“I am going to be asking you all to work really hard over the next few weeks. This is going to involve long hours, late nights, as well as weekend time – and I cannot pay you for any of the extra time you are going to spend at work. Furthermore, not many people will notice how hard we have worked.”
The view of the average manager is that employees are seldom happy to be told the above, and so the only way to get them to comply is to incentivise them, costing money, or compel them with threats of discipline if they don’t turn up for work.
The above comments were part of a briefing that an IT manager for one of our clients gave his staff as the organisation prepared for a large office move. His team was to be responsible for the IT infrastructure-related work that was to make the move successful.
All of what he told them was absolutely true, and related to me during one of our review discussions on applying the Legitimate Leadership Model in their business.
He also went on to tell his people the following: “The reason we are going to do this is so that every other employee who works here is able to get up, move buildings and sit down at their new desk and continue working. That people haven’t noticed our contribution is going to be a sign that we have done our job well.”
He then went on to hold a discussion about what his team thought might be difficult or challenging about this, and agreed with them how they would support each other in dealing with – among other things – creating space for team members to deal with important family commitments and/or emergencies as they arose.
So I asked the IT manager how it actually went. He replied: “Everybody worked hard, stayed late, worked weekends, and in general made an above-and-beyond contribution that I am very proud of.”
When I first met IT manager, I was giving him feedback on a leadership profile exercise we had just done with his people. He was fairly new in the organisation, and his view was that there was lots of opportunity for improvement in the contribution that his section was making to the business.
It was clear to him from the outset that spending time building personal relationships with his people was going to be one of the main priorities.
The Legitimate Leadership Model is a framework for understanding how trust, loyalty and willingness function in the workplace – and he understood that successfully asking your people for an above-and-beyond contribution is built on earning trust, and that this is done by getting to know your people as people, spending quality time with them, and suspending your interests for theirs.
Over the next few months, this is what he set about doing, and the result was a tangible increase in the willingness of his people to go above and beyond expectation. He said that had this office move happened a year previously, he would not have succeeded with them, and would probably have had to threaten them with a stick to achieve any sort of compliance.
He is certainly correct. The reason is that he had not by then earned the consent of his people to being led by them. It takes time to build, and when you have it, you have to keep it by continuing to be straight and honest with people.
“When I briefed them on the project I was frankly worried about their willingness to work overtime without pay, but I decided that being absolutely straight with them about what was required, how it would affect them, what I could and couldn’t do for them in terms of pay, and also why it was so important for them to make the contribution, was the most appropriate thing to do.”
In this project, the IT manager demonstrated the direct relationship between earning trust and the product of this, which is an improvement in the willingness of people to make an above-and-beyond contribution to the organisation.