The memory of a brutal 2014 Canadian winter is beginning to thaw in our minds. We put snow shovels in the garage, misplace our car snow scrapers, which we will frantically search for in a few months, and carefully reacquaint ourselves with the sun. We slowly allow the idea of planning a summer vacation to enter our frozen mind.
We look at our beautiful children and immediately conclude that they do not deserve a vacation … but we do! So we continue to plan with the hope that our children will transform into the Von Trapp children by early July.
We may have given up on creating that elusive work life balance solution, the same way we gave up on solving the clock on our new DVD player and distract ourselves by focusing on a well-deserved escape from our real world. A real world we participate in more that we agreed to when we joined the work force.
One undeniable truth exists that may help individuals vacate their work responsibilities and shut the world off.
Your company will survive without you for a couple of weeks so take your overdue vacation. As unbelievable and hurtful as this statement might be to comprehend, it is true. The only exception to this rule is to the guy who makes my coffee at the Tim Horton’s I drive through every working day of my life. He can never take a vacation, because every time he does, my important coffee order is so badly handled, I threaten never to return. But I do return, which makes my threats meaningless. This occurrence has however, helped me explain the meaning of the phrase idle threats to my children.
This truth reminded of something I learned many years ago.
In 1995, my organization was going through a particularly difficult year, with revenues down and internal conflict masquerading as leadership among departments. As I ate a quick lunch in the cafeteria one Wednesday afternoon, our president, filled his lunch tray and headed directly towards my table. This was not an uncommon occurrence as our very smart CEO, would often just sit with random employees. He was uninvited but always well received. My only concern that early afternoon was that I was at table for two, so the chance of a colleague coming to support or rescue the president from my incessant droning was not an option.
After casual conversation ended, he looked at me with his piercing business eyes, and said, “Dennis we have got to president proof this company!” I gave him a look that simply indicated, I think I know what you mean, but I also think I don’t know what you mean.
Fortunately he had no time to read my body language and continued.
“Every executive who reports to me should know their role and responsibilities so well, that I should never have to come into this office. And Dennis all your direct reports should know your expectations with the same clarity. If we can create an organization with that kind of focus, and that attention to the people and the work, we would be so far ahead of where we are today.”
I looked down at my cafeteria tray, and realized the food was pretty well gone, and that meant that I would have to start contributing to this idea. The only response I could articulate was a question.
“Richard, if your VPs, and middle managers like me, have our teams running so well, what would we do with this free time?”
He answered my question so quickly and confidently it was almost like he had hoped I asked that exact question.
“You would do three things,” he began.
1. “First you would seek different ways to make greater contributions to our success. I know we hire smart people, and we could tap into the intelligence, creativity and the unique talents of individuals, far more than we currently do.
2. “Second, people will always exceed expectations if we simply and clearly communicated what those expectations are. Again we are president proofing and manager proofing the company.”
3. “Finally engagement is contagious, and when other employees see how less frustrated their colleagues are with their boss, they will want to know why.”
With that, he picked up his tray and I reflected on his Manager proofing insights. Unfortunately he was promoted to the USA months later, but I never forgot his wise counsel. I immediately implemented his ideas, to test the possibility of making my job obsolete.
I added clarity to all my people’s roles and responsibilities and a funny thing happened on my way to inform. My people reacted with great enthusiasm. They became very clear of their individual accountabilities and continued to ask for more. My manager role did not disappear but it expanded.
As summer approached not one person in my department was stressed about their vacations. They did not stress because they knew with confidence, the work they work expected to complete. They also supported each other while I was away.
But the most surprising outcome from that quick lunch chat, was the piece of mind I experienced on every vacation after that day. As I drank Caesars on stained decks at cottages on lakes in northern Ontario, I knew there were great people doing great work at the office still desperately trying to manager proof my department.