Sunday, September 30, 2007

Flexible Work / Flexible Leaders

Man, how I sometimes long for the "good old days" of the traditional organizational wire diagram. Work flowed from left to right. Promotions went from bottom to top. People worked 9-5. Sure seems nice and clean, doesn't it?

I'm reminded daily that we don't operate that way any more. And if we wish to remain competitive, we can't. We won't be able to recruit energetic, creative talent into an organization like that. We won't be able to be competitive where I work (in heavily urbanized Los Angeles), where people look hard at the Quality of Life impacts of the long commute. And the fact is, work just doesn't get done this way any longer.

This week I spent some time with one of our customers on a beautiful train trip through the mountain passes of the high Mojave desert. I was accompanied by the project manager who was helping solve some of this customer's most challenging issues. The customer was thrilled. Project delivery was first-rate. He could not stop raving about the team and the way the project had come together. turns out this project manager is one of my best. And she lives in...Hawaii! How does she do it? Teleconferences, flexible travel schedules, email, and all of the other means of virtual connection. No one cares where she lives. She gets the job done. Customers are thrilled. The organization is successful.

Did I mention that this is the government! Yes, we are moving forward. I am pushing my organization to explore all of the implications of what it means to operate distributed, connected, and flexible. We must be customer-focused, not organization-focused. We have to deliver quality projects, on time and under budget, in ways that energize the workforce, keep us competitive within the marketplace, and improve the quality of life of the team.

So I am learning to be flexible. We are implementing badly needed policies for flexible work schedules and telework. We are equipping our employees with the tools that they need to operate virtually (blackberries, laptops, and access into our system from...wherever). We are building organizational and project delivery wire diagrams that look nothing like the "good old days" - leaner, flatter, and more distributed. We're moving work to people, and people to the work. And we are recruting and retaining those people who are comfortable working this way. Our ability to remain competitive certainly demands that this be the case.

The bottom line, and the message that I constantly share with my subordinates, is to stay focused on the bottom line. Focus on mission accomplishment. Be creative and be willing to entertain different ways of operating - even if senior managers aren't totally comfortable with it! Focus on what needs to be done, hold people accountable for the mission, and worry less about how it gets done. If it works, and the company succeeds, and it improves the quality of life of our team - great! Win/Win! Be flexible, be aggressive, take risks, accomplish the mission.

That works for me. That's Leader Business.

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