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Out of power? Here’s a way to take it back

This week on the PBS News Hour there was Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, promoting her book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” – which strongly encourages women to get in there and fight for power – for positions of leadership in our companies.

And last week, the Web was filled with articles about the other side of the story. Best Buy and Yahoo! are taking power away from employees, the power to choose the way they want to work.

The two stories illustrate perfectly a dichotomy in the workplace today. Ms. Sandberg says take the power into your own hands, and Best Buy and Yahoo! remind us that even if you do, it can be easy to lose it.

It’s true that in some companies it’s not only possible but encouraged for employees – women as well as men – to take the lead in making their jobs more important and their lives more livable. But there also are companies that seem to be managed as though it’s 1975, and employees who seem helpless to effect change.

How do we get the power, for instance, to choose workplace flexibility?

It takes the kind of initiative that Sheryl Sandberg is calling for. It must be done with the energy one saves for a new and exciting project, by demonstrating that flexibility brings results. Instead of begging for it to better manage our lives, we must be ready to show – and keep showing – that it works to accomplish the company’s goals.

It is possible that at Best Buy, after 10 years, people were taking ROWE for granted, leaving out the “results” piece of Results-Oriented Work Environment. A strong focus on setting goals and measuring, producing and comparing results means there will be no reason for ending it unless goals consistently fail to be met.

If you haven’t changed to a goal-based approach to management, you may never be able to justify flexibility. And if you once implemented it but have recently relaxed or slacked off or given up regular checking, you may be missing the evidence that you’ll need in order to do so.

If you’re a manager, giving new life to your staff may mean reinvigorating the process of setting regular, measurable goals for all workers and tracking results on a regular basis. That means asking the right questions of the right individuals – workers on flex schedules or teleworking, support staff and coworkers. How could we make it easier to accomplish your goals? Is your current arrangement working for you? Is it helping you to do your best work? If not, what could be improved? How might we work together to improve our results?

If you’re an employee on a flex schedule or teleworking, it may be up to you to re-energize the process. Use the recent publicity to create an opening for the conversation. Suggest an exciting new project to your manager, one that ensures meeting the company’s goals. Request a meeting to make sure you’re in agreement about those goals and re-set them if appropriate – making sure they include an observable behavior or product, measurable criterion and a due date or deadline. And remind your manager about how technology is helping flexibility pay off for the company, making you available whenever you’re needed.

Research shows that organizations with more flexibility have lower voluntary turnover and more satisfied, engaged, motivated and productive employees. Now is the perfect time to take power into your own hands and prove it works for your organization.

The payoff for you may be somewhere in the future – a raise or a promotion – or it may simply mean having the evidence that will allow you to keep the arrangement you love.

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