Corporate America loves structure. Freaking loves it.
From the handbooks to the dress codes to the quarterly evaluations to just about everything else that creates boundaries and boxes. They implement these so-called mechanical policies because they perceive they streamline procedures and help their employees to meet expectations and reach goals. But I am here to tell you that the more structural nonsense your business imposes, the worse off you will be.
On many occasions we forget that at the end of the day we have real people working together that have feelings, emotions, and fundamental needs. They are bright, empowered, purpose-seeking folks. And the more they feel as if you are babying them, the less inclined they will be to totally buy into the mission and give it their all. No one likes to feel as if they are being treated as if he or she is a little child. Today, more than ever, your team should feel as if you trust them, believe in them, and want to give them the autonomy to make decisions and act in the best interest of the business.
Structure can be helpful in certain situations, but for the most part your team thrives in those situations where they can be who you hired them to be—smart, receptive, and thoughtful people who are capable in acting in the best interest of the business. At our company, everyone knows if they want to send me into a tizzy just say, “I did it this way because that is the way it has always been done.” To me that says a robot can get the job done. Robots are good. We have several of them. But for the most part I hired a human being because I want that person to use his or her mind, to be creative, and put his or her very unique human gift of imagination to work. It is crazy how something as simple as a dress code is really a metaphor for the culture of a business.
For the most part I have seen that businesses with a dress code usually have a series of additional structure challenges that really hinder the development of a strong culture within that business. And as I have said in previous blogs….culture means everything.
As team leaders, we have to build an environment people really want to be part of. Like a popular restaurant with a long line out the door, your team should want to get in. But the more structure you set in motion, the greater the constraints and ability for productivity. The structure will just piss people off, and no one wants a pissed off team member.
With that said, here are some of the restrictions I often see companies implement for no good reason at all:
Dress code. Really? You feel as if you have to manage what clothes people put on each day. It is one thing if you work in banking and an employee shows up in a swimsuit, but you’d be surprised just how much how someone feels impacts their productivity levels. The more comfortable (but professional) the better. If you don’t have to implement a dress code, then do your best to avoid it at all costs. If you do have a dress code, give your employees at least one casual day per week to wear some jeans and a t-shirt.
Ridiculous Hierarchies. I often see a team-member report to a supervisor who reports to an assistant manager who reports to a manager who reports to the boss. That’s a boatload of hierarchy. In reality, the less hierarchy the better. It muddies the waters, confuses the team members, and creates a game of telephone where the messages lose meaning as they come down from leadership. While it is valuable you have a system of checks in balances, empower your team leaders to make decisions and reduce the distance between the bottom employee and the top manager. This not only increases your structural integrity, but will likely save you time and money in the long run.
Limit Procedural Issues. It is crazy how many companies have tremendous procedural issues that limit the ability to really accomplish everything. The more time any one employee expends to accomplish a task, the worse off you’ll be. It stifles productivity and wastes not just time but money. Trust your employees to make the right decisions, and spot-check them from time to time. For the most part, they will follow protocol and get the job done.
Inflexible Practices. My least favorite example of structural nonsense is inflexible behaviors. If an employee needs some time off to care for a sick dog, then tell him to work from home. Or if a team member is dealing with a personal struggle, then offer her some time off to focus on herself. Don’t make a big deal about a solid employee showing up late. Just ask them to stay for an extra 30 minutes. Don’t pull out the HR book and start citing from it. Inflexible practices trickle down and really effect team morale. On many occasions, you just cannot apply the same “rules” the same way. Be flexible and go with the flow.
I’ve never met an employee that absolutely loves a bunch of nonsense structure. It is like salt in the sense that a little can go a long way. But too much of it and you will find that you are spending your time implementing structure and not work on progressing and building something with meaning. In the end, we are dealing with real people with real feelings. When you care for those fundamental human needs, you will find a great return on your investment. And the best part is you will have much more fun along the way.