Quick question: How fast does it usually take you to rally your troops when you’ve got a problem that needs immediate attention?
If you’re still doing the calculation in your head because you can’t remember, now might be the time to examine the amount of flexibility you give your team.
We often have things running so smoothly that we’re taken by surprise when work hits a snag – an emergency or crisis that needs all hands on deck.
It can come as a shock when you’ve got to get your team focused, but they’re so busy doing their own thing.
I know this may seem counter-intuitive, but you may have let your desire to be a “flexible boss” go too far.
‘Flexible’ Is Good – Isn’t It?
It’s a compliment when your employees tell others that you’re a “flexible boss”, right?
But managers who are too flexible can hurt their credibility, says leadership coach Michael Hyatt. When given space, some employees can take our easy-going approach too far and manipulate what we thought were understood as hard-and-fast rules.
It’s up to you to set the tone on how the work in your department gets done, and you expect your employees to follow the directives you’ve set out.
Of course, resourceful managers know there are times when a little fluidity is normal in the way people do their jobs. Employees hate managers who hover, and you know your team well enough that it’s not necessary.
The key is to spell out which directives are non-negotiable – and make sure your team knows which ones they are.
Here are three signs you might be too flexible as a manager, and what to do about it:
1) You Let Too Many Employee Conflicts Fester
Some managers say they’re constantly sidetracked by brokering peace negotiations among staff when that time could be better spent.
In a new survey from Accountemps, CFOs said they spend, on average, 15% of their time – at least six hours a week – managing staff conflicts.
“The more time managers spend reducing friction between co-workers, the less time they have for tackling business priorities,” said Mike Steinitz, executive director of Accountemps.
How to deal: Show empathy, but act decisively. It might seem more “flexible” to let your employees work it out themselves, but that leaves open the possibility that the issue will get worse. And that will end up disrupting everyone else.
Hear both employees out so you can understand the situation from both sides and get to the bottom of the problem quickly. Then, take the reins and handle the disagreement as quickly as possible.
State that you understand where both employees are coming from, but you need an agreement from both that they can resolve the issue and work together productively. This is a situation where strict direction trumps flexibility.
If the employees feel you’re being non-committal about the problem, they’ll be less inclined to remedy it.
2) You Let Employees Work Entirely For Themselves
This is different from letting employees work at their own pace. That’s to be encouraged because people succeed when they’re allowed to progress on their own terms. One employee could work well under pressure while another might move at a slower pace, getting a little bit done at a time until a deadline is met.
It’s when you let employees determine the entire end game that your flexibility can get out of hand.
When you let the chickens rule the roost, the important work of every day could fall behind. And in the end, the finger will point at you, not your employees.
How to deal: Allow employees to set some of their own priorities, schedules, and deadlines, but make sure they’re aware of how getting their work done affects others.
You don’t want to set other employees or even entire departments back because you let your team decide what they’re getting done and when.
Make sure they understand and are ready to comply with some set-in-stone rules and deadlines, and that they understand the ramifications if they don’t.
3) You Have Trouble Keeping Track Of Results
You told your group three weeks ago to let you know when Project A was finished – but you haven’t heard from them since. Did they forget? Or are they nowhere near done?
Now you need an update for one of your bosses – and you’re stuck with hunting it down.
Giving your team too little direction in an effort to be flexible can backfire.
How to deal: Make sure your team knows you need periodic updates from them. That’s not helicopter bossing, it’s part of the job.
Show some flexibility in letting employees get their work done, but check in to see they’re still on track. You can either set up status meetings at regular intervals or send them a note for a short report back on how things are going.
This pattern of “checking in” keeps employees accountable and allows you to supervise while staying out of their way.
Resourceful managers who show flexibility are usually liked and respected by employees. But if we let things get too loose, it can affect productivity. Finding the right balance gives employees the freedom to work and succeed.
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