Leadership

3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees
3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees 1000 668 Jason Lauritsen

Regardless of when this pandemic ends (which feels like never to me right now), the way we work will never go back to how it was before.

Sure, offices will open and some people will return to their cubicles, but many won’t.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about work over the past several months, it’s that work can be done successfully well beyond the walls of the office—sometimes even better.

What this means for how organizations and leaders decide to change policies and reshape office environments is yet to be sorted out. But there is one thing for certain.

We are going to be managing employees who we can’t “see” in the office every day for the indefinite future. Remote work is never going away. In fact, as remote work expert Laurel Farrer put it this week as we discussed this topic as part of a panel, “soon we won’t even call it ‘remote’ work anymore. It will just be ‘work’.”

So, while it may take a while to sort out what this all means in the big picture, there is one thing we can focus on right now that will have an enormous impact on our teams and their ability to perform: We need to get really good at managing remote employees.

Why Do We wonder?

Over the past week, I fielded a survey of several hundred managers asking about their biggest challenges or questions related to managing virtual teams. There were a lot of great insights in the responses (more on that to come).

One group of responders took me back to the days when we used to gather around conference room tables to discuss employee engagement concerns. The challenge they raised sounds something like this:

“It’s hard to know how my team is doing/feeling/working when we are all remote.”

I get it. If you’ve only managed people in person at a traditional work environment throughout your career, you’ve likely come to rely on your ability to observe people around the office as a way to get a “feel” for how they were doing.

So, when you can’t see your people every day, it feels like you are somehow powerless to know what’s going on.
Ironically, this same conversation used to happen around that nostalgic board room table long before “pandemic” was a common word in our vocabulary. Even when we could see our people every day, leaders would find themselves together wondering about how employees were really doing, how they felt about what was happening at work.

My guidance to them then is the same as it is today.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Feeling like we don’t have a good handle on how our employees are feeling isn’t a new problem. Remote working arrangements have just made it feel more acute and painful.

Not knowing is definitely problematic. It leads us to make assumptions, and that’s never good because we rarely assume the right things.

If we remember that work is a relationship for employees, then perhaps we can learn from other relationships in our lives where this same issue arises. I’ll use my wife as an example.

On top of trying to survive a pandemic, my wife is running a campaign to be mayor of the suburban community where we live. She’s got a lot going on. Running for office is the equivalent of a giant popularity contest. Being in it requires thick skin and an ability to keep things in perspective.

Angie does a pretty good job of this, but I know there are times when it’s hard and she’s struggling with the stress. But, I don’t always know exactly when. And despite knowing her better than any other human on the planet, when I make any assumption about how she’s feeling, I’m almost always wrong.

When I act on those wrong assumptions, it has sometimes even made things worse. Piling more stress on top of what is already a big pile. So, I try not to assume.

Instead, I do what we should all be doing more often. That brings me to my first tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #1: ASK

When we are wondering about how someone else is doing, we don’t need to make assumptions. We can ask.

This is true for our personal relationships—our significant others, parents, children, friends, neighbors, etc. It’s also true for our employees.

It used to drive me insane when I’d meet with my executive teams and they’d start to speculate about what employees thought about certain things or how they were feeling about others. I am sure they got sick of me saying it, but I used to point to a wall where employees were working on the other side and say, “We don’t need to spend time wondering about this, we can go ask them. They are right over there.”

Perhaps the most fundamental skill we need right now as we try to adjust and adapt to managing in this new distributed and virtual environment is the ability to ask meaningful questions.

Consider questions like:

  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how’s your stress level right now?
  • What makes work hardest for you right now?
  • How do you feel about your work from home set up?
  • What was your biggest win this week—with work or just in general?
  • How can I help make your work day less stressful?

The key is to ask questions that get the employee to reflect and talk about what’s really happening for them. One of my friends shared with me that her boss’s boss recently asked her, “Are you having any fun?” This unexpected question caused her to really pause and reflect on how she’d been approaching her work.

Asking good questions is vital, but it’s not enough by itself. Hence, my next tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #2: LISTEN

Sounds pretty simple, but don’t be fooled.

In the survey results from last week, a number of people lamented about the inability to observe body language when interacting with direct reports and others in the office.

This is certainly a real issue when working remotely. It makes it that much more critical that we pay attention to people and listen to what they are (and aren’t) saying.

I’m not going to give you a lesson on active listening because you’ve likely heard it before (if not, Google it and you’ll find loads of great resources). But, I will offer up a few key suggestions.

  1. Do not multitask. It’s so tempting to check emails while on a video call or meeting. Don’t do it. Shut down any other open windows, applications, or tasks and focus on the person in front of you.
  2. Take notes. Write down what you are hearing and any questions that arise in your mind. When you ask good questions, you should get interesting responses. Writing down important details means you don’t have to try to remember them or hold them in your mind. This frees you to pay attention to not only what’s being said but how it’s being said. Is there trepidation or anxiety behind those words?
  3. Ask the follow-up question. The first response is often the least helpful. Learn to say things like, “tell me more about that” or, “why do you think that is?” The second (or third) question is often when you get to the most important insights.

If you really listen to your people, they will share with you what’s working and what’s not. They will share their challenges with you. They will tell you where they need help.

Which brings us to the last tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #3: ACT

When you ask good questions and really listen to the answers, you should end up with a list of things that you can help. But, that list only matters if you take action.

You don’t have to solve every problem or address every need in the moment. But, you do need to do something to help.

When you take action to support your employees after they’ve shared a problem with you, it builds trust. The more often and consistently you do it, the stronger your relationship will become. They will begin sharing more important concerns with you.

Over time, you won’t have to work as hard at drawing out the issues because your people will know that you care and will help whenever they have a challenge in front of them.

Remote Management Impact in Three Words

This isn’t a new idea, just a refresher of a tried and true approach. Managing and engaging people remotely requires that we get the fundamentals right. There’s nothing more fundamental to fostering a positive relationship with your people than these three words:

Ask. Listen. Act.

These three steps taken regularly and with good intention will help you keep your people engaged and productive through the uncertain and changing times ahead.

P.S. One of the biggest challenges managers identified for managing remote employees is keeping them connected–to each other, to the organization, and to them as their manager. So, with my friends at Waggl, we decided to crowdsource some solutions.  If you click this link, you’ll be asked to share what’s been working for you to keep you feeling connected as a remote worker. You’ll also be able to see and vote for the best ideas submitted by others. Check it out now.  

Please Don’t Fake It (The Authentic You is Worth the Work)
Please Don’t Fake It (The Authentic You is Worth the Work) 700 468 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, I opened the weekly email from a thought leader I really admire, Marc Effron. Marc is probably best known for writing the genius book, One Page Talent Management.

I first crossed paths with Marc in 2006 when we were both speaking at the same event. We were both corporate HR execs at the time. From the beginning, I knew this guy was the real deal. 

And, I’ve been following his work ever since. His company, Talent Strategy Group, consistently publishes great content—much of it oriented towards blowing up status-quo thinking and replacing it with what really works.  

I’m a fan. Clearly. Which is why I was so disappointed to find an article in his newsletter titled, “Why the Fake You will Outperform the Authentic You (and how to fake it).” As I read it, I just sighed and thought to myself, “not you too, Marc.” 

For some reason, it’s become popular over the past few years to push back against the idea that we should bring our authentic selves to work. Adam Grant, another person I admire greatly, wrote in 2016, “Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.” Thankfully, his view of authenticity seems to be evolving

My colleague Joe Gerstandt and I have been researching, writing about, and teaching authenticity for over a decade now, which is why I’m so baffled that we continue to get the concept of authenticity so wrong. 

Here’s an excerpt from Marc’s article: 

“At least once a month, I show a decidedly fake version of myself to very important people who have paid handsomely for my services. The fake me may show up in a client meeting, an executive education session or during an important speech. My clients don’t know that it’s the fake me and they don’t care. They simply want a great outcome for their organization.”

I bristled at the use of the word “fake” here. In 2020, we live in a time when literal “fake news” floods our social media accounts daily. Fake in today’s world means “intentionally misleading” or “lies.” 

As authors and thought leaders, we often use words that trigger emotional reactions that we hope will get you to click our email or read our post. That’s part of the marketing game. But, in this case, Marc’s use of the word fake here goes beyond a marketing stunt. It’s harmful. More on that later. 

More for the article: 

“You might consider yourself to be a genuine leader and can’t, or find it fundamentally distasteful to, imagine not being your “authentic” self at work. This is because many people like to believe that their authentic self is a carefully thought-through, practiced and shaped version of who they want to be. In reality, the authentic or genuine you is likely an artificial construct your brain has created – a big bundle of confirmation bias based on your intelligence and core personality and how both have interpreted your past experiences.

The genuine you is a constraint on your success if you believe that your success is derived from it. Once you stop worrying about being the genuine or authentic you, the more you can be the adaptable chameleon that succeeds in more situations. That sometimes fake you (if done well) is guaranteed to be a higher performer.”

Ugh. This almost reads like a moralistic argument for “the ends always justify the means.” And, maybe that’s the point. If you aren’t reading this carefully and thinking it through, this section could easily be interpreted in a lot of harmful ways:

  • Do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it makes you feel like a fraud. 
  • As long as you succeed, then “faking it” is worth it.
  • It’s okay to make things up and pretend to be someone you aren’t, so long as it gets better results. 
  • You will never have an authentic sense of self, so why both looking for or protecting it? Just make it up as you go and become something new in every situation. 

I hope that’s not what is being argued here because that would be a deeply sad and troubling reflection on what gets rewarded and promoted in business and society today. And maybe that’s the point of the article, to shine a light on how the entire system is designed to reward faking it. 

When I peel back the packaging of Marc’s suggestions as “faking it” and just look at the meat of his recommendations, I am not arguing that it’s bad advice. But, I’m suggesting that regardless of what’s comfortable for you or what’s in your natural style, you can learn skills to better promote your ideas, make friends, and show ambition without having to feel like you faking it. 

That’s why this article bothers me so much. At the very least, it reveals how poorly we understand and have defined authenticity. And that’s too important for me to let it slide.

Based on the work Joe and I have done over the past decade on authenticity, here are two critical things that Marc’s argument misses: 

1. Authenticity is a journey. 

One thing that Marc and I can agree on is that there is no single “authentic you” within any of us. As humans, we are constantly evolving and changing. Being authentic is the work we do to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, come to terms with who we are, and then show up in the world in a way that aligns with that. 

Marc is correct that while many assume they’ve done the work to live authentically, that’s just not the reality for most people. The journey of authenticity is challenging and not everyone has the know-how or willingness to take it on. 

Where Marc and I part ways is in what to do about it. Marc suggests that since you probably aren’t authentic, just fake it. While this may get you ahead in cut-throat corporate environments (and probably national politics), it’s harmful advice for most people in terms of overall wellbeing and happiness. 

In “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” author Bronnie Ware, a former palliative care nurse who cared for elderly patients at the end of their lives, wrote that the single biggest regret her patients expressed at the end of their lives was this: 

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” 

In other words, I wish I’d lived a more authentic life. While authenticity may not always be the fastest path to promotion, it won’t leave you on your deathbed wondering why you squandered so much of your life trying to be what others wanted you to be.

2. Authenticity includes your intentions.  

One of the biggest things people misunderstand about authenticity is that it’s not about doing or saying whatever you want without consequence. That’s not authenticity. That’s radical individualism. 

The model Joe and I teach of the journey of authenticity starts with self-awareness. And it’s not the traditional self-awareness work like understanding your personality, strengths, and behavioral style. Those things are important, but they’re just the start. 

The more important work lies in discovering and defining things like our values, purpose, intentions, and aspirations. In doing this work, we gain greater clarity about who we are today, but also who we aspire to be on our best days and in the future. When we are clear on these important things, it helps us make intentional decisions about our behavior. 

At work and in our lives, we make compromises and adaptations all the time. If it’s important to preserve a relationship with someone else, we may pause to consider how we are going to say something to another person if our words might hurt them instead of just letting it fly. We may end up saying it in a way that doesn’t feel as natural to us, but protects the relationship. 

As Marc illustrates in his piece, there are times when we have to adapt our behavior in order to authentically represent our values and intentions. You shouldn’t feel like you are faking it when you do this because it’s in integrity with who you are and who you intend to be.

It’s when we aren’t clear on what really matters to us, the winds of corporate politics and bureaucracy can blow us far off course until we wake up one day and wonder how we became a person we don’t even recognize anymore. Without committing to authenticity, you can easily fall into a pattern of faking it so much that you lose any self of who you really are. I believe this is a major contributor to things like burnout and midlife crises.  

Authenticity doesn’t mean no compromise or adaptation. It means that we make those choices with intention and purpose. Here’s a simple example from my work. My favorite dress code for work is jeans (or shorts) and a t-shirt. That’s how I feel most comfortable. If you saw me working around my home on any given day, that’s how I’d be dressed. As a keynote speaker, some would argue that for me to be my most authentic self on stage, I should dress in jeans and a t-shirt. 

But, this perspective overlooks the fact that one of my most important values is impact. I deeply care about the effect of my speech on the audience. And since I speak to corporate and business leaders most often, I know that many people in that audience expect an expert keynote speaker to wear a suit on stage. And, if those people saw a guy walk out on stage in jeans, they may wonder, “Where’s his suit? Is this guy legit? Is he really an expert?” 

Sure, I may be able to overcome those objections during my presentation, but I don’t want to waste those precious few minutes I get with my audience to make an impact over a pair of jeans. Marc would argue that I’m being “fake.” He’s wrong. That suit is an authentic representation of my values and aspiration. There’s nothing non-genuine about it. I’m not faking it. 

We change, grow, and evolve as people over time. The journey of authenticity embraces that change and brings a greater intention to it. When we try on new or less comfortable behaviors in service of our aspirations or values, it’s a step in our evolution as an authentic person. We are all going to be faced with making sacrifices and compromises throughout our lives. When we are living in authenticity, we can navigate these things with a clear sense of what is aligned with who we are and what isn’t. 

Don’t Fake It

The ironic thing is that if you adopt a broader view of authenticity as I’ve described, you may end up making some of the same behavior adaptations described in Marc’s piece. But instead of it being an opportunistic and perhaps morally questionable choice by faking it, it’s a choice in service of your values and intentions. It is the authentic you.  

Here’s my plea to you. 

Regardless of how much you want to get ahead or be accepted or find a little more success, don’t fake it. Instead, commit yourself to the journey of authenticity. Do the work to get clarity about who you are and what you want from life. When you can make authentic decisions and choices in your life and career based on this work, your life will be more meaningful and fulfilled. 

And at the end of it all, you’ll be able to look back and say, “I did things on my terms. I’m glad I didn’t fake it.” 

The Two Biggest Barriers for Managers Faced with Employee Engagement
The Two Biggest Barriers for Managers Faced with Employee Engagement 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

The longer I am immersed in the work of employee engagement, the clearer it is to me that getting it right as a manager is simple and hard.

That may sound contradictory, but it’s not.

Engaging employees isn’t all that complicated. It starts with forming and maintaining a healthy, positive relationship with each person you manage. Then, ensuring that everything you do protects and builds that relationship and avoids harming it.

That sounds pretty simple, right?

But if you’ve ever been in any kind of relationship with another human being, you know that this can be more challenging than it sounds. Good relationships require that you work at them.

When it comes to doing this work of building relationships with employees, there are two obstacles I hear from managers and leaders most frequently.

The First Obstacle to Employee Engagement Is TIME

Being a manager is one of the most time-crunched jobs in the company. Generally, as a manager, you still have a full plate of your own work to do in addition to managing a team of people. Being a manager also comes with the expectation of attending a slate of meetings that may or may not be of any value.

The problem with being time-constrained is that relationship building requires time. Try to think of one person in your life who you have a great relationship with where you haven’t spent a lot of time together.

You can’t.

Time is the currency of relationships. There is no shortcut or hack.  If you don’t make the time to be with people, you will never build a relationship with them.

This is what makes regularly scheduled, one-on-one meetings and check-ins so critically important. By making these part of your schedule and considering the time as critical to doing the role of management, you ensure that each member of your team has at least some dedicated time with you.

Getting the one-on-one in the schedule is just the first step. That time is precious and important, so follow these steps to ensure you make the most of it.

  • Never cancel a one-on-one and only reschedule when absolutely necessary. Treat this time as sacred.
  • Ask questions and listen for most of the meeting. This is the employee’s time with you. Let them tell you what’s most important. In fact, consider starting with the question, “What the most important thing we need to talk about today?” and go from there.
  • Ask the employee for feedback on the meeting and how you could together make it the most valuable use of your time together.

I know you’re busy. Everyone is. But you need to make time for your people, or they will never be fully engaged.

The Second Obstacle to Employee Engagement Is FEAR

This one isn’t talked about as directly and openly as lack of time is, but it’s even more of a challenge. Cultivating relationships with your people can feel awkward and scary, particularly if you are new to it.

It requires that you trust people, maybe more than you are comfortable with. If you’ve been burned in the past, this will be hard. What if you get burned again?

This also requires that you get to know people beyond what they can do for you at work. Who are they as a person? What really matters to them in life? Who are the most important people in their life?

I know, I know. You’ve probably been told in the past that work and life should be kept separate, but is that how you experience work? Do you become a completely different person, disconnected entirely from your life when you go to work? Of course not. And neither do your people.

Getting to know them will help you understand how to help them find more meaning and enjoyment at work. But, here’s the catch. You’ll have to share some about yourself as well. They need to know you as a human being in order to really connect. Somewhere in each of your stories are some commonalities that will bond you together.

When I suggest this to managers, I start to hear the “what if” objections.

  • What if they tell me something I really shouldn’t know?
  • What if we become friends and I have to give them some hard feedback?
  • What if I have to fire them someday?

“What if” questions come from fear. We are afraid because we are uncertain about what we would or should do in those circumstances. We are afraid because we don’t want to change. We are afraid because we don’t want to get hurt.

But what’s the alternative?

Remain distant, be less scared, and let your people feel like nobody really cares that much about them at work? Yes, it will make it easier in that rare situation when you’ve done such a poor job of managing them that you have to suddenly fire them, but in the meantime, they are probably going to perpetually struggle along until they quit to find a manager who cares more.

Lean Into Relationships to Improve Employee Engagement

Treat people the way you’d treat anyone else in your life who you value and care for. That doesn’t mean you abandon accountability or other good management practices. But, it does mean that you handle those things in a way that is consistent with valuing the relationship.

If you want an engaged team, you have to make time and push past the fear. It will be worth it.

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One-on-One Meetings: 3 Ways to Stop Screwing Them Up With Your Employees
One-on-One Meetings: 3 Ways to Stop Screwing Them Up With Your Employees 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Managers: How important are one-on-one meetings with your employees?

This question comes up somewhat regularly because these meetings are time-consuming, and most managers are so overwhelmed with work that they are hunting for any excuse to cut something from the calendar. And I was asked this question again recently.

Are these meetings really necessary?

To answer this question, we need to remember that employees experience work as a relationship. If we aspire to fully engage our employees to their best performance, we need to help them feel like they are in a great relationship with work. That starts with the manager.

To foster a healthy relationship with your employees, how important is a one-on-one meeting?

It’s the same as asking how important it is to make time to hang out with your friends or to have date nights with your spouse. If you care about the relationship, then it’s important. Really important.

If you don’t care about maintaining the relationship, by all means, skip it. I’m sure you have plenty else to do.

But be very clear: The manager-employee relationship will suffer.

Invest Your Time in Employee Relationship Building With One-On-One Meetings

Perhaps the most vital ingredient to relationship building is time. We cannot foster or sustain a healthy relationship with anyone in our lives without the investment of time. That’s where it starts.

One-on-one meetings with employees are vitally important in helping them feel that sense of relationship with work. There is no path to having a fully engaged team that doesn’t involve investing one-on-one time with your people.

In a 2016 Harvard Business Review article titled “What Great Managers Do Daily,” the authors from the Microsoft Workforce Analytics group shared some insights based on analysis of their data about the importance of these meetings.

“In the companies we analyzed, the average manager spent 30 minutes every 3 weeks with each of their employees. Perhaps unsurprisingly, employees who got little to no one-on-one time with their manager were more likely to be disengaged. On the flip side, those who get twice the number of one-on-ones with their manager relative to their peers are 67% less likely to be disengaged. We also tested the hypotheses that there would be a point at which engagement goes down if a manager spends too much time with employees, but did not find such a tipping point in these datasets.

“And what happens when a manager doesn’t meet with employees one-on-one at all or neglects to provide on-the-job training? Employees in this situation are four times as likely to be disengaged as individual contributors as a whole, and are two times as likely to view leadership more unfavorably compared to those who meet with their managers regularly.”

Now that that’s settled, let’s talk about how to have one-on-one meetings that don’t defeat the purpose. Making time is just the first step. Below are some simple tips to help you ensure that you get the most out of the time you invest.

3 Tips for Better One-on-One Meetings With Employees

1. Get out of your office.

Making an employee come to your office might be easiest for you, but it’s rife with problems. Most importantly, your office is ground zero for distraction. Between your laptop, phone, and door, you almost don’t stand a chance to create a distraction-free space for a good conversation. And if that isn’t bad enough, the employee may not feel comfortable in your office. It’s your office after all—giving you a home-field advantage. Find a neutral spot to meet. Go for coffee. Have lunch. Go for a walk. If the employee has an office use that. Just get out of your office to find a place where the employee is more comfortable and there are fewer distractions.

2. Make it a conversation.

A conversation requires two parties who are both actively interested and participating in the exchange. Come to the meeting with questions. These questions don’t have to only be about work. Asking some questions to get to know your people better is important. A question like “What do you do for fun when you aren’t working?” can open up a really interesting conversation.

You must also come prepared to listen. In any one-on-one meeting, if you talk more than you listened as a manager, you missed the mark. This one is easier said than done. Take it from someone who struggles with this issue regularly. Focus on active listening, taking notes to really hear and understand what your employee is trying to communicate to you.

3. Let the employee lead. 

If we remind ourselves that the purpose of the one-on-one meeting is to foster a healthy relationship with the employee, it makes sense that we’d give the employee primary control over what is discussed. The temptation will be to simply turn over the agenda to the employee. This will only work if you participate in shaping that agenda by sending them ideas or suggestions for things that the two of you may want to discuss.

Regardless of who creates the agenda, one practice I have found to be incredibly effective is to open the meeting by asking the employee, “What’s the most important thing we need to discuss today?” This question focuses your conversation right away and doesn’t put any restriction on the topic. If the employee is struggling with a personal issue that’s getting in the way of work and wants to talk that through, that’s a great use of your time.

It is also valuable to have regular check-ins about how the meeting itself is working and how it could be better. Discuss each of your goals for the meeting and what improvements you can make to ensure the meetings feel valuable.

The Bottom Line on One-on-One Meetings With Employees

If you aren’t having one-on-one meetings with your employees at least monthly, you aren’t doing the work to create an engaged team. It’s that simple. When you invest time in your people, their engagement and performance will improve.

If you’d like more content like this to arrive in your email box weekly, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking here.

Reading Between the Lines on the 4-Day Work Week
Reading Between the Lines on the 4-Day Work Week 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, Quartz published a piece about a New Zealand company that has implemented a 4-day work week policy.

This company offered the shortened work week without any reduction in pay or other benefits. They tested it and then implemented it broadly when they found that it didn’t cause any decrease in overall performance for the organization.

The owner of the company, Andrew Barnes, is bullish about these results and wants every company to try it. But, he offers some words of caution not to talk about this effort in terms of employee well-being. Instead, he advised that you talk about it in terms of productivity.

Here’s a quote from Barnes about how they rolled this out:

“We sat down with each team and we said, ‘Right, let’s agree what is the base of productivity that you’re delivering now,’” he says. “And then the deal was, provided you delivered on the productivity goals, you would be gifted a day off a week.”

This is a cool story. It highlights what is possible when organizations think differently about work.

Is this really about a 4-day work week?

While I think it’s awesome that this company is proving that some of our assumptions about work (i.e. the 5-day work week) are limiting, I think the article is misleading for anyone who might want to pursue something similar in their own organization.

The 4-day work week is the kind of gimmicky silver-bullet we love to read about and debate. The gimmick is a distraction.

If you read between the lines, here’s what you find echoed in this article.

  • This company found that employees could produce the same amount of output in 4 days that they had been producing in 5.
  • When given this challenge (or opportunity) to work more effectively, employees stepped up. When surveying employees before and after the 4-day week trial, they “found that 78% of staff felt able to manage work and other commitments after the trial, compared to 54% before.”
  • The policy is less about a 4-day week than it is about autonomy and flexibility. The leaders essentially told employees that if they can get their work done in less hours, they could have those extra hours back.
  • And please don’t say this effort is about employee well-being if you want to be taken seriously because nobody (particularly leaders) cares about that. (Forgive my sarcasm, but this seems to be what they chose to lead with.)
  • The key to making this transition happen swiftly is an owner or CEO who gets it or has a eureka moment.

My take on the 4-day work week

Conversations about a shortened work week are colored by how we think about work. It highlights a fundamental conflict in management philosophy. The practice of management was born during the industrial revolution where the objective was primarily to maximize the productivity of employees per hour. A majority of organizations today are still rooted in this belief.

The objective of work processes is to motivate and/or coerce the maximum amount of productivity out of each hour the employee works. 

In this model, the number of hours the employee spends working is viewed as vital to achieving performance expectations. Your role as an employee is less about achieving specific outputs as it is about seeing how much you can contribute. The manager’s role is to get the maximum amount of value out of the employee.

This way of thinking is prevalent among leaders. It’s this way of thinking that makes the “discretionary effort” model of employee engagement so attractive. It’s oriented towards getting more and more out of the same investment in people–to maximize productivity for the benefit of the organization.

An alternative way of thinking about work is that employees are hired to fulfill specific roles with clear expectations for the value they contribute to the organization’s success. This role clarity drives compensation, management evaluation, and other work processes. This way of thinking about work might be summarized this way:

The objective of work processes is to ensure that employees are clear about the expectations of their role and that they have everything they need to succeed.  

In this way of thinking, a manager’s role isn’t to get the maximum amount of productivity out of each employee. Instead, it’s about ensuring that each employee is crystal clear about what is expected of them and then supporting them in achieving those goals successfully.

If an employee can complete their work in less than 40 hours per week, good for her. She’s met her expectations, so what she does with those extra hours is up to her. If she’s able to do her work in 25 hours/week, then that likely means she’s either due for a more challenging role or the role she’s in is poorly designed. Or, maybe she’s just super efficient at her job and everyone’s happy.

These two very different ways of thinking about work are really what the discussion about the 4-day work week is truly about. If your leaders believe that their mandate is to create a workplace that extracts the maximum amount of productivity from employees, then you are dead in the water before you start.

I suspect that’s why the article led with the insight to talk about this effort as “productivity” and not well-being. The implication seems to be that perhaps you can trick your leaders into the 4-day work week. But, if you don’t address the underlying belief that the goal is to maximize employee output, how long do you think it will take before your leaders realize that if employees can be 20% more productive in four days a week, imagine the productivity if they get back that fifth day?

Instead of trying to trick your leaders into this experiment, focus instead on building a better system of performance management that clearly defines expectations and creates systems of measurement and feedback to help managers effectively manage to those expectations. Once your organization and its leaders are more clearly oriented around thinking of roles in terms of defined performance expectations, the conversation about greater autonomy and flexibility will become much easier.

P.S. This has everything to do with employee well-being, even if your leaders aren’t ready to invest in it yet.

 

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SHRM isn’t the Problem, I am.
SHRM isn’t the Problem, I am. 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Let me first say that I can’t believe I’m about to write this post.  After all, I’m supposed to be the radical, status quo crushing HR leader who runs around in his spare time calling himself a Talent Anarchist.  If anyone should be chucking rocks at the establishment, it should be me. Instead, I find myself compelled to defend the institution.  Weird.

Over the past month or so, our beloved professional association, SHRM, has taken a beating around the blogosphere.  There have been several articles on TLNT (here, here, and here) regarding some snafu’s at the board level.  Mark and Laurie at www.voiceofHR.com hosted a series of posts from prominent HR bloggers who detail their recommendations for what SHRM should do in 2011 (some great ideas, a lot of criticism).  And then there were several of the folks at Fistful of Talent who, after having session proposals rejected by SHRM for the annual conference, have decided to host their own conference in Vegas the day before the SHRM conference kicks off.  It’s been a rough stretch in the online world for SHRM lately.

I’d like to pile on.  I was even tempted to do so.  But, I’m not sure that SHRM is the problem.  Let me first say that I’m not a fan of how the SHRM board has been handling their business lately and I’ve gone on record publicly saying as much.  That aside, as an HR executive, I’m thankful for SHRM daily.  Most members of my HR team are SHRM members.  Several either have PHR certifications or are pursuing them.  We use SHRM resources to get answers and perspectives to HR issues when we encounter things we haven’t seen before.  I appreciate their email newsletters that help me keep up to date on what’s happening at macro levels around key issues in HR.

I’m also thankful for the SHRM structure that has facilitated the creation of the two active and healthy local SHRM chapters we have in Omaha and Lincoln.  These chapters provide affordable, regular developmental and training opportunities for my staff and the other HR professionals in the area.  And, all of this is provided to us for less than a few hundred dollars a year.  A pretty great bargain in my opinion.

The discussion and the angst with SHRM is indicative of something much bigger.  As I’ve read through these online discussions, here are the thoughts that have come to mind for me.

  1. HR is at a turning point.  It’s become increasingly evident to everyone in the world of business that competitive advantage is ultimately about the people.  This is creating an incredible demand for smart, business savvy HR leaders who can step forward and take the lead–not just in the HR department, but in the organization. Problem is, most HR leaders either aren’t capable or aren’t competent to make this transition today.    This is creating some incredibly intense pressure on current HR leaders and they aren’t sure what to do.  
  2. Because of this friction being created between market demand for HR talent and the supply of strong, HR executive leadership, something’s got to give and we all want someone to blame.  So, we turn our attention to SHRM.  If only they would be more strategic, or more proactive, or more embracing of social media deviants, or [fill in the blank]. This is a load of crap.  SHRM isn’t the problem.  I am. We are. 
  3. HR will only rise to it’s potential and it’s calling when HR leaders decide that they must first change.  The problems in HR aren’t new.  HR was born out of administrative requirements forced upon organizations by regulation.  These early personnel departments created a dumping ground for all things administrative and touchy-feely.  Problem is, we never shook this stuff off.  HR leaders have to be where the buck stops.  They have to redefine and re-imagine what the corporate HR department does and how it creates value for the organization.  (While I’m on my pulpit, it’s not about changing the name of the department.  Human Resources is a perfect name for what we do.  If you think changing the name of your department will fix your problems, you are delusional).  
  4. Note to HR Leaders and Bloggers, SHRM does not exist to serve you.  SHRM will never be a place for those leading the revolution.  They, like any large organization, have to appeal to the middle of the bell curve.  Should they role model some progressive behavior like social media?  Probably.  But remember that a majority of our profession is just coming around to the idea that social media is here to stay.  If SHRM gets too progressive, they risk alienating the core of their membership.  Not a reason not to innovate, just something that I’m sure is tough to balance if you live on the inside of the organization.
  5. We need to be careful in the arguments we make.  Mark Stelzner specifically took SHRM to task for having two consecutive CEO’s who didn’t hold an HRCI certification of some sort.  Really?  Mark is a brilliant guy and I normally shout “Amen!” to most of his posts, but he and I diverge here.  Are we honestly going to stand up and say that we value certification and technical skill over the competence to get the job done? Or, that a CEO can’t advocate for a certification he doesn’t have?  The PHR certifications are designed for people who are practicing HR.  I don’t want an HR practitioner running SHRM, I want a CEO.  I don’t give a flip about certifications if you can get the job done.  Let’s find a CEO for SHRM who has vision, leadership, business savvy, integrity, courage, and a burning desire to advance the profession of HR.  And once this person is hired, I’m hoping they spend time running the organization, not studying for a certification.  

I guess at the end of all of this, I can summarize my thoughts like this.  I hope that SHRM continues to do what they do well and that they continue to strive for improvement.  But, SHRM isn’t going to transform the profession of HR.  That’s up to us.

One versus Many
One versus Many 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

The holy grail in HR seems to be to find a system or process that will impact every employee and affect change uniformly across the board.  We strive to build performance management and talent management processes that can be applied at every level across the company.  We look to find a way to get all managers to embrace the same best practices and become better leaders collectively.  We spend money on consultants and technology that seem to hold the promise of this elusive holy grail.  We want a clean, easy and elegant solution to our organization’s people problems.  


The problem is that HR is about working with (and changing) people.  People are complicated and messy.  I, just like everyone else, still spend hours in pursuit of the elegant process-driven approach to broadly changing employee behaviors because these approaches have merit.  But, the underlying truth of the work we do in HR is that each person is unique and they change on their own terms and at their own speed.  And, much more importantly, change within an organization actually happens one person at a time.  

This is where my thinking has taken a turn in recent years.  It’s not a new thought, it just took me a while to arrive here.  Given that our role in HR is to impact employee behavior company-wide while change in behavior happens one person at a time, we appear to have a dilemma.  However, when you break down how organizations of people work, there are key players within the organization who have broad influence on how others in the organization choose to behave.  In essence, if you get these people to change, the rest of the organization will follow.  Here are a few of the key groups:
  1. Executive leaders.  Clearly, the group with the most significant influence.  But, we don’t always have access to these folks.  
  2. Emerging leaders.  Those who are either formally or informally identified as the future leaders of the organization.  This group may be the most significant because not only do they have influence today, but their influence will grow in the future.
  3. Informal leaders.  These are the employees who may not have formal titles, but who others look to for what to do in times of change or conflict.
  4. Connectors.  Those employees who have relationships that are broad and stretch across divisions.  These connectors have the ability to spread ideas quickly due to their network.  
HR is a busy profession with lots of demands on our time.  So, we aren’t going to have the luxury to literally work with each employee one on one in the organization.  The big payoff is focusing efforts on the key groups of people outlined above and focus on strategies to influence them..  If you want to get everyone to do a particular thing a certain way, get these groups to do it and the rest will follow.  


Change happens one person at a time.  The key is to start with the right person.  


If you’re in, be in
If you’re in, be in 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I recently read a blog post by a blogger who is an HR professional by day.  In the post, she said something to the effect: “I have a love/hate relationship with HR.”  This struck me the wrong way.  In fact, the more I thought about it, the more it chapped my . . . well, you know.

You see, I used to say silly things like this when I was new to HR.  I didn’t respect HR early in my career.  I was a hardcore headhunter prior to coming into HR and part of my training had been that all HR people were either worthless or washed up–they were failures.  In the headhunting world, HR is nothing but an obstacle between you and a commission check (hey, that’s how I was trained).  So, when I made the jump to HR, I had a little identity crisis to work through.  I had an love/hate relationship with HR at the beginning because I wasn’t bought in yet.  My expectations were way out of whack with the reality of HR.

But now it’s different.  When you work in HR, you are HR.  If you have a love/hate relationship with HR, you have a love/hate relationship with yourself.  You have an identity crisis and a self-esteem problem.  Imagine how you’d feel if your child’s teacher said that he had a love/hate relationship with education.  How in the world is your organization supposed to respect you if you aren’t even sure if you respect yourself.  Aaarrrggghh!  Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it!  

There’s a saying that you have probably heard many times.  From the first time I heard it, it has rung in my ears:

If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.  

Not only did the words, “I have a love/hate relationship with HR” come from a practicing HR professional, but from one who blogs to the world professing to help others be better at HR.  While I’m sure that this particular blogger would argue that she’s helping HR move forward, but I think that this type of mindset is part of our problem.

If you are in HR, be HR.  Love the work.  Love the profession.  Love the people.  Yes, we are flawed.  Yes, we have a lot to improve.  But, so does every other discipline.  Instead of trying to distance yourself from HR, start being the solution.  Model the way HR should be.  Have a vision for the future of HR and share it with others. Hold yourself, your team and your peers to incredible high standards.  Mentor, teach, lead, grow.  That’s what we need in HR.

I am HR.  So are you.  Start acting like it.

Culture is Hard to Define, Do it Anyway
Culture is Hard to Define, Do it Anyway 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I recently sat in a facilitated discussion about the development of emerging leaders with a group of my peers from large employers in my area.  During the course of the conversation, one particularly seasoned HR leader at the table offered up that one of the most critical characteristics of the emerging leaders within his organization was “cultural fit.”  When pressed about what that meant, he explained that culture is something that’s very difficult to define.  The obvious follow up question is “if you can’t define it, then how do you measure for cultural fit?”  He responded that it’s just something you can tell about the person.  I glanced around the room as he said this to see nodding heads around the table.  (I am not making this up.)

As I sat a bit stunned to have just heard this exchange, the discussion continued.  In less than ten minutes, the same person brought up that attitude was a very important characteristic in their emerging leaders.  When asked to speak more about that, he said . . . wait for it . . . “it’s really hard to define, you just can kind of feel it.”  Un.  Freaking.  Believable.

So, to summarize this HR executive leader’s comments: They know that cultural fit and attitude are critically important components for identifying those people who will make or break the future of their company.  However, they have no reliable way to measure these things in others, so instead they fall back on the old reliable HR tool, “gut feel.”  Is it any wonder that HR isn’t considered a legitimate player at the executive table with this kind of thinking?

I wish this were an isolated or fabricated story.  Sadly, this type of scene is playing itself out in HR departments in companies everywhere.  Too many of us have fallen into the trap to believe that if something is hard to define, that it’s not possible.  Don’t let this happen to you.

Here’s a list of things that are hard to define:

  • Leadership
  • Culture
  • Purpose
  • Values
For some reason, it seems that the things that matter the most are also the most difficult to define.  However, each of these can be defined.  This work is not for the faint of heart because it’s big, ugly, scary work to take on because despite the power that definition brings in alignment and focus, the effort will be met with resistance.  This resistance comes because the process of definition not only requires the organization to define and commit to what it IS, but also what it IS NOT.  This process takes out the gray area of culture or leadership where it’s easy to hide if you aren’t playing within the rules.  
So, yes, it’s hard to define culture.  Most people won’t even try.  Be different.  Do it anyway.  
HR as Role Model
HR as Role Model 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Being the expert feels good.  It means that you get to render your judgement about others actions and hand out advice freely.  In HR, we are frequently called upon to be the expert when it comes to employees.  And boy do we love to give out advice on how others should do things.

The big question is whether we are credible experts.  Are we both providing expertise but also “living the way” in our own teams?  Being the role model of best practices is one under utilized way that HR can shape change in an organization.  Advocating for employee development?  Make sure you are doing world class development within HR.  There’s no better way to get others attention than to utilize your expertise to transform you own team.

As I think about the following issues that seem to be hot in our HR world, how are we role modeling the change we would want to see?

  • Employer Brand — How are you branding HR?  How are you branding yourself?
  • Culture – Are you defining and managing to an intentional culture in HR?  Do you know your core values?
  • Social Media – How are you using the tools within your team to drive innovation, connection, and learning?
  • Performance Management – Are you working with a process in HR to plan performance and hold people accountable?  Does HR do quality goal setting?
  •  Diversity – How are your actively creating and embracing more diversity within in the HR team?  
The list goes on.  The point is, that one thing that you can influence most as an HR leader is what happens with your team.  Be the example and practice the change you desire in your own shop before you take it on the road.  By being able to show how you made something work and talk about the results, you gain real credibility and power to influence others to do the same.