Be a Yogi with Flexible Hours

side view photo of woman doing yoga pose while kneeling on wooden footpath on the beach
Photo by Marcin Korytowski on Pexels.com

As a working mom I both love and hate summer. As a Minnesotan we survive winter by waiting for those hot steamy days and eating outside on patios. Then we survive summer by trying to navigate the chaos of having kids at home who need rides to games and activities while we are at work. What can we do as companies, leaders, and employees to stretch our thinking about flexibility over the summer and develop a muscle we can use all year? Blue Cross Blue Shield is piloting a summer hours program to help us test both our culture and our leadership muscle. The keys to our success will be putting the core tenets of yoga into our business practice: creating connection, sequencing movement, and centering on trust.

Creating connection. The origin is a Sanskrit word Yog meaning union. Yoga practices are designed to unite the body, mind, and energy to create a state of calmness. So before jumping on the mat, so to speak, we need to create connection. The most critical connections to test are, do your employees have clear goals and objectives and have you both agreed on how they will be measured. It is surprising how often we lead through assumption vs alignment. This is the perfect time to reconnect with your employees and do a mid year check in. We are halfway through the calendar year. This is the perfect time to spend 30 minutes with each employee and ask them what is their biggest accomplishment to date, what are their remaining milestones,  where do they need help and what are they most proud of. It is then key for you to share your feedback on their performance, their deliverables, and your priorities for the back half of the year.  It’s hard to be flexible if you don’t start on sure-footing- so help you and your team drive results by understanding what is expected. We recognize our summer flex program will give us the chance -and need- to improve this leadership muscle, which will make us stronger throughout the year.

Sequencing movement. Kriya yoga is based on the concepts of “to do,” “to act,” and “to react.” This method focuses on recharging the body with oxygen to enhance the mind. All yoga programs are made of a series of movements or flows that are practiced in a sequence. One of the criticisms we hear about work place flexibility is that it creates chaos. But if we take a systematic approach we can avoid that risk. Every team has workplace norms- the question is are they explicit and are they the ones you want. Pull your team together and ask what is working about the way you are working together.  Making sure you understand the current state before making a change is important.  Discuss your expectations around communication, response time, what should be on a shared drive, etc…, so that if anyone is out for any reason the team can do, act, and react appropriately.  Creating these norms will help our teams be more nimble and improve our efficiency year round.

Center on trust.  Anyone who has tried yoga knows it requires a lot of trust. Trust in your breath. In your balance. In your body. You have to let go and and just be to really get the most out of your practice.  Trust is tricky- and trickier still at work. When someone asks for flexible hours, many managers start with why not, what won’t work, or what’s too hard. Starting with trust means being honest. Yes Bill I have seen your work and it is great- I have every confidence you can deliver those results from anywhere. No Maria, I am concerned about your work and until I see improvements in X and Y, I don’t have confidence you will achieve the goals we have set. Both of these answers can help build trust.  A great Stephen Covey quote is, “Without trust we don’t truly collaborate, we merely coordinate, or at best cooperate. It is trust that turns a group of people into a team.”  Trust is always what makes someone a leader. You may prefer to know Bill is at his desk everyday or can be available every Friday afternoon, but if Bill’s performance is strong, trust Bill to get the job done Bill’s way.  In the research paper, Trust In Leadership Affects Employee Retention, by Jennifer Miller, it cites Spherion research on trust.  Employers ranked  employees’ level of trust in senior leadership as one of the top four indicators of employee engagement.  Unfortunately her research also found that 82% of employees don’t trust their boss. So what’s more important? Seeing Bill in his cube or seeing yourself earning his trust? We want trust to be the centerpiece of our culture so this pilot is helping us practice giving and showing trust in a meaningful way.

Launching our summer hours project has required a lot of flexibility.  We’ve worked with our operations teams. We’ve worked with communications. We’ve adjusted the timing. It may not be perfect, but we will learn. I am excited to be part of testing and pushing our norms. As an employee, I appreciate being trusted to manage my time and my schedule. As a Minnesota Mom, I am grateful that I can see my son’s soccer game this Friday. We will  see where our leadership and culture needs some stretching. The keys to our success will be putting the core tenets of yoga into our business practice: creating connection, sequencing movement, and centering on trust.

 

Your Best Work Can Be Done From Anywhere

Work from home

My dad was a 20+ year IBMer. He was an employee of the blue suit era – where people whispered if you wore striped ties. Former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner worked hard to teach the IBM elephant how to dance, transforming the company from a computer manufacturer to a solutions provider. This transformation was not easy nor was it without casualties, including IBM’s culture of “employment for life” and pensions – painful changes for my dad’s generation. Gerstner recognized that IBM had to change it’s fundamental economic model and re-engineer how they did business or go out of business. IBM successfully branded and built their solutions business, and is pioneering exciting AI work with its Watson system. On IBM’s homepage they promote the power of Watson:

With Watson, you have the AI platform for business. Uncover insights, engage in new ways, make decisions with more confidence and do your best work with Watson, today.

IBM choose not to put its latest business disruption on their website: the decision to end remote working. On May 19th IBM announced, “In many fields, such as software development and digital marketing, the nature of work is changing, which requires new ways of working.” The problem IBM has identified is the need to drive greater innovation, improve communicate and make faster decisions. Their solution is to require all of their almost 400,000 employees to work on location. I strongly disagree with this decision, and think it is counter intelligent. Instead I would advise IBM and all companies to follow Watson’s recommendations: uncover innovation insights, engage in new ways of communications, and make decisions with confidence so that employees can do their best work wherever they work.

Uncover innovation insights. IDEO is an award winning product innovation company. Their success comes using empathy to uncover insights. By observing user behavior and putting yourself in the end-user’s shoes, you collect invaluable insights. Remote teams can help companies know and go to your customer across a large footprint. Leverage vs. eliminate remote teams to foster better customer collaboration. Innovation comes from shifting from “we can’t” to “we can if…”. It thrives when we welcome diverse perspectives and collaborate under constraint. Remote teams live in this petri dish and can help companies create best practices for innovation.

Engage in new ways of communication. The article News Flash From IBM. There IS a Downside to a Remote Workforce points out that it is more challenging to communicate on remote teams. It is hard to have impromptu conversations or to drop in on peers when you work remotely. But does harder mean impossible?  Global employees communicate across a complex network of remote customers, suppliers, and contractors everyday. Instead of opting out of this challenge, companies can and should apply the same principles for working with global teams and use them with remote workers. Create clear strategies. Connect the team’s work to those strategies. Check in frequently and personally with individual team members. Create space for unstructured, impromptu discussions in your calls and meetings. Invest in building good leadership and communication skills vs. dismantling remote work structures.

Make decisions with more confidence. Watson’s power is its ability to analyze multiple sources of information and derive insights and recommendations. On its website, IBM states, “Watson can understand all forms of data, interact naturally with people, and learn and reason, at scale.” The good news is teams, remote or co-located, don’t need a supercomputer to improve their decision making skills. We can understand data by staying objective and focusing on facts. We can interact with others to understand connections, implications, and lessons learned. We can learn and reason by using industry trends and experts in our field, then applying our knowledge of our company and customer to form a hypothesis. Good leaders know success doesn’t come from obsessing about the right decision but rather from making timely, confident decisions.

Watson is an incredible breakthrough for IBM and has thousands of exciting applications, including cancer research, aviation, and energy.  The Toronto Raptors are partnering with Watson to analyze the play of their roster, determine what skills are missing, and recommend the best players that suit its needs. Watson will include both basketball skills and team camaraderie skills in its analysis. I’d encourage IBM and all companies to apply this same logic to its workforce. Given it’s current employee roster and skill set, is it more advantageous to focus on clear goals, expectations, and engagement for remote teams or to let them quit and work for a competitor? IBM- and all employers- have the ability to uncover innovation insights, engage in new ways of communications, and make decisions with confidence so that employees can do their best work. Let’s make the intelligent decision.