Flexibility?? …Been there done that? Or that won’t work here…our customers and clients are too demanding? Do these comments sound familiar? Read on to learn how flexibility may not be what you think.
Building flexibility into a work culture impacts so much more than your employee’s intention to stay and contribute their very best to the organization. While it does do that, it also has the power to enhance your business. Flexibility has the power to contribute to:
-Employee Attraction and Retention
-Improved Customer Service and Satisfaction
-Effective Operational Management
For detailed information on each of these potential benefits of flexibility read the whitepaper published on the AICPA website. Link below.
Flexibility Business Case- How Flexibility Can Actually Improve Your Business
In addition to the above benefits, flexibility is not just about changing work schedules. Frequently there is an assumption made that if an employee wants to take advantage of flexibility it means that they want to reduce their total hours . In your organization does this also mean they are consciously or unconsciously labeled as “less committed”, “less worthy of investment, attention, promotion”? Does this sound familiar?
Flexibility is actually about treating your employees as professionals for the benefit of the firm as much as for the benefit of the individual. Most of us are aware of the flexibility required to deliver the value proposition expected of a professional in industries such as accounting and law. The success of the firm depends on talented individuals being flexible and adaptable to anticipate and meet client needs. Usually multiple client needs. This flexibility is similar to the adaptability required by the organization to allow individuals some freedom to meet their personal needs.
Chris is at the mid management level and is currently struggling to build a successful career and a successful family life simultaneously. The firm offers a flexible work arrangement program that allows one to cut back their hours and travel schedule to meet family needs. It is common knowledge that this program will limit advancement even if the individual works full time plus hours during the most intense deadline periods of the year. Chris feels compelled to take this part time option even though it is not exactly what is needed personally. What Chris really needs is just a little bit more control over the current schedule and current practice approach to meeting firm and client needs. If less judgment and more acceptance were displayed by senior leaders when Chris departed from traditional face time expectations, there might be a chance to stay with this firm. Chris actually has less desire to reduce hours and more desire to simply meet responsibilities with some flexibility. Chris feels that if this were possible, long term career options would most definitely include staying at this firm. As it stands now, with part time as the only option to get some control weighed against the loss of income and advancement potential- a long term path here is not in his/her plan.
Flexibility is not just about part time. Whether it does or does not include changes in total hours, the core of building a flexible culture is clarity in expectations. If a professional is clear on the expectations, accountabilities and how to create value at each level, flexibility becomes much easier. Our top talent will exceed expectations if they understand what these expectations are. Top talent will have the motivation, energy, enthusiasm to bring greater value if they feel they are treated as a professional- which includes allowing them to determine when, where and how to best meet their responsibilities. Like any developmental skill, meeting priorities is something that requires coaching. This is true regardless of the flexibility of the culture. With targeted efforts to clarify expectations, there is less ambiguity for all.
The above discussion is not theory. After ten years’ experience leading a unit with a flexible culture and subsequently helping hundreds of clients with flexibility and flexible work cultures, I have seen the theory in action. Are you looking for employee engagement, commitment, retention and answers to work-life challenges that will positively impact clients? Surprisingly, building a flexible culture is your answer. It comes with many side benefits. The most notable being the need to use updated management techniques to manage results. Techniques such as clarity in business goals and expectations as well as trust while maintaining accountability. Increased effectiveness in work force planning and scheduling and less reliance on the willingness of millenials to work heroic hours as a method of bridging staffing gaps and turnover. Updated management techniques that require the use of more than chargeable hours reports to manage teams may scare some traditional thinkers. However, if you wish to attract the talent you need for the future the time for change is now. Not all will succeed in the new culture but those who thrive will be stronger performers demonstrating accelerated development and long term loyalty to the organization.
About the author
Mary has spent the majority of her career as a partner in a top ten firm. Mary now works as a consultant to public accounting firms in all areas related to organizational development and effectiveness. Mary’s expertise includes diversity and inclusion, executive coaching, business performance, and leadership development as well as many other areas of organizational effectiveness.