Bankable Leadership: How to implement a flexible work environment

The following is the eighth and final excerpt from New York Times best-selling author and executive coach Dr. Tasha Eurich’s new book Bankable Leadership.  

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a leader whine that their employees are asking to work from home, I could donate all of the revenue from this book to charity. I’m often unsure about why they’re whining—giving employees flexibility and control is actually a business imperative. This includes options like non-traditional workweeks (for example, working four ten-hour days and taking Friday off), telecommuting, flexible hours, or modified vacation and sick-day policies. For example, event production company Red Frog gives employees unlimited vacation days. Though this seems like a potential disaster, it is almost never abused.

The people and results benefits of flexible work arrangements are clear. On the people side, for example, employees who telecommute are more satisfied with their jobs and less likely to leave voluntarily. Moreover, giving employees more free time through compressed work weeks drives engagement even more than things like company picnics or social activities. On the results side, researchers have found that, on average, flexible work schedules result in a 10 per cent improvement in productivity.

Obviously, depending on the needs of your clients and customers, some types of flexibility will work and some won’t. For example, some jobs require employees to be physically present (like a car mechanic) or work certain hours (like a nurse). I recommend making a list of the “non-negotiables” in terms of flexibility, then working with your team to think about the most meaningful options you can give them. I have a client whose front desk person wanted to work from home so she could focus on a series of reports she had to complete every month. My client was able to help her work from home one day every two weeks while other employees took turns covering the front desk. It worked like a charm.

Years ago, I’d just earned my master’s degree and started as a junior consultant at Somerville Partners, a boutique consulting company. The CEO, Kevin Somerville, quickly became a mentor and always believed in my ability much more than I did. One week, Kevin landed a new client, flew home, came to my office and said, “I want you to be on point for this.” A shiver came over me, along with a general fear about what would happen if I messed up. A few days later, I mustered the courage to talk to Kevin.

As an avid storyteller, Kevin provided his advice through a story about a stuffed buffalo on display at Grand Central Station. Those that passed through would do everything in the book to it: throw trash on it, stub out cigarette butts on it, kick it. Kevin once asked a caretaker how he dealt with this terrible buffalo abuse. The caretaker replied simply, “There ain’t no damage to that old buffalo that I can’t fix in five minutes.”

Wow. The new client was the buffalo, Kevin was saying, and he was the caretaker. Any mistake I made could be fixed, and he was there to back me up.

Amazing things happen when leaders empower and believe in their employees.

Naturally, the project went well.

I hope this chapter has helped you think about your leadership choices in a new way—many leaders I’ve worked with tell me the concept of treating employees like adults has been groundbreaking. I encourage you to honestly look in the mirror before every choice you make and ask, “Am I treating my employees like adults or like children?” If you have a particularly challenging workforce and try to argue that you have to use excessive rules or policies, remember to ask, “Am I Acting As If?” If you’re acting as if your team is made up of anything other than responsible, capable adults, it’s time to change your approach.

Bankable Actions

Act As If

  • Examine the assumptions you’re making about your employees on a daily basis.
  • Make the decision to view your employees as competent, well-meaning professionals with good judgment.
  • Instead of writing policies, have direct and honest conversations with employees and set clear expectations for what you expect.
  • Create clear and swift consequences for the two per cent who use bad judgment.
  • If you influence policy in your organization, practice the “Adult Test.”
  • Would I need to tell a high-performing employee this? If not, consider eliminating it and instead setting clear expectations and consequences for bad judgment.
  • If you must follow policies, take them out of your conversations with your employees, emphasizing instead your expectations and the reasoning behind them.

Engineer Ownership

  • Ensure that you’re pushing decisions down so that employees closest to customers can exercise their judgment.
  • Take smart risks, empowering your employees to own projects that will challenge them.
  • When empowering your employees, set crystal clear expectations for what you want accomplished, but give them leeway with the how.
  • Regularly give your employees a voice in the decisions that affect them, and listen to their input.
  • Give your employees control over their lives at work, giving them a choice whenever possible.
  • Give employees flexibility in how they schedule their work and non-work time.

Dr. Tasha Eurich is a proud leadership geek, executive coach, speaker, and author, Dr. Eurich is the author of the new book, Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom Line Results, and the Power to Deliver Both.  She also helps organizations succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders and teams.  Dr. Eurich passionately pairs her scientific grounding in human behavior with a practical approach to solving some of today’s most common leadership challenges. Her decade-long career has spanned roles as an external consultant and a direct report to both CEOs and human resources executives. The majority of Dr. Eurich’s work has been with executives in large Fortune 500 organizations, including CH2M HILL, Xcel Energy, Western Union, IHS, Destination Hotels and Resorts, Newmont Mining, Centura Health, CoBiz Financial, the City of Cincinnati, and HCA.

With an M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Colorado State University and B.A.s in Theater and Psychology from Middlebury College, she serves on the faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership. She has served as an adjunct faculty member in Colorado State University’s Psychology and Business Schools. She is also a popular guest speaker at the University of Denver and Colorado State University’s Executive MBA programs.



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