The flip side of flexibility

Gale Mote/Tree Full of Owls

Recently, I have been reading a lot of news about organizations recognized as Best Places to Work. The Corridor Business Journal has featured some of the local companies who attract great talent and create an environment where employees perform at their best.

While the focus has been on what the companies provide for their employees (telecommuting, scheduling flexibility, autonomy to make decisions without fear, flat organizational structures, eliminating bureaucracy, casual clothing, sabbaticals and fun perks such as bringing your pets to work) it seems to me that we should also be talking about the flip side of flexibility.

As I work with organizations around the country, managers express to me their frustration with employees who have an entitlement mentality. Employees read about these great workplaces and believe they should be able to come into work whenever they want, be promoted to the senior management team within a year and determine their own workloads. Their mantra is “I work to make a living. I don’t live to work.”

The Law of Reciprocity states “what you give, you get.” I believe Best Place to Work organizations attract employees who understand it is a partnership. These hires do not expect something for nothing. The relationship is based on mutual trust and respect.

Let’s look at what great employees do to deserve the flexibility and open environment provided by these Best Place to Work organizations. Remember, the more you give, the more you receive.

First, they are trustworthy beyond reproach. Passionate about the customer and clear about expectations, they fulfill their roles with self-discipline, high levels of productivity and focus. The work gets done right and on time. Not everyone has the time management skills to work from home without being continually distracted by the dogs, laundry and yard work. Employees who are worthy of determining their own schedules have the self-determination to know when it is time to work and when to play. They put the team first and recognize that when they fail to meet their commitments, the entire team suffers.

Want flexibility? Got personal accountability? The ability to take ownership for one’s performance without blame or excuses is a hallmark quality of Best Place to Work employees. Obstacles become challenges with more emphasis placed on solutions than complaints. Driving for the finish line, they keep their eyes looking forward rather than lamenting about what “should” have happened or throwing other colleagues and departments under the bus. “What is the next positive action step I can take to move this forward?” is a popular self-question.

Admit your mistakes, apologize, share lessons learned and your plan not to repeat them and you’ll be respected as a person who can be trusted to make decisions. You’ll also be celebrated as a person who gets things done.

Communicate openly – up, down, and across the organization. Some employees love the idea of working autonomously, without any management, until they have a conflict with a co-worker or when someone is not working as hard as themselves and it is negatively impacting their work. Then, employees want a manager to step in, have the tough conversations and get the team back on track.

Taking initiative and demonstrating the ability to engage in robust conversations is imperative in a team-based organization. Learning how to receive feedback without being defensive helps employees learn and grow within the organization. It creates a welcoming environment where people can be open and transparent. Having the courage to give feedback and engage in straight talk builds trust and respect. Great Place to Work employees ask, listen and act.

Recognizing their strengths and weaknesses, employees who perform well in flexible organizations align themselves with others who lead where they follow and vice versa. They have the selfconfidence to ask for help and willingly share information to elevate another colleague’s performance. The pursuit of perfection is about what the team can do collectively together, not individual egos. Role acceptance helps everyone understand how they fit in and where they can contribute their best.

Most flat organizations require teamwork in its purest form. Work happens when people collaborate around a shared goal with a passionate purpose. Decisions are made objectively, focusing on the goal and what is in the best interest of the entire team, not just one individual. Team members are willing to make personal sacrifices for their peers because they know others would do the same for them. It’s not about one person.

Everyone counts and everyone cares. Employees work hard because they do not want to let down their team members. Positive peer pressure is used to help team members elevate their performance for the greater good.

When employees tell me, “I sure wish our organization was more like those companies who have all those perks, benefits and positive work culture,” I find myself wanting to ask, “What are you doing to be deserving of that environment?” It’s a two-way street. My Dad used to say to me, “Gale Jeannie – if you don’t like the crop you are reaping, you had better check the seeds that you are sowing.” Ah – the law of reciprocity or in this case, the flip side of flexibility. Do what it takes and celebrate the results.