I was on a leadership call last week and a startup founder, Jennifer Henderson of Tilt.com, made this comment when talking about one aspect of how she is building culture at her company. (BTW – Check out Jennifer and Tilt, amazing leader and a great company that is reimaginging employee leave management.)
“Be Flexible Loudly!”
Meaning, flexibility isn’t flexible if your employees feel like it might be a trap.
Just “allowing” flexibility isn’t enough. You must build a culture of flexibility. Leader’s must show and demonstrate that flexibility is valued, so when you do use flexibility in your work environment, you should make it known, loudly!
Too often, as leaders, we say we value and offer flexibility, but then our actions we portray are the exact opposite. Signs and symbols speak loud. Instead of quietly sneaking out of the office on a Friday afternoon, make a scene “Yo! I’m taking off to go play at the park with my kids! You guys have a great weekend!”
Be Flexible Loudly!
In a remote, digital work world this become even more important. Too often when we are working at home or work from anywhere, we tend to actually never leave work! It seems like we are always available and on. A leader should purposely send a note out on Teams or Slack and say, “Hey, all! I’m unplugging for the rest of the day! See you all tomorrow!” Or, “FYI – I’m in late tomorrow! I’ve got a chance to jump out on the slopes and get a few runs in before some meetings I have in the afternoon!”
If we can’t physically show our staff we are being flexible, we need to find ways to inform them. This also goes for times when any of us decide part of our flexibility is doing some work when others most likely aren’t. I love to catch up on email on Sunday evenings, so I don’t feel overwhelmed coming into a thousand emails on Monday morning. It’s critical to reply with a message that lets folks know, this is part of my flexibility, but not yours! So, I don’t expect or want a reply from you tonight.
Be Flexible Loudly!
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially for leaders that have grown up in an environment where leaving early or focusing on your own wellbeing was viewed as a sign of weakness. I’ll be honest, I started working from home on Wednesdays each week, and I feel guilty. I feel like I should be in the office if anyone is in the office. At the same time I want my team to feel empowered to be flexible, but that means I need to do it way more loudly!
The key to being flexible loudly is trust. Trust that your team will actually act like adults and value the company the same way you value the company. Trust that their performance will actually be better because of the added flexibility and empowerment.
What I find is 99% of people handle this exactly like we all handle it. We are actually concerned about our performance and the success of our teams and organizations. So, we probably don’t use enough of the flexibility given to us. 1% are assholes and take advantage and don’t perform well. Great leaders, get rid of the 1%, and cheer on loudly the 99%. That is the culture we should be striving for.