top of page

What Kind of Organization Are You?

When I read a book, I know there will be more than one thing to take away from it. I previously spoke about the book Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead - I liked another valuable concept near the end.

How we manage reflects our general perception of others. Author Laszlo Bock, who is most known for his time spent as Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, summarizes eloquently:

“You either believe people are fundamentally good or you don’t. If people are good, they should be free.”

Bock believes that our actions are consistent with our belief system, which is why there are cultures of micromanagement and bureaucracy in low-trust organizations. You will find in these places strict rules and extreme oversight, and chances are employees exhibit low morale. If you think about it, I would be upset if my manager did not trust anyone but themselves to “do the job right.”

One common ingredient in a thriving organization is equivalently-high trust in management. Employees are trusted by their managers to perform subtasks autonomously and without intervention. As the saying goes, “Trust, but verify.” Sure, the job needs to be done correctly. This should be balanced with the ability to confide in your team. Employees must build trust in themselves and their teammates; working independently is the only way.

In the interest of professional development, we should ensure we find ourselves in high-trust organizations. A common paradox in micromanagers is dissatisfaction with employees’ autonomous performance. Well, yeah!

Think about behaviorism; when subject to prolonged over-control, people become conditioned only to do what they are told. This can be particularly noticeable in aviation, where things often go differently than planned. Instead of letting learned instincts kick in, those exposed to low trust will freeze and wait for direction.

So, ask yourself, which organization are you a part of? If you are a manager, how does your belief system reflect on your team? The best way to find out is straightforward; ask them. Remember that the feedback may not be so black and white. Anyone who fears making a mistake will also fear you. If the answers hint at doubt, they could use a little faith.

I understand a few of these require clarification, so I will briefly review them.

Give your work meaning. We spend more time in our lives at work than anywhere else. As unfortunate as this reality is, the best thing we can do is maximize this time the best we can for us and our people.

To do this, we must foster a culture centered around a “why.” Giving our work meaning provides us a reason to enjoy coming to work every day as if we are part of a mission more significant than ourselves. The impact of giving work meaning spans greater than just an employee’s perception of a workplace. Studies show that, since the employee is generally happier, turnover is far lower and productivity significantly higher.

This concept will seem like a pipe dream to some. In many organizations, work is just a way for employees to pay the bills. For example, many ground service organizations justify lower pay in exchange for flight benefits knowing several of their employees rely on them, for example, to visit family.

Indeed, engineering ways to make work transcendent is a difficult task. I encourage those around me to envision the various journeys our work facilitates. By keeping the airport open, med flights can transport vital organs, reunite family members, and overworked employees can finally take that long-awaited vacation.

Trust your people.

“If you believe human beings are fundamentally good, act like it. Be transparent and honest with your people, and give them a voice in how things work.”

Initially, this may be hard, so start by assigning smaller subtasks. By letting employees work independently amongst each other, you will slowly feel less compelled to intervene in every decision. It will not be comfortable at first to sacrifice authority, but it is necessary.

Further, it is important to remain transparent at each step. Let others see what motivates your decision-making so they understand your “why.” Make your team feel like they are a vital part of the company; that is how you want them to behave.

Hire only people who are better than you. Now more than ever, we must consider carefully when selecting candidates to fill positions. Even when short-staffed, we should not sacrifice quality at the expense of others. A bad hire destroys productivity and negatively impacts others’ morale and energy.

Often, we hear stories of clubhouse “cancers” that can single-handedly destroy the performance of entire professional sports organizations. The team only improves by addition-by-subtraction, even if it means others have to pick up the slack a little. Employees would much rather work in an efficient operation than pull their hair out each day thanks to the actions of one or two individuals.

This is not to say you are expected to hire people to take your job. We accept we are not the end-all, be-all of our organization, and others will specialize in facets more than yourself.

Don’t confuse development with managing performance. Of the ten aspects discussed here, this is often the most overlooked. Your culture should foster bringing out the best in others. For others to blossom, they must be allowed the opportunity to fail (within reason).

Given our complex work, implementing feedback mechanisms can be complicated. Our employees are not the only ones developing. Take the time to give and take feedback with your team. Employees should feel comfortable remaining open and transparent about their feelings. Learning to manage constructive criticism will take time, so just be patient!

Focus on the two tails. This refers to the normal distribution, a.k.a. “Bell Curve.” Your best people should live under a microscope. People within “two tails” qualify as outliers outside three standard deviations.

Don’t think of this as a general statement. Get specific, split up different aspects of performance, and figure out who does what best. Allowing others to thrive will allow you to analyze why they are more successful than others in comparison. These employees will also be more engaged in their work.

Likewise, these people make the best teachers to help others who are not as fortunate. Even if they are not the “teaching type,” having them talk with others over coffee to articulate what it is will also help them grow. However, we do not want to stand in the way of others.

For the worst performers, we must have compassion. Often, these individuals are not meeting expectations because they are not in a role that fits them. Help them find their problems or consider moving them to a more suitable position.

However, if this fails and there is no sign of improvement, we must relieve them of their duties. They will be happier finding a position that more fits them, and your team will not continue to suffer.

Be frugal and generous. In terms of being frugal, Bock talks about how important it is to manage your assets early in your career so that you are not rushing to catch up later. This is more of a personal connection to the reader, as many of us do not realize how simple it is to put aside a set amount of each paycheck to grow over the years.

With over 20,000 employees, Google has spent money investing in services such as laundromats and barbers for employees. While many companies ask about the cost incurred, there is very little that is hardly measurable. Likely, we all do not work at places with so many employees. However, simple things like ordering Dunkin’ for the afternoon shift on weekends show your employees you appreciate them.

Pay unfairly. A quick disclaimer is that this far more applies to financial or technological institutions, where there are various roles and tiers of performance. Further, I am not quite entirely on board with this logic, either. I would understand better if I worked in a company with a different purpose.

In these organizations, the output follows the power law distribution versus the normal distribution, wherein 90% of the value of your teams comes from the top 10% of performers.

For example, in a sales workforce, 90% of the value of a team is a result of the top 10% of salespersons. Some aviation firms feature a sales or sourcing department, which is somewhat but not universally applicable.

Thus, this 10% of salespersons should be rewarded appropriately. The average performers may be unhappy initially with the discrepancy. However, you must be transparent and explain the reasoning and what they could do to change it.

Be generous in public recognition. Positive reinforcement can escape us for periods, but it goes a long way to making employees feel appreciated. Failures, where vital lessons were learned, should be cheered.

Nudge. This idea may generate a dedicated post someday. Nudging is that our environment should push us in the right direction.

Take, for example, a supermarket. The unhealthy foods where conglomerates make the most money is easily accessible, usually in a central location. Meanwhile, the healthier options are on the outskirts, generally lining the walls or deep corners. Thus, we are being nudged by these supermarkets to buy crappy foods versus those healthier for us.

How does our workplace nudge us? Are we being pushed in the direction of micromanagement or growth and well-being? Ask yourself, how can I nudge people at work in a manner conducive to personal and professional output?

Manage the rising expectations. Progress is not linear, and there will be setbacks. But, as you and others around you develop, the expectations will continue to rise. It is human nature - we are never fully satisfied. Make sure the rising expectations are reasonable and productive, not harmful. People should be encouraged by what’s ahead, not fearful.

Before implementing these ideas, you should clarify what you are doing. Without context, others will likely be confused with the shift in the status quo and potentially lose trust in your abilities and the team’s direction over a simple miscommunication.

Don’t be afraid to field an unconventional team. For example, Google was one of the first organizations to coin their Human Resources department “People Operations.” Since being the first to do so, many organizations have replicated their structure.

Most of what we talked about focuses on what we can control. However, we must approach with caution. There should be a balance between these ten factors and your current reality. Too much change, especially at once, usually does more harm than good, so be mindful of the consequences of your actions.

bottom of page