When the catalyst gets quiet

CatalystIn chemical and physical terms, a catalyst is something that initiates or accelerates a change in a system or reaction without being changed itself. In human terms it really isn’t that much different. Catalysts cause and speed change. If you want change or need a recognized change to happen faster, seek a human catalyst.

The only time catalysts become quiet or do nothing is either when the system has reached a place of balance and equilibrium or when the system is not ready for change. From a chemical or physical perspective in those scenarios catalysts are inert, in that they just kind of hang out and do nothing until the system either changes or dissolves into oblivion. In other words, they are irrelevant. In business, however, systems are rarely at a complete balance or equilibrium. But unlike chemical or physical reaction, the people in an organization have a threshold for change. So even when change is necessary, people are hesitant to engage in it due simply to fatigue or stress. It’s just not ready for more change.

Humans, unlike their chemical counterparts, are meaning seeking beings, and catalysts are no exception. In fact, they may be the exaggeration of this principle. People do not like being irrelevant. Human catalysts seek change. It is their purpose, their reason for being – to cause or speed change. When an organization is either tired or not ready for more change, the catalyst becomes irrelevant. A fundamental need of most human beings is to feel as though they matter, that they are relevant. It is this drive that creates either two scenarios for a human catalyst: they either cause disruption so as to create a necessary change that makes them relevant, or they seek another system that IS ready for change.

When the catalyst gets louder, they are trying to create the need for change. When they get quiet, they are likely looking for a new system. Human catalysts are hugely important in organizations  as they can facilitate and accelerate changes that are necessary and welcomed.  Without a tempered approach and a great deal of patience, catalysts can also be disruptive when the organization isn’t quite ready for change. And while creating noise may give them a sense of purpose for a while, the organization will typically cast them off if they become too loud. When human catalysts get quiet, however, you should probably know they are looking to leave.

Ask PeakAlignment, Inc to help

from Organizational analysis to Leadership coaching to Talent development, PeakAlignment can help remove the roadblocks to peak performance.

Contact me and let me help make your organization more awesome!


Why your leadership development efforts are not netting you more internal promotions…

Paradox Triangle

When perception creates a paradox

There are a number of paradoxes in the modern workplace but one that seems to plague a lot of organizations is leadership development and succession planning not leading to better internal talent or higher retention. And it befuddles HR professionals, senior executives, recruiters, and all employees.

A story (* = fictionalized…kinda)

Ryan* is a 28 yr old IT Jr. Project Specialist and has worked at Vector Resources* for 4 years. Starting as a departmental admin, Ryan proved her ability and moved into the coordinator role after 2 yrs. Since becoming a project coordinator, Ryan has received multiple recognitions from various stakeholders and completed a number of successful projects. She has also taken a few leadership courses and professional development courses as a part of her Individual Development Plan. Now Ryan is looking for her next career step which is to a Project Manager that would include up to two direct reports.  The regional office in New Mexico has an opening for exactly that position. Ryan has long-standing good relationships with the people she would be supervising and they are supportive of her promotion. Ryan’s direct manager feels Ryan would be great in her new role and has acted as an advocate for her promotion as well.

Sounds good, right? She’s got a great track record, recommendations from her boss, colleagues, and recognition from other stakeholders proving her ability to successfully lead projects. Additionally, she knows the company, already has established relationships, understands the strategic vision of Vector Resources, she’s willing to relocate at her own expense, and love’s the company. Seems like a no brainer.

But here is what happens. The position posts internally and Ryan goes through the process and everyone seems to like her…but rather than offer her the job, they decide to post it externally to get some comparisons. EVEN THOUGH SHE IS THE PERFECT CANDIDATE! And here is the kicker, the salary range they are targeting for an external is MORE than they would offer Ryan.

So here is where Ryan sits – capable, recommended, ready, internally knowledgable, and accepting of a lower than external market salary because she loves the company.  Yet, here is the message she is getting – external candidates are worth more AND might be more suitable for a role she is already doing. So regardless of the outcome, Ryan is starting to feel unappreciated leading to disengagement and cynicism towards a company she loved.  Not to mention, the time to fill this valuable position is just getting longer and longer with two direct reports having no manager.

Despite all the things going for her, Ryan is subject to two contributing factors that are roadblocks to internal promotions – her longevity in her position and a concept of internal equity.  Lets look at these individually because they are acting against internal promotions is different ways. One is leadership failure and the other is a cultural failure.

The Paradox of Longevity

Despite the high praise and desire for employee loyalty, it is harmful to your career progression. The culprit to this conundrum is a component of gestalt psychology known as “figure-ground.”  It is a concept of how we perceive things.

Faces or a vase?

Largely illustrated in visual form by optical illusions that show two or more objects depending on how you look at them, the concept of figure ground states that once something emerges from the background as a distinct image, it can no longer be unseen. So while you may see the vase first and then the profiles, you cannot “unsee” the vase.

Old woman or young woman?

How this works against an employee when it comes to longevity in a certain company, and more specifically in a certain position, is people sometimes have difficulty seeing someone as capable of doing something beyond their current position.

Take Ryan’s example, Ryan has been in a non-management role for an extended period of time and as such, the leaders around her (the hiring managers in particular), and unable to see her as a manager. In fact, she may even be told she is not qualified because she does not have management experience, which she will NEVER get in her current non-managerial role.

It is a Catch-22. You aren’t qualified to manage people until you manage people. And if she is not given the position for that reason, what leads her to believe she will ever attain her career goals at her current company. They are in fact sending a message that quitting is the only way for her to further her career.

Seemingly, some organizational leaders are more appreciative of the unknown potential with an external candidate, than with the known capabilities and internal knowledge of an internal candidate.  That is the leadership failure, failure to see your own employees’ potential.

The Cultural Issue

This one is more a fault of systems being designed independent of one another but it becomes a blind spot for many organizations. They pay internal candidates less than external hires. And while the basis of this might be rooted in good financial theory, the human message it sends is, internal experience is worth less than external experience.

The underlying principles at work on this one is from a financial standpoint this practice makes good fiscal sense. An internal will generally accept less for a promotion than an external might demand. But beyond the messages it sends to an internal here is something to consider. The reason an internal would take less is because there is less stress of learning a new organization. It is easier to stay with a company I know for less money, than have to re-establish myself and learn a new role at the same time. The inverse of that is where irony sits. For the external hire, they fully anticipate the stress of learning a new organization and establishing themselves. So in essence, you are paying MORE for someone to learn your organization before they can even bring benefit. You are paying MORE for an external hire’s learning curve before productivity kicks in.

There is also the concept of internal equity that many HR professionals cite saying they do not want to create an expectation of a high raise percentage for internals as they move up. But this tends to be a fallacious argument. It may make sense when it comes to performance or cost of living raises, but it should not apply when the nature of someone’s job changes in accordance to a promotion. The role is worth a certain range and adjusting it simply because someone is an internal candidate is creating a negative culture for internal promotions.

Ultimately, here is the message and culture this practice of basing salary on the internal status and current salary creates: quit and work somewhere else, then come back and we will not only be more eager to hire you, we will pay you more than if you had just been promoted. It encourages the exact thing you are working to prevent. And what is more, you have now taken a sincerely engaged employee and turned them into a cynical job-hopper.

Straighten Things Out

Much of what I encounter in organizational roadblocks to performance are a result of misalignment. Everyone to detours around the roadblock to continue moving forward. In this case, the roadblock is a misaligned compensation philosophy and leadership perception. The detour is exiting people out of your organization only to pay them more to come back.

A major argument I hear from many senior executives is “if we develop people into leaders, they just take that experience to another company.” To which I respond, if that happens more than 50% of the time then you are either not looking at your people with fresh eyes when it comes to potential promotions or your compensation philosophy tells them they would be worth more if they quit.

When leaders start bemoaning the talent shortage and worrying about leadership gaps (such as in this article from Inc.com) it is usually a good idea to start looking at your efforts. If you are not developing your talent, start. But make sure you look the environment you plan to grow them in. You might create great seedling leaders but if you don’t replant them when they need more room or water them as much they deserve…you could find your leadership crop dying off.

Training, Development, and Learning

In this time where talent is getting easier and harder to find (lots of people, hard to find the right ones – ie. the paradox of choice) the need for talent management continues to grow. However, something I see from many organizations and HR leaders is the confusion and the interchangeable use of the words “training”, “development”, and “learning”. One is an event, another is a strategic process, and the latter is an individual experience. Yet many senior level leaders continue to ask for training to answer their development problems…the fly by night training and instructional design contractors (and pretty much EVERY eLearning developer) is all to happy to provide training for a price. And after thousands and sometimes 10s to 100s of thousands of dollars of training design and expensive Learning Management Systems, organizational leaders are not seeing a direct return on their investment in terms of development. And it is killing the credibility of talent management professionals.

Training is like building a house – you start and you finish within a pretty narrow timeframe when you think about the larger span it takes to build a city.  Good training relies on a number of qualified people: contractors, architects, sub-contrators, etc. And if you do it right, it is a great addition to your company. But just as building a house does not create an entire community, training does not develop your pool of talent. It is a piece to the puzzle but it is not development. Development of talent is closer to the development of a community. It takes a greater vision to see how all the pieces fit together. You have the houses, sure, but you also want roads, common areas, sanitation, sales and marketing, regulatory affairs, and landscaping.

The “roads” of your organization is how people navigate. If your organization is clogged with politics (think narrow roads with too many cars), misaligned communication structures (roads to nowhere), or broken systems (potholes and ruts); you can’t channel talent and effort in the right direction. People either get lost, frustrated, or just stop. Either way, if the pathways for people to develop are hard to navigate (just like a neighborhood that is confusing) people start to looking to live elsewhere.

The “common areas” of your organization is the culture and how people interact with each other. Without whitespace and freedom for people to move around without constantly bumping into each other, bad things can start to happen in even the prettiest of places. Most employees seek some level of autonomy and room to move independently to some degree. When you ask people to think “outside of the box” for a solution and the only place they can go is into someone else’s “box”, you’re not likely to see a ton of creativity.

Sanitation is your performance management system. How are you getting rid of the stuff your organization doesn’t want and would be better without? Poor performance management, just like bad sanitation, can make a community sick. Even people who are otherwise healthy become infected by toxic and underperforming employees. You have to execute your performance management plan. Holding people accountable is in many ways its own sense of feedback. People want feedback, they want to give feedback, and most of all, they want the employees who are not pulling their weight to either get the feedback they need and adjust their performance, or be shown the door. Poorly executed performance management, similar to missed trash pickup for months, can create a pretty apathetic environment. People stop doing what they should simply because they see that it doesn’t matter.

Sales and Marketing is how you get new people into your community. You have to have a talent acquisition strategy and you need a brand or at least a concept of what you are selling that is bigger than just the location of your community. Without a talented and aligned recruiting team, you’re getting the wrong residents to your company. With the wrong people in your group you risk turning what could be a great place to live into a culture rife with challenges and conflict, not to mention poor performance.

Human Resource Management is your regulatory affairs group. You need to make sure all the permits are filed, all the taxes paid, all the nuts and bolt of invoicing, etc. Human Resource Management is a huge part of your organization and without all the daily transactions taking place (payroll, time tracking, benefits, etc.) you can’t have employees. Keep in mind, however, that human resource management is not the same as human resource development.

The landscaping is exactly what you might think it is; it is the physical climate of your workplace. Do you have art? plants? carpet? tile? etc. Are there drinks in the refrigerator? Do you have a refrigerator? etc. It is the physical appeal of your exterior and interior. It helps create the vibe. While different from the culture, climate can still influence people’s moods so it is something to pay attention to. Does your company look like a nice place to work?

Oh, and learning. That is something individuals do, not something companies do. I cannot make someone learn, I can create an environment that encourages and rewards learning, I can give tools and resources to help people learn, but ultimately, whether someone learns or not is an individual process. I see many employees who are sent to training to correct behavior and they are resistant, combative, cynical, and sometimes toxic to others who want to learn. Learning is not under your control, just as you cannot make someone like where they live. You can create an environment that is makes learning easier and supports it, but it something each individual goes through at their own pace.

And now to my point. Development is how all of these things come together to build a community. And while my analogy is somewhat simplistic, it  illustrates that development is a long-term and continuing process. Training is an event, and usually has a very specific design for a very specific purpose. You build a training class, people come, they leave. Training is a tool in the development process. What are you doing to create a culture that encourages people to do more, try new things, recruit new talent, keep the landscape nice, and keep their “common areas” clean. How are you translating a development strategy into something more than just going to more trainings?  One of the worst things you can do is expect people to be better simply because of training. No matter how great the training is, if people are not allowed and encouraged to do anything different when they get back, then the training was just something they went to and will NEVER translate into different behavior. (read “Dumping the Water Back in the Pond”). How are you creating an environment where people CAN learn, change, and grow?

Daniel Pink’s book “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” highlights Mastery, or an innate desire to  get better at whatever we are doing, as one of three drivers of human behavior (the other two being Autonomy and Purpose). People want to get better, they want to develop. Good talent professionals create communities and houses and cultures that help people do what they instinctively want to do anyway – develop, grow, learn, and expand. So the question is: are you simply building houses or do you want to develop a community?

Missing the Point

Work is NOT a place...it is an activity

There has been a buzz in the past few months about unlimited PTO, unlimited vacation policies, 4-day work weeks, flexible hours, etc. Companies including NetFlix, Best Buy, SpinWeb, RedFrog Events, WeddingWire, and yes, even the US government  get it: mainstream media and by extension the majority of the American public does not. This is NOT a policy, it is the absence of policy.

The Arguments Against

The primary arguments I hear are these:

  • how will we know people are getting their work done
  • won’t people abuse it
  • how is this impacted by FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act), and lastly,
  • how does that work if someone quits or gets terminated

My responses in their simplest form are:

  • “attendance does imply performance”;
  • “no – and please refer back to answer 1”;
  • “it really isn’t”; and,
  • “it works just fine, probably easier (and cheaper) than it does now”

How will you know people are getting their work done?

If you are using attendance to judge people’s performance then I would say you need to focus on your performance management system.  I knew a lot of kids in grade school, middle-school, and high school that got a “perfect attendance award” and had crappy GPAs. Simply because someone if present does not mean they are performing. Furthermore, if you think watching over your employees increases productivity than I would say you either hired the wrong people or you are creating a negative environment for anyone who works for you.  In addition, control breeds counter-control so if people feel monitored heavily, they tend to look for ways to slack when you are not looking.

Won’t people abuse it

Numerous practical applications of this type of work environment show when people are given the freedom of when and where to work, they end up actually working more. The question itself also assumes that having control of your schedule is a perk or a benefit – that is not the point.  The point is focusing on what people accomplish or how they meet performance expectations, deadlines, etc. So when you think about it that way, the question is actually irrelevant because it focuses on the wrong thing.  It, again (similar to the 1st question,) assumes that people will not be in their office and therefore not working, which is a false assumption. The problem worth analyzing is not whether or not they are present, but whether or not they are getting their jobs done.

How is this impacted by FLSA?

It isn’t. There is NOTHING in the Fair Labor Standards Act that mentions vacation or time NOT spent in the working.  Here is the major misunderstanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as it relates to time and the modern workplace. The FLSA, along with establishing a minimum wage,  outlines which employees are “exempt” from overtime pay after 40 hours/week, and which are “non-exempt” from being paid over-time. The easy piece is for exempt employees, or more commonly referred to as ‘salaried’ or ‘non-hourly.’ For this group of workers, there is zero legal ramifications for this person regardless of time spent working or ‘at work.’ They are paid a fixed amount regardless of whether they work 30 hours per week or 60. For non-exempt, or ‘hourly’ employees, the FLSA say nothing about paying people for time they DO NOT work. The ONLY legal ramifications are when people work OVER 40 hours per week. So the FLSA has nothing to do with vacation or time off, nothing – unless of course you have an earned PTO system where time off is considered an earned benefit…which ends up costing you when an employee leaves…because you still owe them the payment they earned.

How does this work if someone quits or gets terminated?

Here is a wonderful part of this shift. You owe them nothing in terms of earned or granted vacation. If you negotiate a severance package, that is totally different and has nothing to do with PTO or vacation.  According to Hotwire.com, the majority of Americans workers left 6.2 days of vacation unused last year. If you use the median income of a full-time worker of $39,416 – that translates into a savings of over $900 for every employee who quits or is terminated, on average. When you have no vacation or PTO policy, no one gets paid for unused vacation or PTO…there is no such thing.

The Point

This is not like bottom-less wings where when your basket gets low, someone gives you a finite number more. This is more like air. Rather than living under a scuba tank where you measure your breath and have a finite amount, you get to breathe normally. In the environments like I mentioned above, the point is there is no basket, or bucket, of PTO or vacation therefore, no concept of unused, owed, or earned time. And more importantly, there is no guilt, judgement, or criticism around how people use their time as long as they are doing their jobs. When you are judged on what you get done rather than how much time you spend in the office, people tend to find efficiencies, work faster, and be more productive.

Don’t try to rewrite the policy, that misses the point.  Eliminate it, shift your employees to focus on what people accomplish as opposed to just being present (see Presenteeism). Simply having people limited to the time they take will not make them produce more, in fact, as has been proven in all the aforementioned companies, productivity increased when they eliminated the vacation calendar and work-day clock. Stop talking about trust as if is something you have no control over – the more policies you have, the lower the trust you have in your employees (convince me otherwise if you disagree – and I am not talking about Quality procedures). Your vacation policy is one you can get rid of. Pay attention to what your employees do, not where they are.

Why your boss doesn’t trust you…

December 3 2007 day 53 - When stress does a nu...

My last post mentioned fear as a reason many change managers do not communicate well or soon enough. But fear is much more insidious than simply during change – it is the roadblock to trust in your organization.

It is amazing what the human mind and body can do. During times of distress it can shift blood from one area of the body to another more crucial area almost instantly, it can increase the effectiveness of our muscles and make us stronger for brief moments, it can focus our minds with laser like precision, and during times of extreme stress can make us completely forget nearly everything about experiences. And while many times these autonomous reactions serve us in very protective ways, they can also undermine positive outcomes. It can make us blind to other possibilities, unable to release a certain perspective, defensive in conversation, and illogical.

Whether they be physical stressors or psychological ones, the root of what causes these reactions is fear. In many physical examples, the fear could be of injury or even death.  In the psychological instances the cause of fear is much harder to pinpoint and what is more complex, sometimes the fear is self-manifested. Now, whether the fear is justifiable or not makes not one bit of difference to how our brain acts.  Fear, is fear, is fear; and our brains react the same way to fear regardless of the stimuli.

In a professional setting most fear is psychological fear.  The trouble is psychological fear is not external, so you can’t point to something and say “that is fear”.  Fear is internal, something causes fear in us and as such, is self-created.  Which is to say, when I am afraid there is something in me that fears the external stimuli. Perhaps it is the fear that I cannot handle what is about to come my way or perhaps it reminds us of something that contradicts our self-image.

That last one is important. This is often the source of defensiveness in most everyday professional conversations, a challenge to someone’s self-concept. As an example: I put forth an idea I worked hard on, someone says they think my idea is wrong, that means I am wrong, that my idea was stupid, that I was stupid, I do like to think of myself as a stupid person (self-concept), I am afraid I am stupid, I don’t like being reminded that I could be stupid, I don’t like that you reminded me I might be stupid, don’t call me stupid – issue your external response. Of course you can substitute any number of things you might be afraid of about yourself (unimportant, inexperienced, unlikeable, intolerant, disorganized, irresponsible, etc.) The fear no longer comes from someone actually calling you those things, but now comes from them reminding you of your fear that you are one of those things you do not want to be.

Defenses in and of themselves are not bad, at some point in our life they probably served us well, and if we encounter a tiger they may still serve us, but when we are defending ourselves from our own fears rather than a real threat, fear is our biggest obstacle. Without getting too technical, fear and stress produce cortisol in the body. Cortisol is like the lime to the tequila of adrenaline – it sets the stage for action. Contrary to popular belief, the “rush” we get from certain experiences (the tingly feeling, butterflies, taut muscles, etc.) is caused by cortisol, not adrenaline. The negative aspect of cortisol is it is VERY closely associated with stress – the more stress or fear you feel, the more cortisol your body produces. Cortisol also diminishes trust in our external environment, so it is a self-feeding loop in defensive situations. (This is the reason taking a break sometimes is a good conflict strategy.)

Oxytocin (no, not the pain-killer Oxycontin), on the other hand, is a stress relieving hormone that counteracts or suppresses cortisol production. Have you ever been feeling tons of stress and then someone gives you a warm hug or a sincere compliment and it seems to dissipate?  That is caused by the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin, in recent years, has become strongly associated with trust, love, compassion, and personal connectedness.mUnfortunately, professional behavior and love are not always things talked about in the same sentence. And let’s face it, hugging is not something a lot of environments encourage in the wake of sexual harassment possibilities. Most environments, in fact, are breeding grounds for stress and fear, and thus almost encourage distrust. The more stress or fear I feel, the less likely I am to trust – trust you, trust myself, trust my organization, trust my leaders, etc. If I do not have trust it is hard to respect others or be honest. And so the cycle goes.

Whether my fear is about me or about you, again, makes no difference in how we react.  It DOES, however, still elicit a self-protective response.  In stressful situations people rarely point to a fear they have about themselves. Enter the Fundamental Attribution Error. When things go wrong to me, I attribute it to reasons outside of me (it’s not MY fault)- when they go wrong for you, then we attribute it to a reason in you (it is YOUR fault). This is why sometimes the message is conveyed that your boss does not trust you, or perhaps, that you feel you do not trust others. Sometimes it might be a fear about themselves (or yourself) you are protecting yourself from. Maybe I fear that I am an incompetent leader and if something goes wrong on my team, that confirms I am not a good leader so I act in defense of that fear by not trusting my employees to do a good job…so I micromanage, require copious amounts of check-ins, over-monitor, over-meeting, over-reviews, over-discussion, overly rely on consensus (when it does not make sense), avoid delegating, etc.

Fear is the enemy of trust. Both practically and biologically. And if we are really being self-aware, how much of that fear is about us instead of about them? Are we committing the Fundamental Attribution Error? Are we simply protecting ourselves from our own fears of being incompetent? Insignificant? Unlikeable? Trust and Fear are not mutually compatible, you have to choose one or the other. And yes, you can choose to be more trusting, but that means confronting and challenging your own fear about yourself first.  What is it you really fear about yourself and how is that standing in your way regarding trust of others?

The Essence of a Roadblock

When I began thinking of names for this blog…and my company, much of what I saw in organizations was very committed employees that were getting frustrated.  Not because they did not like the work they were doing, in fact that they wanted to do it better, but something (or someone) in the organization kept getting in the way.  The quintessential “roadblock.”

Now often people hear this and think a roadblock prevents your progress and quite often for a time, it does, but merely until people find a detour.  And employees are particularly industrious at finding “work arounds.”  Some of my situational coaching has been helping people explore, navigate, and often create these “work arounds.”  And as I began to think about it, how much energy do we waste finding detours to get where we are going?  If you have ever been caught off guard by an actual roadblock on your commute to work, I am sure you have experienced the frustration.  And even when the roadblock is temporary (accident, stuck vehicle, etc.) people tend to prefer movement to standing still, so we zig and zag our way through backstreets (often simply following the masses) in an effort to circumnavigate the “challenge”.  Have you ever calculated what that adds to your commute, or determined how much fuel you wasted, frustration you encountered, stress it caused?  What if that happened at a new spot every day, or even every week, on your way to work?  And for some people, that is what they deal with at work: roadblock, work around, roadblock, work around.  No wonder BlessingWhite finds a quarter of the North American workforce either frustrated into resignment or simply following the pack and spinning their wheels (BlessingWhite 2011 Global Engagement Survey).

Thus, PeakAlignment, LLC. was born.  Organizational roadblocks typically occur when either the destination is not fixed (no long term vision), the infrastructure is a tangled mess of roads (systems do not support movement towards the end goal or are developed in isolation from other interdependent systems), or the people at the head of the pack either get in the way or are not skilled (poor leadership).  When these three things work in concert with each other, it is more like a freeway.  Sure, things can clog up due to an accident here and there or a periodic shortage of resources to handle the “traffic” of work, but it wastes far less energy, causes far less stress, and usually gets you there much faster than navigating workarounds on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.  And don’t cars get far better mileage, suffer fewer maintenance issues, and last longer on the highway than on the stop-and-go tangled web of city streets?  Employees do to.

Deadline v. Schedule (Results v. Control)

All time is not created equal.

I have had conversations with managers regarding ways to improve performance by being more specific about the results they want and less specific about the way people work.  Citing numerous pieces of research on autonomy and self-direction as a driver towards engagement.  The most common roadblock people get stuck on is the “schedule.”  Commonly, I hear “if people are dedicated to the task, then they are here early and leave late.” And that may be true…for some people.  For others, the set 8-5 schedule and the corresponding “early” and “late” aspect creates a world of anxiety, interruptions, and stress.

In my years of facilitating priority management skills not once has someone asked me how to meet the demands of their personal lives on Saturday.  And while the demands may be different, I would argue that there are not fewer things people have to accomplish (ask anyone with to young kids on some sort of team and you will understand.)  The major difference is people control every aspect of their personal schedule: when, what, where, and how.  The “what” they must do is not always something they choose but they get to choose “when”.  Similarly, you don’t hear of many independent contractors or business owners struggling with priority management.  They only people I tend to see are people who have lost control of when, what, where and how they get things done…in other words, people who are on a schedule.

Now before I stray to far, I often hear “but without a schedule things would not get done on time”.  A schedule of when a person works is different then someone getting something done by a certain date.  If you need something done by a certain time or date, that is a deadline.  Deadlines are an absolutely crucial component of most job process, tasks, or projects.  And here is the difference: deadlines set an expectation for completion; a schedule tells people when, where, and what they are supposed to be working on at a given time.  Deadlines are about results, schedules is about control.

Despite antiquated thoughts of Theory X, science proves when people are left to their own devices they will generally engage themselves in some sort of work.  This is especially true when there is an expectation of a certain result.  In fact, studies and workplace experiments have shown when employees are given more control over how, when, where they do their work, people tend to get more done in a shorter period of time.  Look no further than BestBuy, Netflix, or GAP.  All of these places have instituted what is know as a ROWE – Results Only Work Environment.  There are no set schedules or artificial elements of control.  Employees are given clear expectations of when something must be completed (a deadline) and the rest is up to them.  Since implementing these programs, productivity, retention, and engagement is up.  And guess what, not a single priority management class in sight.

Many people abhor micro-managers they have had in the past yet they have difficulty letting go of the schedule piece.  Schedules are about control based on an assumption that people, if not looked over, will not do their work.  This tends to make managers and leaders feel like babysitters to their employees and tends to feel overly oppressive to your employees.  To be sure there are legitimate reasons that some schedules exists, like retail business hours, but the large majority of today’s businesses are operating on a 24-hour, 7-day global clock.  In those cases, schedules are all about control.  Besides, attendance is a weak performance metric, just because someone is there…doesn’t mean they are doing anything.  Spend more time getting clear about deadlines and less time playing babysitter.  Focus on results, not control.