Senior Vice President,
Sodexo North America
Leading a team in today’s business world is a bit like conducting an orchestra. Just like a conductor, you provide clear direction, set the pace for your players and control team dynamics. As long as everyone is playing from the same sheet of music in perfect harmony, you can deliver a great performance.
Of course, it’s not that simple—for orchestra conductors or business leaders. While structure and strategy are essential for any team, there must be a balance between processes and procedures that improve efficiency, and restrictions that stifle creativity and curb performance. In a Fast Company article on productivity, author Lisa Bodell warns that too many organizations have essentially “allowed process to become their culture.” Morale and productivity suffer when your employees spend too much time asking for permission to get work done. It can easily be perceived as lack of trust.
In a study of U.S. and European companies, The Boston Consulting Group found that in the last 15 years, the amount of procedures and approvals needed to make decisions has increased by anywhere from 50% to 350%. On top of that, managers are spending 40% of their time writing reports and up to 60% coordinating meetings. It’s increasingly hard to get any work done, and that frustrates employers and employees.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in rules. In my experience, clearly defined processes and guidelines measure progress, encourage accountability and simplify complicated tasks. A sense of order can ward off chaos. On the other hand, overzealous rules can create restrictions that leave employees feeling micromanaged and minimized. The solution is to establish a framework that that allows for flexibility and to follow a few simple rules of your own:
- Be Open to Change: The best leaders are open to change. They give employees permission to experiment and innovate, which is vital in today’s global economy. To maximize performance, you must empower employees to make decisions and take risks, which could mean failure. But if we learn from our mistakes, past failures are guideposts for future success. Just ask Walt Disney. In 1928, after losing his rights to his first cartoon character, he started over with a new character named Mickey Mouse, and was rewarded with unparalleled success.
- Focus on Productivity over Politics: Time is your team’s most valuable asset, and it is your role to protect it from thieves like email and meetings. Over 1 billion emails are sent every day, and that figure is expected to grow by 5% annually, draining your employees’ time and productivity. In addition to email overload, most employees are overbooked in meetings. Stop the madness! Give your employees permission to opt out of meetings that are redundant or irrelevant. Encourage them to only send emails that are necessary and appropriate. By following best practices, you encourage them to focus on productivity first.
- Care about People over Process: The best way to lead your organization is to lead your people. If you truly care, they will do anything for you. Motivate them by rewarding hard work. Invest in them by providing career growth opportunities such as training programs and mentoring partnerships. Offer flexible work arrangements that allow for balance between personal and professional obligations. Keep them on their toes by throwing in some fun activities, just for kicks! Encourage them to bring their whole selves to work. By creating an inclusive culture, you enrich your team with diversity of thought, and that drives innovation.
When business leaders focus on improving quality of life over improving the bottom line, surprising things happen. Employees who believe that management cares about them and their quality of life are more satisfied and more productive. And that’s how you deliver great performance.
Jennifer Williamson is Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications, Sodexo.