People can choose to do things, or they can be forced to do things. In today’s job market, some organizations think that people will hop in line lock step and do what they are told “because I said so.” Since jobs are scarce, some employers figure people need to step it up or risk being replaced.
However, studies have found that people offer up only part of their effort when they are forced to do something. When people actually choose to do something, they can more than double their productivity.
I am not saying that everyone should be able to come to work and decide what to do and when to do it without any guidelines. It is, for goodness sake, a job. There are objective standards that people must meet in order to keep a job. But it is difficult, if not impossible to force people to be creative, be proactive, communicate with their peers, come up with solutions to problems, and basically care about the work.
We have two clients who have undergone the same kind of change recently. Both re-organized their Human Resources support with the use of an outsourced HR provider. And as a result, both organizations saw roles change and shifted some work that HR had been doing to managers in the business.
One organization is seeing the effects of a “because I said so” attitude right now. About two weeks before the work was transitioned, an email announcement went out to the organization saying that this change was about to happen. There was no training on the new system that was put in place, and there was no discussion about how and why this was happening.
A few months have passed since they were told to “just do it”, and managers are pretty disgruntled. They are stumbling around in the new system, they feel like they are being forced to do HR’s work, and they don’t understand why this work was shifted to them.
Managers are doing the work only when they have to and, even then, half-heartedly. What was meant to be a change that brought managers and employee’s closer together has become a wedge between them. Managers actively avoid situations where they might actually need to go do something for their employees in this new system that they don’t understand.
If things continue down this path, the benefits projected for the project will be hard to reach. The time that is being spent griping could be directed at making creative use of the new tools. For now, the organization is missing out on a huge chunk of the productive capacity of their managers.
The other organization had a completely different approach with completely different results. They explained why and how the move would benefit the business, employees, and managers. People were involved from the start helping to define how processes should work in the new outsourced model, and managers were trained on how to deal with issues that they had never dealt with before.
By the time the shift happened, managers were excited to jump into their new roles. Not surprisingly, they are humming right along and managers actually like the new way of working. The gains they were looking for from the change were met within the first year.
Our client that is wondering why forcing people isn’t working could learn a few lessons from the guys who got it right. They need to first acknowledge where they are – that people are cynical, frustrated, and checked out.
Leaders need to take the necessary time to explain why this is the right thing to do. Not in big meetings – they don’t engage people – but rather in small meetings in and more personal forums. Leaders need to connect with staff to overcome the cynicism that is draining the life out of the organization. It will take time, but the productivity gains will be well worth the investment.
Kate Nelson is a co-author of The Change Management Pocket Guide and is a partner with Stacy Aaron at Change Guides, LLC. They can be reached at kate.nelson or firstname.lastname@example.org.