Skip to content

Manage The Work v. Manage The People

Human Resources has been focused on managing people for the last 125,000 years. Ok, well maybe not that long, but we know you all get what we’re saying.

It's time to stop managing people. Yup - people need to grow up and manage themselves. What we need to do is start managing the work and get crystal clear about it.  

But what does that mean?

What it sounds like when we manage people:

1. "Office managers and receptionists need to be in the office during standard business hours to achieve results."

2. "There are times we need to be face-to-face to communicate and collaborate effectively."

What it sounds like when we manage work:

1. "The target for our customer satisfaction score is 4.25."

2. "The deadline for this particular deliverable is Friday, April 2, at 2pm."

People are going to come face-to-face when they need to based on the objective, measurable results they have set together with their manager and team.  Whenever you prescribe HOW to collaborate, you are a degree of separation from the work. 

The future of work, and what the Human Resources field needs to focus on, is a true balance between 100% autonomy and 100% accountability. 

What happens when there isn't a balance between the two?

Heavy on Accountability - Light on Autonomy

This is a common scenario in the workplace. Here, you have an employee up to their eyeballs with work (often, a lot of activities that may or may not be feeding into a meaningful outcome for the organization), drowning in rules from the 20th century that don't make sense, and constantly trying to get rid of the micromanaging boss hanging over his shoulder. He doesn't get time off or the freedom to decide how to achieve his results and he gets no relief when he asks for help. What does that do for a worker? Stress, burnout, turnover, job hunting. Completely out of balance.

Heavy on Autonomy - Light on Accountability

This is the scenario of the modern day "Flexibility Program." Employees come in when they want to, they leave when they want to, they work from home when they want to, but aren't really ever sure what they're supposed to be doing. They look really busy, they talk about how much effort they're putting in, and say they can't take on any more. But something doesn't feel right. What does that do for a manager? It drives them absolutely insane.

This is the imbalance in the workplace that makes managers uneasy, but they've never really been able to describe it.

Too much autonomy and not enough accountability is what makes companies end "work-at-home" and pull people back to the office. "Sorry, we're taking away your telework, naughty employees!" 

When Autonomy and Accountability are equal, meaning employees and managers are both clear about the work and how it's being objectively measured, the end result is "No results, no job". Discussions are about the work itself, not how, where, or when it gets done.

What's happening in your workplace? Management of the work or the people? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!