You’ve worked for bosses like this. They dole out all the advice. They tell you precisely how to do everything; never let you make a decision. They keep your hands tied tight so that you don’t make a move without permission. When you do take a chance and make a small decision, they slap your hands so it never happens again. Your motivation drops and essentially, you give up and stay at your job, waiting for the next edict to come your way or the next prescription to be written by your boss. They aren’t really doctors but they play them at work.
So think about it. Where are you prescribing to the people in your life? “Honey, can you mow the lawn before it gets too hot out?” “Suzie that work around is ridiculous, do it this way.” “You should use Excel, it’s much faster and ask Joe for help.” Sounds harmless. You’re just getting things done. But how do the people on the other end of that exchange feel? Perhaps more robot than human. “I don’t get paid to think. I’ll just sit here and wait for the next set of orders. I wonder what’s happening on Facebook.” Yep. Checked out.
So how to stop prescribing? Here are some ideas.
• Ask for help in solving the problem. This is part of the essential skills suggested by Development Dimensions International (DDI). When you ask for help people feel more confident, more empowered. I know this requires a bit of vulnerability. You’re thinking, “But I’m the boss. I will look weak if I ask for HELP.” Help is not a four letter word. OK, it is but it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of engaging your employees. Who would you rather work for or with? A prescriber or an empowerer? Make sure you ask for help.
• If humanly possible, use your employee’s idea. Why is that? Buy in. Whose idea do you think that employee is going to bust their tail to make sure it works? That’s right, their idea. “OK Suzie, so you think Access is the better route for using this data?” Suzie will jump hoops to make sure Access is the right software for the data. If the whole idea seems too expensive or will take too long, be sure to use a piece of their suggestion. Maybe they know an internal resource that can help with the project. Use your employee’s idea. And be the team player you want them to be.
• Don’t remove responsibility. When I teach this concept in workshops, I refer to the responsibility as “monkeys”. So when you are done with the conversation who is responsible for the care and feeding of the monkey going forward? If you look up on your shoulder and there is a monkey sitting there, be sure to clearly delegate that monkey back to your coworker or direct report. It doesn’t mean you don’t check in on the monkeys to make sure they are clean and fed. They aren’t sitting on your back. Clearly keep the responsibility with your coworker.
• Share thoughts, feelings and rationale. This is another caveat from DDI. When a doctor prescribes you medication, you want to know why the heck you are taking it. What’s in it for me? In an organization, this means over communicating. Constantly. By all means necessary. As I tell my Human Resource students at Duke University, Human Resources is in charge of the communication piece. So if there is a new corporate strategy, tell them, email them, call them, and meet with them. Over and over and over again. Everyone will stay in lock step if they all know the mission. Share the rationale. If something does inadvertently get prescribed they are much more likely to follow through.
As Daniel Pink wrote in his book, Drive, “Harnessing the power of intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic remuneration can be thoroughly satisfying and infinitely more rewarding”. An employee who is being engaged and allowed to direct their own ship is far more motivated and successful. Don’t dampen that spirit so that you can have the last word “as the boss”. Put your prescription pad away.