Hide From Your Manager to Get More Done!
In another bout of counterintuition, a Harvard Business School professor has found evidence that too much managerial interactivity and minute-by-minute engagement of an employee with management can get in the way of productivity.
This makes sense once you stop and think about it: As the professor, Ethan Bernstein, notes, too much oversight stifles creativity and innovation, because (as we all know from childhood) its embarrassing to make a mistake in front of an audience. If employees are going to monkey around with a process to see how they might improve it, they would prefer to practice or test their theories away from the watchful eye of management before they risk sharing the idea and opening themselves up for criticism.
Solution: Encourage creativity by reducing oversight, and let the employees decide when their theories have been stress-tested enough to be ready to share with management for further work.
Actually, this fits well with our Foundations of Excellence engagement philosophy. Here’s how:
- Leaders and followers have frank discussions about how much oversight is appropriate for their situation.
- They come to agreement on how much direct oversight would be constructive, and implement that agreement.
- Management reserves the right to readdress the agreement if output suffers in quality and/or quantity.
- Leaders trust their employees to get their tasks done the approved way without close observation.
Too much observation (paradox?) signals a low level of trust in the employees to perform their tasks properly, and disengages them from their impulse to innovate.
Freedom to fail without repercussion inspires experimentation. Tinkering with processes and procedures to improve them should be embedded as a valuable contribution. Allow employees that time. It may not have to be the 20% of their working hours that Google allows, but make experimentation a regular part of their routine.
In the research that Bernstein did, he noted that screening a production line to keep it out of casual management oversight actually raised productivity. If that sounds too risky for you as a manager, another way to capture creative ideas is to set up an experimental production line alongside the standard lines, and rotate employees on and off it to give them a chance to test new ideas that have occurred to them.
Managers who “hover” in an effort to be connected to the work their subordinates do often have admirable intentions. But they must be aware of the impact their regular presence may have on those working for them, which the research confirms:
The natural reaction people seem to have to being observed is to stick to what they think the boss wants to see. They would rather not risk being “caught” breaking the rules, even if their rule-breaking is for all the right reasons.
Consider carefully how you plan to observe employees in action, and discuss these plans ahead of time with those employees to get their approval and raise their comfort level with your intentions.
Do your bosses hover? Does that make you tense, and less apt to try new ideas out on-the-job? How should a boss weave his or her need to know into the routine of the team? When you became a boss, did you remember that feeling and let it guide you in how you interacted with your employees? Or did you fall right into the “hovering” behavior you found uncomfortable as a subordinate?