Know when to show your vulnerabilityby
Lucy Cohen has tried all the latest management theories at her firm, but discovered that people sometimes respond better if you behave like a normal human.
Part of running your own practice is being a leader. And part of being a leader is motivating your team to deliver your business objectives. I’ve read all the books. I’ve been on all the courses. Most of them say the same thing – share your vision, let your team know how they fit into the bigger picture, get everyone pulling in the same direction for the BHAG (big hairy audacious goal).
There are multiple stats from big companies like Netflix that show offering unlimited annual leave increases employee performance, or that creating an environment that empowers employees to take complete ownership of their time will bring your business the greatest returns.
As a company, we have wholeheartedly thrown ourselves into employee engagement. And honestly, it doesn’t always work. I’m starting to ponder whether most smaller businesses simply do not have the critical mass to make a lot of these suggestions work in a practical way.
If you accept that, regardless of the size of the organisation, there will be some people who are more committed than others, then the productivity ratios in smaller teams can be hugely damaged by just a few individuals. Within with a team of 300 or so people, 10% of people phoning it in might not make such an impact.
Maybe I’ve got it wrong somewhere along the way, but in the last few weeks I’ve got really frustrated.
We’ve done all that good stuff. We’ve ditched fixed hours for output-based work practices with the promise that if your work is done for the day – clock off and go and enjoy your life! Where changes are made, we’ve consulted with teams and let them take ownership so that they don’t feel that they’re being dictated to. I’ve got my senior management onto (fairly expensive) management programs that develop them and make them more effective leaders.
Pizza fridays, staff parties, competitions, bonuses, duvet days - even a spirit day! I can put my hand on my heart and say we’ve done it all.
So when, on a Thursday evening, I received a message from one of my incredibly hard working senior team that several staff had logged off without finishing the work required for the day, I lost it.
I know, I know. Not the most inspirational thing to do as a business leader, but you know what? I’m just a human too.
What we’re up against
And that’s when it struck me. In all of this engagement and coaxing people in the right direction, had we forgotten to show our human-ness? Would simply explaining that at times, we’re all up against it, be the thing that flips the switch?
I sat down with our most senior and longest-serving member of the team and had a good old fashioned heart-to-heart. During that conversation I shared a story of when my board had given me a bit of a rollicking.
The switch went.
“You need to tell everyone that story”, she said.
I’ll admit I was a little confused. I asked why that would make any difference whatsoever.
She continued, “Because it just hadn’t fully occurred to me that you could be told off too.”
Without dwelling too much on the words “told off” (I prefer to think of my board as quite rightly, reigning me in and holding me accountable, but hey, potato/potato I guess), I started to see what she meant.
Of course, not every practice owner has a board. But we do all have people who we owe things to: the bank, our family, clients, friends.
We’ve all got bills to pay and promises to keep. Maybe we need to be a little more transparent with our staff about what our own responsibilities and concerns look like. We are all, at times, up against it. But what we don’t have is the ability to simply log off and decide that the outstanding work can wait. Well, I guess we could, but our clients wouldn’t stick around for long if we kept filing stuff late for them because we fancied shutting down at exactly 5pm.
Perhaps if we show a bit more vulnerability, we’d achieve more of a connection. Of course, each of us will need to decide to draw the line somewhere – is letting your team know that you’re reaching the limit on the company agreed overdraft likely to inspire harder work or a fear that they’re about to lose their jobs? Does your bookkeeper get excited about the idea of company growth or become anxious that their workload will simply increase disproportionately?
How to get through to people
And in that line of thinking – which is where my brain is leading me – how much do you truly need to get everyone on board with the company’s growth plans? Is that a good use of our energy, or should we simply be focussed on each person getting their job done? Does everyone need to care about the BHAG?
I’m sure that there will be a bunch of people about to tell me that no one wants to feel like a cog in a machine – but aren’t we all ultimately a cog in a machine anyway? Is it really necessary to dress it up as anything else?
Unsurprisingly I don’t have any solid answers here. However I’m going to start doing a couple of things in response to the last couple of frustrating weeks:
- Apply a few sets of blinkers to people. Let’s just focus on getting what needs doing, done.
- Open up a bit more about the pressures placed upon me. Maybe people will care, maybe people won’t. But I’m not a superhuman. If Iron Man can show a bit of vulnerability, then so can I.
Lucy Cohen will be speaking at AccountingWEB Live Expo on 1-2 December 2021 alongside such guests as Rebecca Benneyworth, Peter Rayney, Paul Aplin, Anita Monteith, Carl Reader, Steve Collings, Reza Hooda plus representatives from HMRC.
AccountingWEB Live Expo takes place on 1-2 December 2021 at Coventry Build Society Arena, Coventry. Registration is now open. A full content programme will be announced in early October enabling you to register for specific sessions. Please visit the AccountingWEB Live Expo website for full details and to sign up to our newsletter.