Mandates vs Meaning
I recently attended a talk by Karen Mangia on “Strategies to make Work From Anywhere work for employers and employees”. Had a lot of great takeaways that I wanted to share:
When a mandate from leaders feels like it has no meaning, or an empty meaning, the first response is resistance. Struggle ensues.
It comes down to trust. If you’re mandating RTO: commit to gathering with a purpose. When people are requested or required to gather - What is the purpose? Why in person? What outcome are you seeking? What is their role in the outcome? What is the expectation?
3 things employers can do to engage employees:
Curiosity - “what would happen if?” “How else could this be achieved?”
- Conversation - “What do you need so that __” - e.g. “so that you can feel a sense of community, camaraderie, connection?” or “so that you can live well and work well?”
- Choice - “why does that matter to you so much?” And just listen.
As a middle manager, ask your reports: “If I could deliver one message to senior leaders on your behalf, what would it be?”
As a middle manager: don’t be a top-down funnel. Don’t be the hub in a hub-and-spoke model. Be an inverted funnel - a guide, a connector. Most middle managers tend to be overburdened because they make themselves critical to every problem to be solved. Facilitate. Be a curiosity coach. The undercurrent of: “I don’t trust you to do this yourself, or figure it out on your own.” When we feel motivated and empowered to go do it. Mandates feel bad for the same reason someone solving the problem for you does.
- Ask your leaders: “What are your core beliefs that say doing this is the right thing?” If it’s “the best way to improve productivity is to have them in office”, engage on ways to measure differently. You can even ask your boss -
- “Why does RTO matter to you so much?”
- “What would happen if we tracked some alternatives for the next 30 days?”
If you align with their thinking, then: Accept-Adapt-Accelerate. Or if your leaders are of the mindset of “I suffered through this, and so everyone around me will suffer through it” - be ready to walk away from these workplaces.
“The Gift of Choice”: e.g. General Mills. 10k employees: #1 complaint was Burnout. Leaders said “here’s some Extra PTO” - but it did not solve it. People didn’t take time off. More burnout. This is where the executives got curious. They started asking questions. They collaborated with a brain science team - and came up with “The Gift of Choice” program: More cash, More PTO, or Donation to choice. Each employee got to pick one. Outcome: 80% people took the PTO. They got to the exact same outcome they wanted, by offering choice, instead of mandating PTO. They listened, asked what choices are meaningful to the people. They were budget neutral on each choice. When framed as a choice, as their own “flexibility, autonomy, choice”. What would change if we worked with our employees to give them choice?
- As a leader, how can you communicate out to your team more effectively:
- A recorded 2-min quick update videos are MUCH more effective than a note email. You can do it a couple of times until you get it right. Richer context - verbal intonations, non-verbal cues, you get it all.
- Written agreements. Unstated expectations will always go unmet. “30 days to launch: everyone is expected to be on call.” - say it out loud.
- Response time frames to Chime / email. Set expectations.
How do top executives think? They want “Results without Maintenance.” That’s what CEOs love. That’s why they tend to be mandate-heavy. They are so far removed from the execution of the day-to-day middle management, of the thousands/millions of small-scale decisions that need to be made to make something happen, that they are clueless. You are so used to people doing what you say, no conversation, no discussion. No nuance: is this an order? An exploratory or passing comment?
- Coaching tip: start a conversation with “Name where you are”. One word: where are you in this moment right now? (tired / warm / excited) Follow whatever thread comes up.