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The Work Contract at Your Office

June 06, 2014

With Gallup reporting that more than 50% of US employees are unengaged where they work, and McKinsey suggesting it is much worse outside of the US, it might make you wonder about why, and how people rationalize to themselves working when they are not engaged with what they are getting paid to do.  Beyond our capacity to rationalize, I think it all starts with the “WORK CONTRACT”.  By the way, you have one with the people who work for you, and no, I’m not talking about forms the HR department had each of your direct reports or employees sign.  I think your work contract is foundational.  You’ll find out it’s critical as well, as soon as you try to launch a change effort or improve performance in some way or another.  Keep reading and I’ll explain exactly how it impacts you and what to do about it.

The Dibachi’s wrote a book years ago that continues to help me to this day, It is titled “Just Add Management.”  By the way I believe it is badly mis-titled, as the stuff in the book and what I’m going to talk about in this blog has everything to do ultimately with leadership, not management.  But I digress.  So they wrote this book about managing information workers, which fits the majority of us at this point.  In it, they outline how critical it is to get the contract right with your direct reports.  They came up with 7 basic contract points:

  • Your job exists to make this company a success
  • Yes, I am the boss of you, this is not an equal relationship
  • The customer pays all of our salaries
  • Do what matters… as opposed to what’s interesting at the moment
  • Do it right
  • Track your progress
  • Work smart

If you read through all that, good for you.  But here’s the point I most want you to think about.  This doesn’t match up with the contract a majority of your direct reports have in mind.  What?  Could this really be true? 😉

I won’t ask you if you’ve ever checked, but Maynard Webb, the COO for eBay, may have captured the (hoped-for) contract from your direct report’s point of view best when he said, “What most people want is total freedom, no ground rules, and to be thought of well no matter what they do.”  In his book, Rebooting Work, he goes on to articulate how broken the current state of work is, and what to do about it.

But I write this, because I want you to see the great divide between what Webb articulates as what the employee wants, and what the Dibachi’s articulate that management wants.  It’s huge isn’t it?

One more point and then I’ll turn the corner.  Every month I work with executives who are seeking the same thing.  Better execution, better visibility, better accountability, short concise progress updates not long meetings, and ultimately business growth they are not realizing currently.  It’s the same list for almost everyone.  They are talking to me because they are looking at our software, ManagePro, or consulting services.

But here’s the sad part.  Most them, really this is like 95% of them, can’t get the people who work for them to do simple things like document  status updates or log action items or to-dos and then document what happened.  These simple work actions are also fundamental to getting better execution, not to mention using the software they are looking to purchase.  But they’re nervous, afraid of resistance, searching for total consensus before they make a decision (some would say so they don’t have to lead).  Why?

If you look deeper, you quickly realize they don’t have a WORK CONTRACT that supports them in effectively making even simple change or performance improvement requests from their staff… and getting it.  Wow, think about that.  Then look in the mirror, because this is mostly like you as well.

That’s right,  you most likely don’t have a WORK CONTRACT in place that supports you asking for and getting the changes that would provide better visibility or accountability across your team either.

95% of the organizations I work with badly need to reboot work, to use Webb’s comment.  They need a simple contract for work that the Dibachi’s describe.  And by the way that isn’t happening in most of our onboarding process across the US.  This is not something that HR is in charge of, this is a leadership issue and you’re in charge of it for the people who work for or under you.

The sad part is that it’s a contract that is in dispute at most organizations, including most likely yours.  There’s an uneasy truce when a contract is in dispute, and typically it gets represented in behaviors or attitudes that say, “Don’t ask me for anything additional.  (I’m already working under a contract that I’m making fair on my own terms).”

No one’s ever great, no individual, no team, no organization when the fundamental WORK CONTRACT is psychologically under dispute.

So here’s my recommendation.  Take the barest minimum of a contract (I’m going to suggest three points) and go talk to your direct reports, your employees and find out how they view the work contract and see how much of a gap you need to address, realizing that any performance improvement you would like to make is likely going to be only marginally effective until you get the WORK CONTRACT thing resolved.

Here’s three simple points you can use to open up the conversation when it comes to expectations for work:

  1. What’s the basic deal?  You get paid for what exactly?
  2. When it comes to a point of controversy, and that could be anything form What creates Value? to Which tools to Use, to When to Show up or How to Dress, are we equal or unequal partners in reaching a conclusion?
  3. Would you write out what you believe I expect of you?  (and then look at that from not only the perspective of do they get what you are expecting, but also how much do they actually meet those known expectations).


Bottom Line:
Most of are handicapped at work because we never worked through a WORK CONTRACT with our employees and direct reports, and in fact need to “reboot work” in a variety of areas, starting with the basic work contract between employee and employer, direct report and executive.  Without having a clear work contract that both parties agree to and act in accordance with, any form of performance improvement, including adopting new software, is a difficult, unnecessarily tough battle.  Do yourself a favor and reboot your contract.  Here’s a basic outline of the one we use:

1. You get paid for…
– Delivering timely results consistent with our methodology, values and priority setting, frequently in collaboration with others, such that the company can be a success
– Bringing your best to work; your best effort, best critical thinking, best creativity, attention to detail and best interpersonal self
– Creating Value, as defined by your supervisor while operating within our value system of respect for others, personal accountability, recognition, continual improvement and innovation.

2. You are not the boss, in fact work is mostly made up of unequal relationships, right up to the customer
– You do have a boss; do what they say is priority first
– Do it right, follow the plan, the process
– It works best when we all win, not just one person

3. Work Smart – Leverage Information, it’s key to us performing well
– Track and document your progress and follow-up
– Look for and practice improvement and ways to make everything you touch… better
– Treat information as a recycle-able resource, document all important processes and results in a way that maximizes it’s reuse-ability


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