Not “Power Over”.
There was a time when companies had functioning hierarchy in place, and it worked. The problem is, it came very close to exercising power over those on the lower step of the corporate ladder. And nobody likes being told what to do. At least not in the age of employees as free agents. Exercising power over employees, not with them, has led to a lot of losses in companies from costly employee turnover to non-productive workplace atmosphere. Below are some insights on what (not) to do to change that right now.
1. Stop following your job description
There was a relationship tension between a new team leader and one of the key team members. The team leader knew her job well. And the team member was doing a good job within her own job description boundaries. Funny thing is, they both were after the same objective: to improve the quality of the service they were providing. Turned out, the real problem was not a relationship issue, but rather the gap in both of their job descriptions. Theoretically, none of them were supposed to perform the function required to achieve the goal they were after. Instead of relying on the theoretical hierarchy in the company, the solution to the problem was sharing the new duties 50/50. Which they willingly did, as they were both after the same objective. So, it may sound controversial, but when employees stop (blindly) following job descriptions and start sharing functions that are needed, good results are achieved.
2. Serve your colleagues, not your company
Sounds controversial, but the point is that if you serve your colleagues, you serve the company, but not vice versa. There was an issue in a company with an IT specialist, who was “good but aloof”. The separation was spoiling the workplace atmosphere but “firing was the last resort”, as he was capable and important to the company. So, a different kind of solution was needed. The paradox was that Mr. X was “serving the company”, as he put it. The positive change took place the moment he shifted his focus from company to colleagues. Workplace satisfaction, cooperation, and output were improved just because...employees stopped serving the company and started serving each other instead. It is one of the workplace paradoxes: serving your colleagues improves the company results.
3. Build relationships, not products and services
Focus and priorities are key to good workplace results. If employees focus too much on the product, the negative by-product is often colleague rivalry, conflicting agendas, and - of course - ineffective work.
There was an innovation team set up within the company that was autonomous, had its own (big) budget, and the means to experiment and succeed. The takeoff was great. But very soon personal issues began and started to get worse with time. The team lead wanted to fix the situation without fixing the team members, who were carefully selected and definitely fit for the job. The issue unearthed was too much focus on building the new product without an equal focus on the relationship of the team members. This is rather common, and backfires every time. A good team relationship is the prerequisite to good work results. And it can never happen the other way around.
4. Start every conversation like a freshman
Many good suggestions are killed before they are verbalized. Superiors come to meetings and start conversations by describing the situation as they see it. Which is not necessarily how it is. It therefore always pays off to start every conversation like you know nothing. This gives way to other employees’ opinions, and creates situations for employee synergies. As one employee put it, I come to meetings to “play it smart”, which means to not object. He explained that it is a waste of time, because “everybody talks and nobody listens”. Practicing the “I know that I don’t know” attitude improves the quality of decisions and pays off (literally). Otherwise, it is only a matter of time, when employees stop “bothering” to say what they think and start doing “what you want”. Which is a dangerously vicious circle for any team.
5. Make small talk a big deal
Adding a personal touch to any requirement makes it a request. There was a clash between 2 generations in a manufacturing company: the older fellows, who had good relationships with partners, and the new generation, who knew how to reach the future prospects. They differed in every aspect imaginable - from work ethics to means of communication. The solution that saved the day was small talk. Believe it or not, but a simple task of knowing 2 things you wish you had but your colleague does was a game-changer. Engaging in daily small talk about those aspects brought big qualitative changes to the workplace in just 1 month. The psychology is simple: if you respect, you are less likely to correct.
So, it does not take much to shift from exercising one’s power over employees to exercising power with them. Togetherness allows to eradicate rivalry, clashing approaches, and ineffective work. The power of togetherness can be implemented by shifting focus in the workplace: from products to people, from knowing to not knowing, and from what is presumed to what is needed.