that our CEO didn’t have any more of an answer than that. And that was because he didn’t actually know what we did. Which also implied that he didn’t really care.

So with one sentence all meaning and sense of purpose in our work was pretty much dashed. What’s the point in striving to do a good job if the boss isn’t really bothered about it?

As Kanter points out, leaders should be aware when speaking publicly that their people are listening very intently: ‘They want to know whether to update their resumes or renew their commitment to the work.’ Leaders should also be aware when speaking directly to their people, and take any small opportunity to communicate that they care.

Working from home more productive?

FiveThirtyEight argue that People Working From Home In A Snowstorm May Be Producing More Than You Are, finding that in some cases home workers demonstrate a surge in productivity. I wish more companies would open their minds to the potential benefits of home working, rather than seeing it as an excuse to shirk off and lounge around in pyjamas. And I wish that (I assume) the minority of home workers who do shirk off and lounge around in pyjamas would stop doing that as it’s ruining it for the rest of us.

As stated before on this blog, these days ‘work’ is very much a state of mind, and being in the workplace does not necessarily mean being ‘at work’ in your mind. I long for the day when, on turning up at the office, my boss asks me what I’m doing there and tells me to ‘go home and do some work’.

The WHAT not the when or where of work

CIPD/ACAS have produced a report on the workplace trends for 2015  (summarised in this handy infographic). There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, but one point that stood out to me straightaway  is their advice that employers should:

focus on output rather than ‘when’ and ‘where’

That is, why not make the work itself the focus of management, and not the hours put in or the location?

Many managers assume that if we allow workers to choose their own hours, people would slack off and do the minimum possible. But I don’t believe that is true. If workers are given responsibility to choose their own start and finish times – rather than being kept to an one-size-fits-all 9 to 5 rule – they will end up working regular hours. People like regularity, but they don’t necessary like being told where to be or when. If managers stopped treating work like school and allowed employees the flexibility to work how and where suits them best, those employees would quite likely respond by doing just that: their best work.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones wrote in the Harvard Business Review in May 2013 on ‘Creating the Best Workplace on Earth‘ and one of their 6 imperatives was that people aren’t hindered by ‘stupid rules’. In many jobs established working hours are a necessary thing, but we could say that in a lot of office work, and many jobs in a city like London, the conventional workplace rules around attendance are quite outdated now we have the means to work anywhere and anytime.

Focusing on ‘output’ is how a company like Netflix can allow their people to take as much holiday as they like, or Automattic’s staff to work wherever they want.

If we could move away from the ‘when’ and ‘where’ of work we could do a lot more than satisfy workers. We could spread out commuting patterns and do away with crazy rush hours in cities where transport infrastructure is creaking under the strain of commuters moving altogether twice a day. We could do away with a long hours culture based on presenteeism in the workplace, and provide more time for workers to spend with their families or communities.