You’re Asking the Wrong Question!

I think we’re just going to tell them all to come to the office every day. I’m tired of thinking about this decision.”

This was my client Bill Wilkins speaking to me recently in a coaching session. Bill is the CEO of a third-generation widget manufacturing company in Smyrna, Georgia. He recently took over the position of CEO from his dad who retired after running the business for over 40 years. The company has 100+ employees and generates approximately $15 million a year in revenue.

Bill and his executive team were struggling with a decision as to whether they should allow some workers to work remotely full-time, allow them to work some type of hybrid schedule, or force them to work every day at the office. They had hired a human resources consultant to help them work through this decision and Bill also presented the dilemma to his Vistage group for help.

“Why do we have this nice new office if nobody is going to be here?” asked Bill during our meeting. “And how do I know if they are actually doing their work and not watching Lifetime movies instead, during work hours?”

Noticeably frustrated, Bill wanted to move forward most expediently by telling every employee to just show up at the office every day.

“Bill, may I ask you a few questions about this decision?”, I asked calmly.

“Sure Tim”, he responded, knowing that I wanted to process this decision a bit deeper.

“Do your employees know and understand your company’s core values?”

“I believe so,” responded Bill. “We re-wrote our core values two years ago and we reinforce them frequently at staff meetings and in much of our company-wide communications.”

“Great! What about the company’s mission and vision? Are your employees familiar with both statements of strategic intent?”, I asked further.

“Yes on both counts,” Bill responded proudly. “We have posters on the walls in both the employee lunchroom and the conference room with our Mission and Vision clearly stated. I brought both up just last week in an all-hands meeting.”

“Excellent. I know you and your team have worked hard on each of these statements in the past year,” I said.

“What about job descriptions? Does each employee have a job description stating clearly the company’s expectations for performance in each position?”

There was a slight pause as Bill weighed my last question, and then he responded.

“I think so. Our new HR consultant has been working with each of the department managers, re-writing and updating every employee’s job description. I think they are now in the final review.”

“Bill, you and your executive team have done an excellent job in each of these areas. Congratulations!”

“Now I have one final question for you, Bill. I want you to take as much time as you need to respond.”

“I’m ready, Tim,” responded Bill, hoping we were close to finishing this discussion.

Bill, do you trust your employees ?”

For the first time in our meeting, Bill sat silent. He was not prepared to answer this question. After what seemed like an eternity, Bill responded.

“Yes, I trust our employees. We had a difficult year and a half after Covid when we lost several key customers and consumed a lot of our cash reserves. But we survived that decline in business and the past two years have been much better. Our employees have been great.”

I finished the discussion with the following.

“Bill, if you trust your employees, they understand your performance expectations, and they also understand the strategic intent of the business; I have just one suggestion.”

“What’s that Tim?”, asked Bill anxiously.

“Let them decide when and where to work. Trust your employees to do the right thing.”