It was the first time in months that Ralph had any spark of interest in his job. It was an unusual sensation for him, and he welcomed it. Ever since the new management team had come in, he had lost all spark of interest in his job, doing it like an automaton, putting in his hours, and then going home. He knew his fellow employees felt the same way. The new management team had come in, expressed disapproval of the way they had done things, and instituted a strict regimen of how they would do their work going forward. There would be no room for creativity, no room for personal expression. There would be the way the ‘best practices’ prescribed and that would be it. In short, since the new management wanted automatons, this is exactly what they got.
Ralph was working on a presentation that had been previously given under the old management. As it was not up to the new management’s specifications, he was busily correcting it, making sure it passed inspection before he would be allowed to present it. As he was creating it, he saw a need for a job aid for his fellow employees. It would allow them to take the heart of the presentation with them and use as they saw fit. He quickly went about creating the job aid, trying to balance the need to convey information with a little less than corporate style.
Knowing he would have to present it to his new manager, he took the initiative, and told her what he was doing. She, as expected, informed him she would need to see it to give it her blessing. He sent it to her, and was summarily asked if he could step into her office.
His manager informed him that context was good, with the right information needed. The issue was the layout. It wasn’t in straight lines. The images were a bit off center from each other. They needed to be in straight lines in order to ‘look good’. He was advised that he could use PowerPoint SmartArt in order to redraft this, as it placed things in nice, neat order. She began to show him how to use the tool when he announced to her that he knew how to use it. As he walked out of the office, any spark that had ignited had been extinguished wholly by a whole bucket of control freak water.
I’m reminded of a story told by a colleague. Many years ago she was at her grandmother’s house, and was helping her dry dishes. The grandmother looked at her disapprovingly and told her she was drying the dishes the wrong way. So not to disrespect her grandmother, she began drying the dishes the ‘proper’ way, but the point of the story was that the dishes were going to be dry regardless, so why was she drying them improperly? It was that her grandmother saw that doing things her way was more important than the result. The same could be said for the manager in this story.
A strange paradox in the working world is that when you hold on the tightest to control, you actually control less. You have your sense of control, but you have unmotivated, uninterested, and unengaged workers who are there to collect a paycheck. They have no freedom, have no creativity, and have no interest in their jobs. You are basically saying you don’t trust anyone at all, and have to keep them in line for anything to get done.
By releasing that control, you get people who will use their creativity. By loosening the boundaries, you can still get what you want, but have people try new and innovative ways of working within those boundaries. You get your way without having to exert it like a sledgehammer. By giving up control, you are showing trust in your people, and you get people who want to keep that trust in return.
It is a choice between believing only in yourself or believing in your people. Your choice will determine whether your people believe in you.
Oh, and that colleague who had the very controlling grandmother? You may recognize who it is…her name, at least in these articles, is Sarah.