You have been a long-time advocate of employee empowerment and engagement. The trouble with such an approach is that management and their workers are often sidetracked by their basic priorities. This prevents people from working on special projects that they can do from planning to actual achievement of tangible results, with almost zero intervention from management. Please give me your advice. — Matt Yellow Submarine.
You’re familiar with the oft-repeated phrase “If there’s a will, there’s a way” and its own Tagalog version in “kung ayaw may dahilan, kung gusto maraming paraan.” That’s my short answer to your baseless predicament. Of course, there are many ways to assign special projects to people. However, you must consider that giving special assignments is an unnecessary burden that interferes with the back-breaking regular tasks of your workers.
Besides, task ownership is not limited to special projects but includes all those routine tasks found in one’s job description. But going back to your predicament, sometimes there a few others who lack ambition or skill who balk at the idea of performing other assignments beyond the scope of their job descriptions. If it’s within their job requirement, people still complain that management is being unfair and claim that they’re already overworked and underpaid.
And so how would you manage all of these issues and at the same time motivate people to work on their regular tasks and special projects that they can truly appreciate as their tangible accomplishments from start to finish? There are few strategies that will help you overcome the most common issues:
One, understand the areas where you should stop micro-managing people. It’s always tempting to control people and say — “my way or the highway.” But that’s not how it works with many people who are often irritated being managed by helicopter managers or those who hover over their shoulders almost every hour of the day.
As long as there’s a prior and mutual understanding of the objectives, timelines, standards, and resources, among other parameters, there’s no reason why management should not give enough space and freedom for their workers to do their job on their own.
Two, require each worker to identify and work on their own special projects. You don’t have to copy Google that allows its workers to dedicate 20% of their time to side projects, in addition to their regular work responsibilities. As a start, you can settle for workers setting aside 10% or about four hours a week so they can work on their creative side.
This may include doing things that don’t need prior management approval and at the same time allows people to fail without any serious repercussion as long as they report and learn from the process and its results.
Three, allow employees to accept or reject any additional assignment. Or much better, require them to challenge the wisdom of having this additional burden being given to employees. Don’t take it negatively. Instead, management must create a system where employees volunteer for certain projects instead of forcing someone to do it.
This is particularly true if only to avoid the issue of complainers who will resent the fact that being hard workers must not be rewarded with additional work. By doing this, you may even be surprised to find out there are willing workers out there to take the job for you.
Four, let the workers know in advance about their authority on the project. Recognize the fact that almost everyone wants to experience working like a boss from time to time provided they are given reasonable and independent authority to work on certain projects.
This is one basic reason why there are certain employees who don’t want to volunteer for certain tasks because they don’t want to be burdened with so many unnecessary rules that constrict their movement. It is enough that they know the standards and timelines on what to report for their milestones or as soon as they have completed a certain project.
Five, recognize those who have completed difficult assignments. It doesn’t have to be in material form. Even something as simple as a sincere marginal note to a document or an email thanking those workers for the job they did can do wonders for their morale. Be specific and genuine as possible. Don’t resort to a template answer so it will not sound fake. And don’t do it as a matter of routine or it will lose its significance in the long term.
If the accomplishment is extraordinary, be generous with praise to those who have done a lot in making them happen.
Last, work jointly with each employee to develop his or her career goals. Usually, this is done as part of the formal performance appraisal. Just the same, don’t limit the discussion during the once-a-year evaluation exercise. Management must continually look for areas where existing employee skills can be improved or learned. This is not limited to attending a training program alone. Sometimes, the best approach is when management would assign a person to a different job, geographical location and work situations.
Even if you don’t assign special projects to people, you can still give the full ownership or title to workers to their tasks as defined by their respective job description. It is as simple as management limiting itself explain the “why,” then let the employees figure out the “how” part.
ELBONOMICS: Ownership is defined by one who has committed a lot of mistakes.