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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

WHO SHOULD CONTROL THE WORK ENVIRONMENT?

Good question. For years, controlling the work environment was considered management's responsibility. After all, they were the ones charged with the task of implementing certain business functions. But the times have changed or have they really? Today, most young people expect the corporate culture to adapt to their life style and work habits, not the other way around. And there is some evidence to this effect. For example, suit and ties have been replaced by some rather avant-garde dress. Even "Casual Fridays" have been replaced by grungy appearances on a daily basis. This has manifested itself to the overall office appearance and organization. Further, most younger office workers are now plugged into iPods to avoid social interaction. One has to wonder if this new corporate culture has truly been conducive to completing assignments on time and within budget. If not, maybe a change is in order.
But the question remains, has management surrendered control over the work environment? Well, to a degree, Yes. Some things have admittedly changed over the last couple of decades, and management is less sensitive to adhering to corporate policies and procedures. Nonetheless, young employees must still conform to the corporate culture rather than their own.
Interestingly, a dichotomy has emerged in the work place; whereas employees are given more freedom to look and act as they so desire, micromanagement is on the rise. The two may or may not be related, but the two phenomenons are too noticeable to be considered nothing more than a coincidence. While employees want more participation in the decision making process, managers are more resistant to giving it to them. Is it possible that employee appearance and conduct doesn't instill confidence in the manager? Not just maybe, but highly likely. If employees look and act unprofessional, the less likely management will trust their judgment.
Can a happy medium be found? Frankly, I think so, but it requires a reexamination of the corporate culture by management. Companies may balk at going back to suit and ties, but there are some fundamental changes that can be enacted to affect discipline, organization, and accountability; and this all begins with taking control of the work environment.
As I have described in the past, there are both logical and physical aspects to controlling the work environment. The physical attributes represent those things affecting human senses and the logical affects the human spirit. The physical work environment affects sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, which of course influences our perceptions. This means management should be sensitive to lighting, temperature, colors, personal appearance, equipment, etc. The logical side refers to management style and reflects management's values; e.g., ethics, conduct, dedication, professionalism, motivation, and social interaction. As such, both the logical and physical attributes are closely related.
The intuitive manager should spend more time on controlling the work environment and less time on supervising the smallest details (micromanagement). This means the manager needs to empower workers, delegate responsibility, hold people accountable, and get the heck out of the way. In other words, by treating people as professionals, it is not at all unreasonable to expect them to act as such in return. By doing so, the manager is promoting trust, and encouraging teamwork and loyalty by giving the employees a sense of ownership in the work products to be produced. Frankly, I believe employees prefer such an arrangement.
The military has long understood the need for an organized work environment. In addition to uniform appearance, you have three standing rules of operation: either you work on something, store it away properly, or throw it away. Clutter is avoided at all cost. True, there is a lot of personal supervision during boot camp and a soldier knows how to take an order, but when you are in the field, the officers do not have time to hold your hand.
But the reality in the corporate world is that management is spending more time on supervising, and less time worrying about the work environment, hence the decline of discipline and organization. I tend to describe this relationship using the game of football as an analogy. The Head Coach is responsible for checking on field conditions and preparing his players through practice (training) and devising a game plan (strategy), not by going out on the field and instructing the actions of every player. So, as you sit down to watch your favorite football game, ask yourself how the play of the team parallels your office. Just how much supervision is going on in the field and who controls the work environment?
"Manage more, supervise less."
- Bryce's Law
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com
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