Are you a leader or a 20th-century manager living in the 21st century? (Part 2)


Last week, I said how Amazon came up with its return-to-office policy is clearly an indication that Amazon’s executive team are all 20th-century managers who happen to live in the 21st century. Amazon’s CEO explained that they came up with the return-to-office mandate after observing what worked during the pandemic, watching how the staff performed, and talking to leaders at other companies. They concluded that “employees tended to be more engaged in person and collaborate more easily.”

But our environments have changed! The world has become more complex and it changes faster than ever before. It is too slow to wait for top management to come up with a mandate so that the minions can follow. Especially for the knowledge workers, they are not mindless minions, they are the ones closest to the customers, and doing the work. They know better than top management how to get their work done best! Management and leadership have to change.

So, what should management do?

  1. Understand that every company is different. Stop looking at what other companies are doing and try to come up with the best practice. There is no such thing as “best practice” in this complex 21st century. There is only “emergent practice” in a complex environment.
  2. So, how do you who are in management come up with emergent practice? You don’t. Trust the teams of workers to decide where work happens, whether it be in the office, some co-working space that is closer to their homes, or anywhere else that is most productive for them, and let the workers choose the team that enables them to work the way they work best.
  3. Be a leader!
    • Management is no longer about telling the employees what to do and monitoring their progress like a hawk. It is about creating and maintaining an environment where employees feel safe and motivated to contribute to their fullest. 
    • Leadership is more than execution and productivity. Behaviors, emotions, thoughts, and values are the essence of motivation. The key to any team performance is to see and recognize the human beings and their differences. To achieve high performance, the leader needs to go deeper and tap into the whole person. Then, when leaders put the team together, they inspire performance. Not pushing performance.
    • Get used to “I don’t know”. Be open to experiment. 
    • Be empathetic. Care for your workers.

Back to Amazon. What should the CEO and his executive team have done instead?

  1. Involve the teams to reassess why they work the way they do and reimagine what work can look like.
  2. Give them the vision and purpose, the “why”.
  3. Use a people-first approach to design work (the when, where, and how)
  4. Trust the teams to set their own schedules based on their circumstances that keep them healthy, sane, and productive (“when”), and decide where work happens and whether to work asynchronously or synchronously (“how”).

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

So, what is your company’s policy on work? Remote? Hybrid? In-person? How does your company come up with the policy? Do you like the policy? Drop me a line below and let me know.

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