Business and finance journalist, Matt Packer discusses key news stories with the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) head of research, policy & standards, Kate Cooper.
Whether we have the word ‘manager’ in our job title or not, we all manage on a day to day basis. From employees and meetings, our time and our workload, to the expectations of others. Being given the freedom to manage these things as we choose presents both a challenge and an opportunity.
A New Zealand company’s experiment in cutting the working week down to size has yielded such impressive results that it is now looking to make the arrangement permanent.
As an article at the New Zealand Herald explains, estate-planning firm Perpetual Guardian conducted an eight-week trial in which it brought the week down from five days to four, while keeping each of its 240 employees on the same salary. Keen for a scientific eye to make a balanced assessment of the initiative, the firm enlisted HR academics Jarod Haar of the Auckland University of Technology and Helen Delaney of the University of Auckland Business School to measure the outcomes.
Haar and Delaney found that stress levels across the firm dropped from 45% to 38%, while the work-life balance rating rose significantly from 54% to 78%. Other improvements were seen in commitment (up 18% to 82%), stimulation (up 18% to 84%) and empowerment (up 18% to 86%). Staff were also more impressed with leadership in the firm as the trial played out, compared to how it was before, with their satisfaction levels rising by 18% to 82%.
Crucially, the firm remained just as productive with a four-day week as it was at full, Monday-to-Friday stretch.
Permanent Guardian CEO Andrew Barnes said: “What we’ve seen is a massive increase in engagement and staff satisfaction about the work they do, a massive increase in staff intention to continue to work with the company and we’ve seen no drop in productivity.”
He added: “Our leadership team reported that there was broadly no change in company outputs pre and during the trial. They perceived no reduction in job performance and the survey data showed a marginal increase across most teams. We’re paying for productivity. We’re making a clear distinction here between the amount of hours you spend in the office and what we get out of that.”
What does the say about traditional perceptions of how productivity should be achieved?
Kate Cooper says: “This story in many ways supports our work on how productivity is best measured in outputs, rather than in presenteeism. One theme that really stands out is that Permanent Guardian’s employees have such strong morale – not only do they feel valued, they also feel that there’s something great about the company they’re working for. That’s evidenced by the sharp rise in the staff commitment rating: workers are repaying the company for the loyalty it has shown them.”
Cooper notes: “It will be interesting to see how sustainable this model proves to be. Arrangements that seem novel and exciting to the current staff base – which has seen the changes play out first hand – may be regarded as fairly standard by newer hires who are recruited with advance knowledge of how the firm operates. So there will certainly be a level of challenge for the senior managers, in terms of how they maintain a sense that the four-day model is special and different.
“Furthermore,” she adds, “managers’ and employees’ expectations of what they are meant to achieve while they’re in work will be higher, so keeping up that intensity will be another challenge. And that presents a question mark relating to the social aspects of work: if staff are coming in on those four days each week knowing that they really have to focus on delivering, will they have time to develop the meaningful relationships that are part and parcel of any, well-rounded experience of the workplace?
“So there is one, key message for any firm that makes these sorts of changes and sees dramatic improvements: keep an eye on the sustainability of the model you have devised, and see how you can retain the features that have had such a dramatic impact, so that they endure well into the future.”
While managing your own workload might be a given for any employee, managing your manager is something we may be less familiar or comfortable with. But it’s increasingly becoming talked about and doing it well is important for both you and your boss.
Cardiff City coach Neil Warnock recently spoke to Wales Online about the side’s prospects in the upcoming Premier League, following its promotion from the Championship.
Warnock is broadly upbeat about the condition of his own role within the club, saying that the fans are onside, Malaysian owner Vincent Tan is onside, and he feels that he’s got “the best chairman”.
However, he says: “I’ve had a struggle at times – I think managing upwards is more difficult at times than managing the team.”
In those few words, Warnock has flagged up one of the trickiest areas of the dynamic between junior and senior managers: how exactly do you manage upwards – not just in terms of reversing the flow of authority, but ensuring that your efforts to manage up are not misinterpreted as something altogether less helpful?
Helpful or hindering
It’s a quandary that also surfaces in a 15 July column at Fast Company, in which executive coach Suzan Bond describes a time early on in her career where her attempt to manage upwards by opposing a strategic change in her company was seen by her colleagues as stubborn resistance, and they pulled her up on it.
“Without that reality check,” she writes, “it could well have cost me my job. The truth was that I didn’t see my resistance as a problem; I thought I was sticking up for myself instead of getting dragged along against my will.”
She adds: “Initially, I was focused on what the change meant for me, rather than what it meant for the organisation as a whole. After that conversation, though, it was easier to shift my vantage point to include a ton of other context about the full situation my team was facing. The change I was so afraid of? It actually turned out to provide me with more opportunities to learn and challenge myself in my work, which I simply hadn’t anticipated.”
When should junior managers feel that it’s okay to manage up – and how should they go about it?
If you look good, we look good
Cooper says: “A young graduate who hadn’t been in her job very long once told me that it was clear to her that she was in her job specifically to make her boss look good. And if we consider notions of servant leadership – that we’re all working towards a higher purpose – then we should all be managing upwards and downwards at the same time. At no point should any of this mean setting out with some manipulative intent: it’s about all of us together wanting to achieve something better.
“But as the Suzan Bond example shows, there has to be a certain humility – and generosity of spirit – in the junior’s outlook. Because if they help their boss to look good, then their department or section also looks good, and the benefits flow to everyone.
By the same token, Cooper warns: “Any boss who unilaterally assumes people’s hard-won credit, or simply doesn’t give credit where it’s due, is taking a very inauthentic position. It’s also unlikely to be a sustainable one. I have seen some great stuff on LinkedIn recently about how people don’t leave jobs, but managers – and that’s the sort of manager that you’d typically leave.”
She adds: “If you get pleasure from seeing your manager succeed, then that, to me, is great managing upwards. But if that manager then scoops up all the credit for the relevant achievement, that’s not fulfilling the criteria for an authentic relationship. So at the heart of all this is the extent to which the relationship is a reciprocal one.”
For more on these topics, listen to Episode 8 of the ILM podcast in partnership with LID Radio:
About the authors
Matt Packer is a business and finance journalist who provides expert comment for organisations such as CPA Global, Inemmo Leadership Development Consultancy, The Institute of Leadership & Management and the Chartered Management Institute.
Kate Cooper is head of research, policy and standards at the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM). She has appeared on BBC Television, BBC Radio 4, has a regular column in Dialogue magazine, is a key note speaker at conferences and provides expert commentary on a range of topics arising from the Institute’s research agenda.