Dispelling Ambiguity in the Hybrid Workplace

Set clear expectations!

That is rule number one in manager and employee relations. What a manager wants from an employee begins with the job description and gains credence when the person is hired, and the job is explained. Yet because this rule is so apparent, it is easy to forget.

Something fundamental to the expectations equation is even more critical now. It is clarity. Be specific about what the job is and what an employee must do to satisfy requirements. However, there is more urgency now to clarify that we are migrating to the hybrid workplace where employers and employees come to the office on an as yet to be a determined basis. 

Defining clarity

Clarity, as Bartleby, the workplace columnist for The Economist, writes, “One of the great theoretical attractions of hybrid working to employees is that they get to choose what days they come in. But the point of in-person working is to spend time collaborating and bonding with their colleagues: that is much more likely to happen if companies are clear about who they want in the office on which days of the week.”

Cali Williams Yost, Founder & CEO of the Flex + Strategy Group, a strategic advisory firm, advises managers to begin with clarity. “Not just the tasks of each person’s job, but also what are the broader strategic priorities of the business and the aspects of the culture we value.”

In short, there must be agreement on when and where employees work. And now, in a time when employees have been accustomed to determining their hours when working virtually, their sense of autonomy is heightened. Therefore, before management decides which days employees convene, managers should converse with their employees to determine their wants and needs.

According to Yost, who has been advising on flexible work environments for 20 years, management creates clarity when it is explicit about what needs to be done. Yet there must be wiggle-room. “At the enterprise-level, flexible operating guardrails should be as broad as possible to allow adaptation to the realities of different departments, jobs, and people deeper in the organization.” When such “guardrails” are established, managers “have the flexibility and freedom to work and manage their lives to make sense for the business and for them personally. Otherwise, it can feel like chaotic, inefficient whack-a-mole.”

New role for managers

Some companies are okay with employees mainly working virtually, but those same companies expect managers back in the office most of the time. “The realities of the business they run should dictate how, when, and where [managers] lead a flexible work team,” says Ms. Yost, author of Tweak It: Make What Matters Happen to You Every Day. “It requires mastering the basics of good management that are no longer optional, like setting clear goals and priorities, regular check-ins, providing feedback and development opportunities.” 

The world of work has changed, too. Management “means getting comfortable coordinating and communicating intentionally across onsite and remote locations and recalibrating the way work is done as realities of the business and people change,” says Yost.

Flexible options

One company, Ansana, cited in the Bartleby column, has “meetings free” Wednesdays. However, if a manager wants a meeting on that day, they must discuss it with employees first, e.g., something the firm labels as “re-contracting.”

This approach is in line with what Cali Yost advises. “One-size-does-NOT-fit-all in terms of how, when, and where the work is done best based on the realities of a particular industry, or even across departments, teams, and people. The consistency does have to come from the process an enterprise and a team follows to set their flexible operating guardrails, not from the same outcome for every job.”

As Yost explains, “some tasks and priorities may be done best onsite, while others they may be done better remotely or perhaps it doesn’t matter whether it’s onsite or remote. That task or priority gets done well” due to factors like “the nature of the job, the maturity, and experience of the team.”

This approach is not without difficulty. “It takes effort, experimentation, and time,” says Yost. “People are tired, and they want easy answers” that are not easy to come by in times of uncertainty. Such feelings do not go away quickly, but what Yost has determined through her work is that both managers and employees report that flexibility, supported by enterprise-wide guardrails, provides clarity as well as the ability to be productive.

Flexibility is essential

Ultimately the success of the hybrid workplace will depend upon flexibility, allowing employers and employees to determine the best working hours. And in doing so, they might discover that things go better when they are discussed openly and collaboratively and with greater clarity.

First posted on Forbes.com 5.17.2022

Marshall Goldsmith: How to Earn Your Life

Try this.

Step one. “Do for yourself what you have done for others.” You have shared advice with others when they could not see it for themselves. Therefore, “you are capable of imagining a new path. You’ve done it for others. Do it for yourself.”

Step two. Ask yourself: “What do you want to do for the rest of your life?”

This exercise, called “Flip the Script,” comes from The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillmentby Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter. Goldsmith is a legend in human development because he is one of the seminal figures who pioneered the potential of executive coaching. Coaching over 300 CEOs gave him an unmatched cache. 

His impact, however, emanates not from his credentials. Instead, it is his plain-spoken “street cred.” In-person, as in print, Marshall is a generous soul. He makes the complex simple, not by giving you the answers. Rather he does it by challenging you to think for yourself. After nearly 50 years of exploring human behavior, The Earned Life is an insight into what makes us tick and how we can tick over even better.

Getting started

One of the central issues that forms the book’s backbone is what he calls The Great Western Disease, that is, “I’ll be happy when…” Nothing wrong with aspirations, but to let them define you, and worse, deprive you of joy on the way up is heartbreaking. So Marshall urges a different path. Stop beating yourself up. Live in the present.

Marshall offers the Earning Checklist that is anchored in four attributes he wrote about in his doctoral thesis when he was 27 years old. These attributes are motivation, ability, understanding, and confidence. Delving more deeply, Marshall dissects each in ways that challenge the reader to think about why they are motivated, what abilities they possess, and how our understandings have shaped up. Confidence is critical. As Marshall writes, confidence “is the product of all your other positive virtues and choices, and then it returns the favor by making you even stronger in those areas.”

Nothing happens overnight

“Earning your life is the long game. Check that: It’s the long game.” Playing that game, which is your life, requires two things: “self and situation awareness.” Work these disciplines until you feel that your earned life becomes a habit, something you do as part of your routine. In short, such a habit enables you to become a more fulfilled version of yourself.

Note of caution. Credibility is not a “do it once” endeavor. “It’s one thing to be competent, it’s another thing to gain credibility with one but not the other,” as Marshal writes. “You have to earn it twice.” Failure to reinforce your credibility diminishes your ability to “make a positive difference – and lessening the impact of your life.”

Practical and tactical

Filled with stories and exercises, The Earned Life also contains some of Marshall’s best practices that he developed and shared globally, sometimes for decades. Chief among them is Feedforward. As Marshall writes, “Feedback comprises people’s opinions of your past behavior, feedforward represents other people’s ideas that you should be using in the future.” 

This approach forms the basis of Stakeholder-Centered Coaching, which is a process that enables leaders to learn from their stakeholders who have a vested interest in the leader’s success. The process requires vulnerability, but the payoff is two-fold. As Marshall writes, “Leaders earned their employee’s respect. Employees earned their CEO’s gratitude.”

The Earned Life explores what life can offer us if we are willing to shirk self-imposed constraints. If we are ready to invest ourselves in becoming our better selves – however we define it — then, and only then, can we say that we have deserved our place. We have earned it.

First posted on SmartBrief.com on 5.13.2022

Close the Loop

Even the best managers sometimes fail in one aspect of their communications. 

But first, let’s talk about what they do well.

  • One, they communicate purpose, letting people know what the organization believes and how their contributions matter.
  • Two, they make vision and mission tangible. Their management behaviors reinforce what the organization is trying to achieve.
  • Three, they listen to their people. They pay attention and listen with intention.

All these steps are positive.

What managers forget

What do good managers – all of them well-intended – forget to do?

Close the loop!

Closing the loop means letting people know when and why vital decisions have been made.

Very obvious–and so apparent–it’s not always communicated.

The backstory

For example, good managers solicit the input of others when discussing important issues. Good managers encourage a healthy debate. Wisely they often speak last so as not to influence the discussion. (This practice avoids “going along with the boss” syndrome.)

At the same time, the boss may solicit advice on a course of action from individuals one at a time—all well and good.

So here’s what happens. The decision is made, and people who have contributed to that decision are not informed.

This habit makes people feel left out and in the cold.

What managers should do

A manager who solicits ideas is under no obligation to act upon those ideas. 

However, what she is obligated to do is thank others for their suggestions. Then let them know who made the decision and why it was made. 

We call this “closing the loop.”

Closing the loop does three essential things: 

  • One, it communicates the decision and reason for it; and 
  • Two, it affirms the value of the person who made the suggestion. 
  • Three, it lets them know their input is valued and will be sought again.

Closing the loop makes employees feel included and valued and crucial to the team.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 4.22.2022