How to Use the Manager Flexibility Buy-In Curve to Your Advantage

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Sixteen years of anecdotal evidence gathered from helping organizations of all sizes launch flexibility strategies shows that manager support for flexibility tends to fall somewhere along a bell curve:

What Does Support Look Like in Each Segment?

Managers who “Really Get It” do one or all of the following:

  • When they find out that the organization is taking a more strategic look at flexibility, they respond, “Why? I already do that.”
  • They don’t call what they are doing flexibility, they call it, “Getting the job done.”  Interestingly, this can make identifying these innovative applications of flexibility in the business more difficult.
  • Intuitively engage in an ongoing problem-solving dialogue with their team to create win-win flexible solutions.
  • When asked, “Where do you see flexibility in five years?” The response is, “There will only be more of it and here’s how the business will change and benefit…”

Managers who “Sort of Get it, but Aren’t Sure” do one of more of the following:

  • They willingly participate in the discussion regarding flexibility but initially think it’s nice thing to do on a limited basis perhaps for women, particularly mothers.
  • Will cautiously respond to possible business applications and benefits of flexibility such as expanded global client coverage, staying open in bad weather, real estate cost savings, etc. with “yeah, but…”.
  • Look to “the policy” for the rules instead of seeing flexibility as an ongoing conversation within the team.

Managers who “Don’t Get or Actively Oppose It” do one or more of the following:

  • Refuse to participate in any part of the flexibility strategy development process.
  • Make comments such as, “How do I know people are working if I can’t see them?  I need people here,” “If I give it to one person, everyone will want it and then I’ll be left with all of the work,” or “I didn’t have flexibility when I had kids and I survived. They can find another job if they don’t like it.”
  • Challenge peers offering more flexibility, and question their management capabilities.

How Do You Leverage Managers in Each Segment to Increase Broad Buy-In?

Use managers who “Really Get It” as your flexibility evangelists. They will have the most influence over their peers, especially those who sort of get it but are on the fence. As the organization creates a shared vision for “why” flexibility and “what” it will look like, have these managers tell their stories of how flexibility helps them manage their businesses.  Get them to patiently address the “yeah, but..” concerns. Their insights will have the most credibility within the culture.

Use managers who “Sort of Get It” to identify the potential cultural and operational roadblocks that can derail a flexibility strategy unless addressed upfront.  Those “yeah, but…” concerns are red flags that there might be a misalignment between cultural expectations.  For example, “yeah but, the senior leaders walk around at 8:00 am to see who is here.”  Or there might be a mismatch in operating procedures, such as “yeah but, below a certain level we don’t get smart phones which makes working remotely tough.”

Use managers who “Don’t Get or Actively Oppose It” as your biggest champions, or as an example of money left on the table. Every now and then, the most vocal naysayer can turn into an ardent champion of flexibility.  This happens if you can find a way to engage him/her in the change process.  Get them to see the strength of the shared vision, the mutual responsibility of the employee and manager, and the win-win for the business and the individual.

If that doesn’t work, the other alternative is to use their resistance as an example of money left on the table because of inflexible work practices. The best way to do that is to conduct a survey, cross-tab flexibility and engagement data and then compare different groups.  Inevitably the group with flexibility will report higher levels of engagement than those with less.  Again, money being left on the table.

Join us on Friday, July 8th from 12 pm to 1pm EST when we will consider these and other key issues related to How to Make Managers Fall Deeply in Love with Flexibility (or at Least Like It).  (Sold Out–join us for the next webinar in Sept.)

What is your experience with the different levels of manager buy-in to and support for flexibility? How have you leveraged it?

If you liked this article, I invite you to sign up to receive our e-newsletter via email, which will include a how-to “Make Flexibility Real” article as well as a case study of success.  Also, be sure to join us on Twitter @caliyost and at our FastCompany blog.