Last week, I accidentally went viral for applying the management tools we are provided at Siemens. My colleagues and I considered what I wrote to be relatively unexceptional. After all, a considerate, respectful approach to supporting your team leads to better performance, but it became clear as the public reacted to this glance into our organization that many businesses do not approach management with the same flexibility as Siemens.
In my opinion, there are four core elements to how Siemens is enabling their managers to support the future of work, during COVID and after.
- Clear instructions
- Flexible solutions
- Team rewards
Siemens, like many companies, has had to evolve to manage the impact of the pandemic. There were two critical changes made in between March and July 2020 that changed the way that managers can work with their employees:
- If both parties were in agreement, employees can move to flexible 80% time and pay, and
- Siemens announced a policy of outcomes, not time spent in office.
Siemens’s new remote work policy is a master class in emotional intelligence.– @justinbariso writing for Inc.com
While many companies have high-level mission statements and messaging on investor slides, Siemens has not only ensured that every employee sees this clear and simple message about management, but reinforces it regularly.
For instance, when I Tweeted my story, the official Siemens social media account replied with a direct link to an article describing the new policies.
It might not seem like two policies give managers an enormous advantage, but it turns out that less is more. The first policy is the kind of flexibility we’ve seen companies provide for years, especially in the EU, but increasingly in other countries. Given the stresses on workers thanks to COVID, it just made sense. It also allowed Siemens to control expenses with the economic uncertainty of the pandemic.
The second policy, however, was the result of an examination of how work would proceed in the future, not a temporary policy to manage the pandemic response. And it’s with this policy that managers were really provided the best tools.
An employee needs to isolate but can still work? Sure.
They need to spend the days caring for an elder, but have extra time in the evenings? Sure.
They are a single parent managing school pick-ups and can really only work six hours a day? Sure.
As long as the employee and manager agree on what outcomes are needed, the employee doesn’t have to spend all their time in the office.
In this case, the succinct instruction to be flexible with workplace attendance and hours covers a whole constellation of solutions to complex problems.
It also recognizes that no situation lasts forever. The employee needing extra flexibility now because of a young child will eventually have grown children and may be able to spend extra effort to help teammates struggling with other challenges. As people move through their life, their ability to be productive between 9 and 5 waxes and wanes. This policy recognizes that and allows managers and their teams to make dynamic decisions to address it.
Despite over a million people reading about my decision to adjust my employee’s working hours without touching her remuneration, my manager, his manager, and every manager to the CEOs of Siemens trusted me to have made the right decision.
They didn’t question my judgement or doubt that we were using the right tools, they supported me, believing me to have the best perspective on how to do my job.
All the policies in the world do not help if you can’t trust that your employees will make the right decisions. This trust extended from the CEO to me and from me to my employee.
I trust that my employee will not abuse her situation. I trust that she will continue to work to meet the outcomes we need as a team, even though she may not be able to spend as many hours doing so as some of her teammates. I also trust that when her situation changes and her contribution level can go back up, she will return to a high level of productivity.
Team rewards and awards are important because they support the kinds of flexibility and trust I discussed above. They recognize that we shouldn’t do things alone for complex tasks and that a culture of mutual assistance can be a force multiplier in the effectiveness of solutions.
Teams are ideally dynamic, so while I have a team that reports directly to me, accomplishing goals frequently requires a subset of my team interacting with subsets of multiple other teams. They also cross hierarchies. Sometimes a senior executive has been critical to our success. Other times, we’ve had very junior contributors move large pieces.
Managers empowered to provide awards and rewards to larger groups of employees across multiple organizations are managers who are more likely to encourage successful collaborations and be less likely to build personal kingdoms. Siemens has a commitment to breaking down barriers between divisions, products, and levels of the organization. I’ve seen that commitment honoured over and over, and I believe it to be critical to the long term success of our company.
Into the Future of Work
I don’t actually recommend the experience of going viral. It was overwhelming for a while, but I had fantastic support from people at Siemens who I had never previously met.
However, it has provided me the space to understand the value of having an employer that recognizes the importance of clear instructions, flexible solutions, trust, and teams. It’s also been sobering to realise that many workplaces are not set up in this way, as people from around the world share their sad stories.
It’s my hope that we can all strive together, wherever we work, to bring our workplaces forward into a future of work that supports us all.