Inspecting officer - ‘Are the Company ready for inspection Sgt Major?’
‘Yes Ma’am! All present and correct.’
This snippet from a typical military type of conversation might seem a bit outdated to you, which is unsurprising when you consider that this sort of language has probably not changed for over a hundred years. The military is full of proud, habitual traditions like this. However, like everyone else, things change.
What about where you work now - are you fighting some habitual traditions of your own? Perhaps, the desire to get everyone back to their desks? It is certainly easier to keep an eye on everyone when they are ‘all present and correct,’ or is it? However, why is there such a push back to go back from some, while others seem so keen to want to work differently now?
Here’s a theory. The problem is that it has been over 400 days since March 23rd, 2021 (UK) when we all abandoned our office buildings in something akin to a Zombie Apocalypse. Since then, we have had over 400 days to build new working habits - over 334 days more than we needed to form a new habit. 66 days is the required amount of time to form a habit according to Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, in a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. How long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behaviour, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. Source: https://jamesclear.com/new-habit
What does this mean for you as a manager?
1. If you insist on everyone coming back to ‘normal’ and returning to their desks, it’s going to take a few months for them to adapt…that’s if they don’t leave.
2. If you embrace the worldwide push to go hybrid, you might need to change your habits too.
Practical steps, use TALC:
- Talk about this stuff now, today, and often. Be honest, share your concerns. Talk about what you need to trust.
- Agree on frameworks, rules of working, when, and how we check-in. What do your people need to feel trusted? A start might be some clear, shared goals. Then perhaps no snooping, clock watching, or monitoring – why not work based on innocent until proven guilty?
- Loosen the reins. Measure the end not the means and be the coach rather than the judge. Open up the conversation around unseen pressures – you might as well, they are having an impact anyway. Surely, it is better to know what is on people’s plates, and then you can work around any issues.
- Commitment means getting stuff done. Lack of commitment is not the right conclusion – just because they interrupt your call to admit the Sainsburys shopping. Hybrid working means flexing hours, locations, methods but not outputs. What needs doing, needs doing. How it gets done might have to change.
Being present and correct does not mean you have to be looking at them. Be honest - in the past, if someone was ‘at their desk’ did it automatically mean they were being productive? Be clear about outcomes and deliverables and stop sweating the small stuff. People have moved house, changed working hours, schools and tons of other habits. We didn’t know when it would end and we have all settled into new habits of working. Maybe, as the song goes, we all need to Let it Go.