Leaders of knowledge workers across corporate America are wasting an inordinate amount of time debating return to office plans, the optimum hybrid schedule number of days in the week, and how far away a person can live from the mother ship. Instead of fixating on the location of the laptop, let’s turn our energy toward creating a positive work environment for all of us who are showing up, virtually or in-person to our jobs each day to do great work.
Let’s start with 2 actions that will create a work environment that is positive – regardless of location.
1) Demonstrate that you have your employee’s back
As leaders, we’re all faced with moments where we have to go out on a limb and take a risk. It could be a decision, solving an issue, or providing a recommendation to a senior leader. We know good leaders empower their people. As empowered people, why do we hesitate when we’ve got the ball? Why do we analyze every detail until we’re 100% sure?
Because we don’t want to mess up!
We battle in our minds about the right thing to do, AND the personal impact a wrong decision may produce. To eliminate HALF the worry, we simply need to know our boss has our back, meaning that they’ll support the decision we made, they’ll defend us when we aren’t there – even if it wasn’t the right call.
I experienced this last month when we had a product feature roll out that surfaced some odd data that frustrated our employee users. As we quickly dove into the issue to understand where this odd data was coming from, we learned that a fix would require a large effort, so the immediate decision on the table was simple – leave the feature on while we worked to fix it, or turn it off. After weighing all the info, I made the call to turn it off and recapped the situation to our senior leaders. Later on, my boss thanked me for handling it, and let me know he supported my decision. I knew in that moment, that he had my back, and that if the decision was questioned when I wasn’t there, he would stand up for me.
Imagine if the opposite would have happened and I was hung out to dry? Would I take a risk again?
But I probably would have sought more input, delayed the decision, and ultimately prolonged the pain of the issue when it could have been resolved right away.
2) Treat people like the high performers that they are
In middle school, I learned what happens when you treat 14 year-olds like adults. They can rise to the level of your expectations. No one knew this better than my band teacher. Band was an elective, and our teacher made sure we knew where the door was if we weren’t there to do our best. We were expected to act like the talented musicians that we were, and to grow better with each rehearsal.
There was no other option.
And the results – including both applause and competition trophies, made the hard work worth it. Was everyone in there a model student? No, far from it. The class clown, the kid with the perfect comeback, the kid who couldn’t sit still, the constant flirt – they were all in band, but you’d never know it because we expected to rise above those behaviors – so we shut up, sat up, and became the people we were expected to be – if only for 60 minutes a day.
Fellow high achiever, we can set a high bar as well. For most of teams we lead, we can set clear expectations and know they will be met without nagging or micromanaging. We can trust (and verify) the expert employees that we hired will do their jobs well. And we should trust that they come to us when they need help.
These 2 actions can be put to work today to create the positive environment we all desire.