“Really?” I ask in disbelief, almost choking on my food. We are having dinner at my friends’ house, talking a bit about her job. She is a corporate lawyer with a big bank, her workload is tremendously high and so are the expectations of her peers and the other stakeholders. She is very ambitious and driven and is used to working very long hours in order to deliver excellent results.
This particular bank has adopted “The New Way of Working” a concept popular in The Netherlands at the beginning of the 21st century, in which employees can work where they want and when they want while being managed on output rather than input, supported by ICT and designed workplace concepts.
Although many are embracing the concept because it brings more freedom and flexibility, the concept has been subject to the critic that it can lead to a “fear of losing control” for managers.
Well, it seemed we stumbled upon a good example of that here! First, let’s explore how managers and employees are expected to deal with this increased freedom and responsibility.
Many corporate organizations, that adopt this program, spend a huge budget on training in order to change their culture when introducing this concept. The training that is offered is usually aimed at both employees and managers, in order to help them adjust to both working remotely and to managing employees who do so on a regular basis.
Previously, managers were used to managing on input, or at least be in control of the time they were spending at the office. Employees were usually behind their desk during working hours (or much longer), so the manager felt in control and knew he was doing his job. So, when employees now are working remotely, the managers’ first response is to find a way to control the hours that they are spending behind their laptops, “working”.
However, the difference between working in the old model and ‘The New Way of Working’ is that a manager should be managing on output rather than on input. It should be about the actual results and not about the hours spend behind a computer.
”Oh, yes,” she says. “And my former manager would wonder out loud: “how can you know for sure that they are working if they are at home?”.
To be honest, I was shocked by the clear trust issue and also by, what I consider almost a proof of the incompetence of these managers. It might sound harsh, but if a manager needs to resort to these kinds of rules for a team of highly competent, driven and autonomous professionals I think there is something fundamentally wrong.
As a manager, you should be able to manage results or at least have some set of performance indicators in order to assess the performance of your team members. Because the mere fact that an employee is spending eight or more hours behind a laptop doesn’t really say anything about their results or performance, does it?
“People would start complaining soon enough if I didn’t do my job,” my friend says, while we clear the dishes for dessert. And that is EXACTLY what it is all about.
My friend and her team are part of a centralized legal department. They are supporting a project or deal teams in the business that work on financing mergers and acquisitions. The people who are directly depending on the results of her work are usually her peers and the project team members.
However, she is not reporting directly to them, they are her “customers”. Still, by the end of the day, it mostly matters if they are happy with the results she is delivering. So, if she is on top of things and makes sure the contracts for million dollar finances are in order, who cares if she is doing a bit of laundry in between conference calls?
Let’s try to understand how strange this situation is:
The people who are directly depending on my friends’ performance and results (output) do not have any formal hierarchal relationship with her. Sure, there would be complaints if she wouldn’t deliver, but it would not be acceptable for a colleague, or a project manager, or an external client, to start micromanaging her work or her work schedule. Besides, although they do rely on her, they still wouldn’t care, as long as she performs well and delivers results.
However, her manager, who is not directly relying on her results, IS micromanaging her work and her work schedule. He is controlling an autonomous professional to the point to forbid her to put on her washing machine.
To me, it sounds like a strange situation, but apparently, a complete legal department in corporate banking thinks this is normal and acceptable. The new way of working uncovered a paradigm of controlled based management and a worldview that “employees can’t be trusted”.
For me, this is a fascinating topic. I have been guiding several companies through this kind of paradigm shifts and found them to be critical for the success of introducing 21st-century concepts that go “against” the old worldview.
If you truly want to create a successful organization, it is important to be able to self-assess the organizational’s capacity to change from a 20th-century worldview to that of the 21st century.