In the previous articles (Part 1 and Part 2), we revealed how our policies and our people management practices, could be stifling staff initiative and engagement by imposing too much structure and supervision. In this third and final part of the series, we are going to explore what a workplace that adopts this approach looks like.

Leading a team or a business is a big responsibility. My lack of experience in my early years of managing meant I took quite a controlling approach, telling people what to do and when. Sometimes checking-in on them multiple times to see that ‘they were ok’ with the task. Essentially telling them that I didn’t trust them to do it. The result was my staff started to seek permission for almost any action, let me make too many decisions for them and stopped thinking for themselves. Initiative went out the window. I knew that I had to change my approach. Since that time, I’ve made it my mission to observe the managers around me to work out what works and what doesn’t.

So, is there such a workplace that would take the leap of faith to trust their staff to use their judgement with so few controls? What would it feel like to work there? Guess what, I’ve found one and it’s not Netflix or Google. It’s my workplace and I’ll be honest, it took a bit of getting used to.

Firstly, I was recruited first and foremost for my values. I was initially surprised that there was so little focus on my technical skills during the interview process. Now I know that my boss knew enough about my technical skills that I at least had the fundamentals, but was infinitely more concerned about my value set and team fit. She knew I could learn the rest, but I wasn’t likely to change my personal attributes. How many staff (particularly managers) have we recruited or promoted based on their technical skills and then spent time and effort trying to engage them?

Having worked in senior management for some time, I was quite comfortable with a reasonable level of autonomy. But in this job I have full autonomy. I know where the business is heading and our values, and so long as I make decisions that align with both, I am a free agent. I am measured on my results, not how I got there. Of course, the value exchange for full autonomy is accountability. There is no room for being lazy or doing a half-hearted job. I need to deliver.

I manage my own time. When I started I chose to set days that I work, because it suited my family. But in practice they are like a piece of clay that I mould into whatever shape I need for that week. Sometimes for personal reasons, other times to meet work needs. My work is, for the most part, fully portable. Our office is set up so that everything is accessible online, therefore I can work anywhere. I’m no longer running orange lights (ok sometimes ‘reddish’ lights) after school drop off, trying to get to work by 5 to 9. It’s a give and take relationship and to be honest, the workplace is probably in front. I understand there are some jobs where you must keep to a roster. I previously worked in a hospital and if nurses didn’t turn up on time, people’s lives could be affected. This level of flexibility won’t work for all jobs, but I suspect there are quite a few jobs where we don’t need to be so rigid with our time and attendance.

So, have I made mistakes in this job? You bet I have. Finding my way in a new job and a new industry was always going to be bumpy. Would I want my boss looking over my shoulder for opportunities to prevent me from failing, like a parent would? No way. I want an environment that encourages me to take risks, pushes me outside my comfort zone. That’s where we do our best learning. If I make a mistake do I expect a conversation with my boss? Absolutely, but the focus is on what did I learn and how will I do it differently next time. If I make a major mistake that compromising our values or isn’t in the best interest of the business, I expect to be shown the door.

Do I feel my performance is being managed? Probably more than it ever has because it feels like a continuous assessment process. That doesn’t mean I have frequent 1-on-1 meetings or receive a report card with gradings. What I do get is regular context-based feedback, constructive and personalised. It’s often only a few minutes and quite informal in nature. If, as a result, I need guidance or training, I get it, but not always from my boss. She doesn’t feel the need to have all the answers and often encourages me to source answers from other staff or outside the business.

Given my job is outcome focussed, how many policies do we have to guide my work? I don’t want to shock you, but we only have three policies, the three required by law. We know what our business values are and we all work in the best interests of the business. It sounds too simplistic, but it is actually easier to know what decisions to make, because I don’t have to wade through reams of policies or regularly check in with my boss.

Netflix has been one of the leaders in this field. Patty McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix, stated “if you’re careful to hire people who will put the company’s interests first, 97% of your employees will do the right thing.” Even if the percentage is slightly different in your organisation, how much time and money do we waste trying to prevent or manage the other 3%. For that 3% that don’t have the company’s best interests at heart, they are probably going to work around the rules, regardless of how many policies or codes of conduct you have or how many posters you stick on the noticeboard or worse the toilet door.

I am experienced enough to realise that not everyone will want the same level of autonomy as I do. Some people need a bit more instruction or guidance, but probably nowhere near as much oversight as many workplaces currently give their staff. Let’s change our people management practices to engage and get more productivity from the 97% of staff who come to work to do a good job and behave well.



Claire Huntington has over 15 years’ experience in senior and executive level human resource management and strategic leadership positions. Claire learnt HR under the wings of great mentors and through trial and error. She has a very practical hands-on approach to HR and management, and isn’t afraid to look outside the box. Claire is also mum to three primary-school aged firecrackers and is an avid photographer in her spare time.


Disclaimer: The material contained in this publication is of a general nature only. It is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. If you wish to act based on the content of this publication, we recommend that you seek professional advice.

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