Shifts In Leadership

Leadership + Business + Methodology

Empowering The Doers

This journal entry was inspired by a LinkedIn post by Sean Ellis on 5/15/20.

How do you motivate teams that must adhere to strict schedule and work environment policies like bankers or call center staff? I believe successful productivity systems support merit benefits because they account for effort and outcomes. All too often discussions about implementing demerit and punishment-based policies happen long before ones about merit benefits. Inherently this means rewarding and empowering professional progress are afterthoughts. Leading to ineffective productivity systems that divide and destroy teams, causing the best members to move on and demoralizing those that stay. These systems also have a nasty habit of doubling-down whenever dominoes begin to fall. Here's how a merit-based system and 15 minutes of flex time a week can help change that.

Toxic Corporate Cultures Abuse Productivity Sytems By Design

I help organizations leverage Lean, Agile, and Scrum. These are meant to empower the doers throughout the pipeline. However, ridged hierarchy and bad leadership ruin such systems. Most productivity systems are designed to take the guesswork out of working. They are intended to make tasks and accountability clear. Measuring output should identify and fast track high performers for advancement. Ideally, this makes for strong teams and helps them work better together.

Bad leadership abuses these systems by robbing the doers of advancement opportunities and silencing their voices along the way. Often to justify their own role, inflate their own performance metrics, and/or hide their often glaring leadership failings. These systems are easily abused because traditional leadership structures are self-serving. Whereas these frameworks serve the doers and the product. Creating a situation where leadership covets the benefits of these systems but rejects the tenants. Essentially, stripping the doers of power while increasing their productivity burden. The reward for this burden? Short-lived words of praise in place of pay increases and bonuses. Many conversations center around amplifying these gains. Few conversations take into account or address how these gains are made and the real long-term consequences they have. Growth is possible to a point, but infinite growth is impossible with finite resources.

That's why I vet my partners thoroughly. I stand by my results and by extension those I achieve them for. They, as people and in purpose, should be worthy of standing alongside. Doing good business goes far beyond revenue and customers. Good business honors the doers and gives the subject matter experts control of the process. These productivity systems are designed to do the same. Greed and the weakness in bad leadership it provokes are the real enemies of growth.

A system created around merit benefits shifts the paradigm from what is lost to what is gained. In practice, this system supports both high and low performers alike. While motivating those in the middle with additional benefit opportunities when they improve in key performance areas. For high performers, perhaps they gain an additional 15-minute break. While lower performers will gain a 15 minute 1-on-1 coaching session with their team lead or manager. This system also allows high performers to volunteer their 15-minute break to coach a lower-performing peer. Peer training tends to be more approachable and it gives the high performer experience handling more advanced responsibilities. Giving them the power to invest that time back into bettering the business.

Vanity Offices

My experience has been this: the nicer the office space is, the greater the expectation is for staff to stay late and work longer. Every bar, every ping-pong table, every creature comfort is an unspoken pressure. Because why would you go home when you've got everything you need right at the office? The intentions behind these comforts are often inspired and noble at heart. However, using them with any semblance of frequency leads to conversations about "priorities" even when your performance is rock solid, about "perception" even when you and your team are on the same page and growing stronger from these shared activities, or the ever ominous "time theft" when leadership silently benefits from wage theft via unpaid overtime for salaried positions. The only way this works is if leadership, through action and not words, wants to fund employee's fun and personal growth. Beyond the professional. To invest in relationships and people within their organization as much as they invest in attaining and maintaining new business. Before doing that though, best to survey your team members and listen. If most want a pay bump over a foosball table, it's probably best to prioritize bonuses.

Keeping track of these merits overtime also helps identify and fast track staff ready for the next step. This approach gains better traction with teams because they can see how their performance and decisions directly translate to their advancement. Best of all, a merit-based system encourages the kind of qualities that great leaders possess. Although shifts in corporate culture and supporting policy take time, they ultimately create environments that amplify and focus motivation. Giving the gift of motivation and making it easy to tap into is one of the best ways to build resilient, driven teams.

So what does giving this gift cost? Investing an extra 15 minutes a week into each employee and a steady supply of snacks for the team lead or manager to hand out. Along with merits of course. While there is tangible overhead associated with this practice — approximately 12.5 hours (15 minutes x 50 workweeks / 60 minutes = 12.5 hours) a year of additional training per team member — investing in individualized training and positive reinforcement are components of a great culture. I just published a case study about increasing productivity by 41%. Therein I share a few tips for developing more proactive and productive teams. Enjoy!

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