This morning, awake way too early and with a need to stave off the mental hum of the day, I lay in bed and listened to Human Kind by Rutger Bregman. His premise is that we're built for community and kindness rather than selfishness and that historically as societies we thrive in a crisis. This morning's chapter though was specifically on management and how we ensure the shut down of discretionary effort through target setting, financial incentives and autocratic management. By chance, as I packed up my headphones and picked up my iPad the first article I came across was an HBR article on the importance of curiosity in organisational performance.
We have - forever it seems - tried to package up management in tasks and capabilities and types. And I get it, it gives us a sense of control and a feeling of doing something 'evidence-based'. Except that ironically those things rarely are evidence-based. We'll happily spend (collectively) billions of dollars on systems that aren't proven (personality testing, 'culture' evaluations, team building programs). They feel good; they feel useful and make us look contemporary. They also create unnecessary boundaries, put people in boxes and create an artificial sense of achievement.
But they don't get the work done. The real work is in freeing people up and getting out of their way. I am no anarchist; I am not advocating free-range business; things like who is ultimately responsible for what, having expectations of respectful behaviour, having indicative objectives that help you stay on track, understanding you narrative etc, all those things matter (and need to be acted on if things go awry). We are, after all is said and done, storytellers and story seekers and we need our work to fit within a bigger picture and sense of purpose. But as soon as you apply rigidity you will lose that space for people to look and communicate the opportunities they see or the areas they know are failing in.
Right now, mid-Covid, we need to get out of our people's way. We need to allow them the time, space and safety to ask questions that will help our businesses flex; we need to allow them space to - as I saw it described recently - hold their new second job as a 'Covid Citizen', whatever that might mean for them (homeschooling, volunteering, elder care, managing their mental health etc). We need to understand the objectives we need to aspire to ensure the viability of our businesses - or if we're lucky - to harness its capacity to flourish.
It's not the time for feel-good packages or dictating rather than asking. This is the time to discover the brilliance in everyone you lead.