An entrepreneur recently shared his secret to building a successful business: “Treating people like people – at scale.” As companies face increasing pressure to grow, innovate, and increase revenue – and do it faster –that differentiating people-focus can fall by the wayside.
That’s why we hear horror stories of mass layoffs by email. That’s why my clients share stories of strain and overwork causing physical and mental unwellness. That’s why Mckinsey reports “unreliable and unsupportive leaders” as one of the top causes of attrition.
How Leaders Abuse the Speed of Business Concept
Yes, business moves fast. But the speed of business is often used as justification when leaders choose to take the easy way out. A few ways leaders may unconsciously hide behind the idea of a fast-paced workplace:
- Using emails or texts instead of face-to-face conversations about difficult topics
- Avoiding coaching conversations and leaving employees in the dark about performance
- Moving people to dead-end roles, demoting them, or denying them raises without explanation
- Blaming issues on people “not being willing to sacrifice” or “not being team players,” rather than acknowledging you’ve tapped out their bandwidth
- Ignoring the role you play in creating your team’s work environment, asking team members or peers about problems without acknowledging your role in creating them.
“It Isn’t My Problem” is a Problem
As leaders, we often face heavy workloads and high pressure. This pressure isn’t our fault, but it is our problem –we have the responsibility to deal with it and show up with high positive energy no matter how fast and frantic work is.
In a “not my problem” atmosphere, leaders expect team members to speak up if the speed of business is getting to them. However, when they do, they’re labeled as difficult or “not a team player.” It’s a real problem when we allow the constant need for speed and lack of boundaries to turn our best employees into disengaged, reactive, stressed job seekers, instead of energized, dedicated, and loyal team members.
Shifting with Business, without Shifting Standards
Change adaptability is a valuable leadership trait. To keep up with today’s business world, you need the skills to pivot and adapt rapidly. However, there’s a difference in shifting to meet business needs and shifting to enable less-than-desirable leadership traits.
Yes, the work needs to get done, but we also need to be real with ourselves as leaders. Are we trying to build a sustainable, energy-inspired workplace or not?
If your goal is to make sure your people have adequate energy to perform at their best, it’s time for you to stand up for your principles. A heavy workload may be inevitable but look for ways to utilize a balance of challenge stress and recovery to offset the stress caused by the speed of business.
How to do it differently
What are you doing if you’re working at a frantic pace? What example are you setting for your team? You may think you’re showing them hard work pays off and demonstrates commitment. What you’re really doing is:
- Showing “doing things” matters more than making reasoned decisions
- Making it harder for your employees to enjoy work and perform well
- Decreasing the potential for thoughtful, creative, targeted, problem-solving work and replacing it with list-checking
Instead of trying to push people to move faster, take on more, and keep up with the pace, ask what works for them. Have conversations individually and as a team. You might find that a piece of technology you implemented to make things easier actually made processes more draining. You might discover team members get value from a weekly day without scheduled meetings or that they lose productivity because they feel pressure to respond immediately to emails.
Pay attention – are you guilty of sending an email, then popping over to a team member’s desk or Slacking to say, “Did you get my email?” instead of allowing them to respond in their own time? Your intent might be a quick clarifying conversation, which is a good thing, but are you justifying your desire to control the conversation at a detriment to their ability to focus on deep work?
As the leader of your team or organization, pay attention to the way you set expectations.
- Watch the way you frame requests. If every request is ASAP, does that mean they’re all urgent? Or nothing’s urgent? Create clarity by giving timelines up front and setting the expectation that they’ll communicate with you if they need more time.
- Design paths for escalation. I encourage people to prioritize work and check email only a couple of times a day. If you need something urgently, let team members know how you’ll request it (text, phone call, etc.). The average worker gets 120+ emails a day and each email can easily create three more. By de-emphasizing constant email monitoring, you reset your team and empower them to prioritize work accordingly.
- Learn to say no as a leader. Real energy-inspired leadership doesn’t mean you have enough energy and bandwidth for everything. You have enough for things that matter, and you manage energy and recovery. That may mean tough conversations when a new project arises or when a higher-up pushes new responsibilities or a faster pace on your team. The energy drain of not living your values isn’t worth it, though – either for your personal wellbeing or for the retention and engagement of your team.
Today’s fast-paced, driven marketplace can offer great opportunities for career and leadership development. Teams can achieve more and be more fulfilled than ever before. But, that only happens if YOU control the speed of business and the management of energy principles for your team. When you learn to utilize energy-inspired leadership and to value recovery, you can do more, build more loyalty, produce better results, and create a team of happier, more loyal, more productive people.