I remember hearing a story about Kenny Dalglish. It may or may not be true. It may or may not be about Kenny Dalglish. It goes a bit like this.
At the very successful Liverpool side of the 1980’s a new player joins the squad. He notices that Kenny Dalglish isn’t in training and asks a coach where he is. The answer he gets is that Dalglish is playing golf.
The new recruit is outraged that Dalglish isn’t training with the rest of them and demands to know if he is allowed to skip training to play golf too.
The reply he gets is elegant and simple ‘You can go play golf when you can play golf in the week and then play football as well as Kenny does every Saturday’.
I’m hearing less about Results Only Work Environments recently, perhaps as it was just one of those phases that we go through where people focus on exciting words. I am, however, hearing more people focus on outcomes being critical. If you focus on quality of decision making, work in line with core principles and then drive good outcomes you will find flexibility enough for everyone to succeed.
My first HR Manager sat me down after 2 years working together and said she had confession. She had been waiting two years for me to miss a deadline or for a project to go out of control. I asked why that was concerned and she said it was so she could coach me on the fact I’d miss deadlines without more discipline in writing things down. It was my first HR job and I hadn’t realised the way I worked wasn’t the norm.
She said it took some time for her to understand that I had a slightly abnormal memory and (whilst I have plenty of weaknesses) my mistakes wouldn’t come from forgetting what needed to be done or underestimating complexity. As with many people my strengths and weaknesses, for all these years, probably are quite similar now to then. She needed to support me on those areas – and not assume that my challenges and risks were the same as the rest of the team.
If your requirement of people is that they all work in the same way then you mitigate their weaknesses, but also blunt their strengths. There is nuance in there – only an idiot or a genius would start a large project without a clear comms plan, stakeholder map and consultation methodology – but there is scope for us to embrace difference without breaking organisations.
But remember the test is that this only works if your team can deliver at their best on a Saturday. One day we’ll get to a point where flexible working means creating the conditions where people work best, not just where they get a day at home each week. But that’s for another day. For now just take a step back and think about how much of you work and your team’s is really designed in terms of their strengths and weaknesses.