Leadership Barometer 122 Losing Control

Supervisors may have the feeling that they are losing control as more people are partially working from home. In reality, a more flexible work pattern offers a chance at high engagement without the constant need to try to enforce rules.

In earlier times, supervisors and managers had a fighting chance of enforcing the local rules.  Things like quitting time, length of breaks, and other mechanical rules were a little easier to enforce because you could see most people on most days.

Even then, people would test the supervisor by stretching the rules to see what the real limits were.  Those days are history, at least for many employees in the short term.  With people working hybrid schedules, it is difficult and intrusive to check up on workers. 

Supervisors should rely on different means to engage people rather than try to control them. Let’s start by examining the meaning of control to look for clues on how to accomplish it in today’s environment.

Webster defines “control” as a means of restraint. The implication here is that if there were no control then workers would goof off and not give their fair share of effort while still expecting full pay. I think the notion of control is antiquated.

If the supervisors and managers have set up the right kind of culture, then they should not need to play policemen in order to maintain productivity.  If people are treated like adults and are trusted to do the right thing, most of them will give not only the minimum effort required, but many of them will go beyond what is expected.

Workers may not adhere to a rigid schedule of start and stop because they have other constraints based on their current situation. The vast majority will give at least the minimum effort required, although the exact timing may be broken up by family needs.

The notion of holding people in control by checking up on them is now yielding to having people police themselves and their peers out of a sense of rightness and respect for their employer.  It is a very different dynamic. 

Leaders who try to check up on hybrid employees end up on the losing end because they send a signal of low trust, which usually begets bad behavior in return. In most cases attempts to maintain conventional control lead to lower rather than higher productivity.

The notion of control needs to shift the onus onto workers and their sense of rightness. Many remote workers indicate they are more productive because there are fewer interruptions or distractions, although family distractions can be formidable in certain situations.

Several other mechanisms allow for maximum productivity in a hybrid world.  The concepts of trust, innovation, inspiration, teamwork, engagement, and empowerment are more powerful ways to obtain maximum performance.

The whole notion of control needs to be recast in today’s environment.  It is time to focus on culture and trust to be the main control mechanism rather than a supervisor looking at his watch. 

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


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