Posted: 6/10/2014 2:22:11 PM by
So, Richard Branson’s done it again; pushing the envelope in business and doing what many in business would fear – giving his employees complete freedom. Branson’s concept of allowing staff to take as much leave as they wish is actually not a new one, however it has only been taken up by a few brave leaders.
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But are they really so brave, or is there a great business argument for doing what he did? I would say there is!
There are a few things that we as humans all have in common and one of those things is the very real need for autonomy – it’s about freedom itself. If you doubt the power of this human desire, consider you are about to do something basic like take the rubbish out; you have picked it up, about to walk out the door, when from somewhere in the house you hear someone shout “Could you take the rubbish out?”! What’s the last thing you now want to do? … Silly isn’t it, but none-the-less powerful, you see none of us like being told what to do.
How many arguments do you hear where people are shouting “Don’t tell me what to do”. Yet in business something unnatural happens; people become ‘Managers’ and then think I’m a manager now, therefore I need to manage. Unfortunately they think that managing means telling people what to do, which we all, naturally, push back against – we don’t do this by saying don’t tell me what to do, because they’re the boss so I just need to reluctantly follow – discretionary effort does not flourish in this environment.
Has Branson tapped into this need for autonomy or freedom and made a great business decision. Yes, but it’s only in the right business culture that this demonstrates its true potential.
By creating an environment where people are driven by a bigger picture, where they completely understand where the business is going and what it wants to achieve, when this reason for existence is so clear that everyone understands their part in that, and don’t need to be told what to do but instead just know what needs to be done and where they consult openly and engage with each other while never taking their eye off the desired result, THEN a leader can have the confidence and trust in his/her team to know that they are all working for the greater good of the company and each other, you can then afford to offer such freedoms as an open slather leave policy.
The theory is that in such an environment, by announcing such a policy, people appreciate the trust that is instilled in them by their leader and therefore will strive to prove themselves worthy of that trust … that’s human nature. It’s because of this trust given to them, that discretionary effort is bolstered and people will go above and beyond their normal tasks, they will assist each other in the common purpose, and will ultimately be able to manage their own life better achieving an effective work/life balance that meets the needs of their work (the business deliverables) and their family and friends. Those few who do abuse such freedoms in a results driven culture, will not be delivering on the results and will therefore find nowhere to hide and will leave or be ‘set free’.
Most managers would fear that such a leave policy would lead to lack of productivity because no-one would be at work. Often those same managers have the perception that the person who arrives to work early and leaves late is a more valuable employee than the one who arrives ½ an hour late and leaves an hour early. However could it not be that the person spending less time at work is so focussed on the outcome that their effectiveness level far outweighs the person spending more time at work, and let’s face it, the person spending more time at work could be trying to compensate for their poor performance. Granted in some industries where people rely on others to take over a shift, time keeping is important but this is not a fact in many industries and/or jobs.
Leaders should never underestimate one of the other important human needs: the feeling of contribution. Allowing autonomy (freedom) to employees will not be used to sacrifice their equal need of contribution.
It also should be said that we all operate best in different time frames; you would have heard people say that they were ‘a morning person’ for instance – so giving them the opportunity to work when it suits their flow, whether that be morning, afternoon, Monday to Friday, or Saturday and Sunday has the potential to increase productivity and effectiveness. How many times do businesses worry about the annual leave accruals (and therefore liability) because people are not taking the statutory annual leave that they have?
In summary, having clarity around why your business exists at all and the ability to communicate that to your staff in a manner that connects them to it logically and emotionally, and giving them the autonomy to perform what needs to be done with their colleagues who are also focussed on that bigger picture, allows you, the leader to not have the need to control everything that your team does and when they are and are not in the workplace. You would then be free to trust that they will ensure that the things that need to be done are done and they will run your business like they own it. I think Branson’s decision will increase productivity, people will honour the trust given to them, and they will all enjoy life more.