Tue | Dec 11, 2018

Francis Wade | Why employees need the power to say 'no'

Published:Sunday | April 22, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Should an employee be granted the right to turn down a manager's request to focus on a given task, thereby dropping everything else? And is it better to have a reporting relationship based on obedience, or its opposite, independent choice? While there are no easy answers, times are changing, and so must leaders in your company.


1. Should simple workers be in your firm at all?


A contractor once shared with me that his industry is the only one in which a convict can leave prison today and tomorrow be hired to take orders on an active construction site. The consequence? Poor-quality work, indiscipline, random departures, and theft.

While this tactic guarantees a low wage bill, it simultaneously creates greater problems.

Unfortunately, this mindset of hiring 'mere' workers pervades companies of all kinds.

Try a different perspective: Even the simplest role expands in complexity when the person who performs it has some autonomy to produce superior results. Therefore, all potential hires have the capacity to make up their own minds, becoming better contributors over time.

Armed with this mindset, abolish the notion of a 'simple' labourer.


2. Should employees be calendar-trained?


Too many managers try to be omnipotent, believing that they can keep track of every employee's calendar. In other words, they don't trust staff to prioritise their work without being directed.

The solution isn't to make an effort to become omniscient. Instead, managers need to train their workers to use better time-management skills so that their calendars actually reflect the work they are doing from one hour to the next.

In habitual practice, the opposite is true. Most smartphone calendars are only used to track people's appointments. All other tasks are left to memory - a sign of weak skills.

By contrast, employees with superior abilities are always looking at real-life trade-offs between activities. To make these difficult decisions, they realise that they must use their calendar as a point of coordination. As such, their 'no' is a reflection of a tough call rather than a whim.


3. Should managers be retrained?


As a manager, it's tempting to jump in, give orders, and negate your employee's choices. Instead, when the impulse hits, restrain yourself. Have a conversation that looks more like an inquiry into priorities than a demand for immediate obedience.

Why is this important? Here in the Caribbean, our workers are sensitive; they are highly reactive to small slights, which they take personally. The sad reality is that it only takes a single harsh interaction to demotivate a newly-hired eagerbeaver. In the blink of an eye, they join the ranks of other sullen victims who only go through the motions.

This coping mechanism got us through slavery, and the fact that it won't change soon means that managers must unlearn the habit of routinely negating an employee's 'no'.

These three recommendations have a magical benefit. They grant employees the opportunity to say no in a way that keeps them motivated and productive. Take this power away, and you risk miring your company in mediocrity.

- Francis Wade is the author of 'Perfect Time-Based Productivity', a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Email columns@fwconsulting.com