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All leaders, from the executive down to the team level, should view themselves as stewards of their organization’s most valuable resource: their people. As the person in the lead, others will be looking at how you set the tone and pace of the organization.

In too many organizations today, extra hours and days worked are seen as badges of honor. We often get dragged into competition with colleagues over who stayed the latest or showed up on the weekend. Mobile and remote technology can add fuel to the competition as emails zing back and forth long after most have officially ended their workday. All of this supposedly signals who is most dedicated or should be promoted within the organization.

We all want to be passionate about our work and feel valued within our organizations. Sometimes this does mean contributing extra hours for a special event, new initiative, or emergency situation but the grinding 24/7 “always-on” work culture cannot be sustained, not without diminishing returns for the organization as a whole. And it’s not just our place of work that suffers but also our health, our families, and our communities.

Few people alive today have as impressive of a resume as Robert M. Gates. His multidecade career in public service took him to the top of the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense. In addition, he also served as president of Texas A&M University, national president of the Boy Scouts of America, and on numerous corporate boards… to keep it brief.

In Gates’ book A Passion for Leadership, he discusses a practice he established for himself and others as both Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Secretary of the Department of Defense. These cabinet-level positions were demanding and answerable directly to the President. Gates explained that, absent a meeting at the White House or national crisis, he would try to leave the office by 6:00 P.M. every night. Quite often, as head of these expansive agencies, he would have additional work to finish at home. However, by leaving the office he signaled to staff that it was okay for them to leave as well, to spend much needed time with families and to rest. He knew that as long as he stayed in his office, others would too and work late into the night. Over time, this would lead to worn out staff making “bad decisions and giving bad advice.”

For these same reasons, Gates said he always used vacation time: three weeks in August as CIA director, two weeks in the summer and one at Christmas as defense secretary, and four weeks as president of Texas A&M. As Gates said about his time-off:

“I always returned from vacation with a yellow tablet full of ideas and initiatives for further change and reform.” It’s about recharging so we can use our creative energy and talents most effectively.”

Mobile technology and remote working options have created new challenges for escaping this “always-on” frenzied work culture. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the bleeding between work and home life.  How many of us still respond to phone calls, text messages, and emails after leaving the office or “logging off” for the day? How many of us go to bed and wake up checking work messages? Has your weekend ever started off on the wrong foot because a colleague fired off a heated email at 7:00 PM on a Friday night? Ever take a quick “peak” at your work email or “check-in” from a family vacation? Our modern working lives do not have to be like this!

While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to setting boundaries and expectations in the workplace, as a leader you set the tone and pace for your organization. Make sure your expectations are clear to everyone and lead by example.

In the spirit of Gates’ 6:00 PM Rule, below are a few ideas to consider when setting expectations and guidelines for use of mobile technology and remote working within your organization:

  1. Avoid checking work communications outside of set hours
    • Turn-off work devices at home
    • Uninstall work email apps over long weekends and vacations
    • Ask: do I really need work email and related apps installed on my personal phone?
  2. Be mindful of colleagues’ personal time by not sending message outside of set hours. This can create a ripple effect and breed unhealthy competition where everyone is engaging in work at all hours
  3. If working later than other members of team, use your DRAFT folder and schedule send times for the next business day
  4. If “on-call” or working to meet deadline, the team should set a clear start and end time/date
    • Set clear expectations for what needs to happen in these special circumstances
    • Use leave time immediately following any extra demanding periods

Most importantly, as leaders, be the champions of cultural change in your organization. Set the example. Go home, unplug, and rest up. Then encourage others to join you so we can all give 100% when it matters most.

This article is the part of a series on how to most effectively manage our time and attention for the work that matters most. Subsequent articles will continue to look at technology and how we interact together in organizations. Check back later for more!

Opportunities & Challenges

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is one of the largest and most complex major projects being undertaken today. Nine partner nations and multiple American military and industry partners work together in a high VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) environment to produce a product upon which the lives of service men and women around the world depend.

Effective leadership is required across the organization, and organization systems themselves must constantly be upgraded to allow for the most efficient and effective work to take place.

What we did:
In collaboration with Defense Acquisition University (DAU) and F-35 Program Office Senior Leadership, M&B co-developed the Enterprise Cohort Leadership Program (ELCP), an ongoing cohort program to support leaders across the F-35 enterprise in being and doing their best.

ELCP is a condensed program of eight weeks, comprising seven days in residence with workplace learning assignments back on the job, and a capstone project to scope an initiative that will have significant impact on the learners’ leadership development and business/mission outcomes for the enterprise.

The program is designed to maintain a consistent base of frameworks and also to evolve as needs change.

Results:
Nine cohorts have been completed with over 200 participants who now share common leadership language and frameworks with which to positively influence work across the organization. A cadre of coaches is in place to offer ongoing support to colleagues and to further the work going forward.

Opportunities & Challenges:

The Materiel Group within the Canadian Department of National Defence sought to develop the capacities of Project Team Leaders and Managers to think and operate more flexibly, adaptively, and creatively.

What we did:

In 2014, M&B delivered a four day course: Complex Adaptive Systems Approach to Complex Project Management. Participants appreciated the personal coaching by the presenters as they learned to apply each framework to a challenging project issue, that each person, or intact team, brought to the course. They also liked the opportunity to work in groups to openly explore issues with colleagues and learn from each other.

Opportunities & Challenges:

Over the past three decades, Australia has shifted its focus away from Europe to Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia, with China and Japan being Australia’s two main trading partners, and India, South Korea and Indonesia becoming just as important.  The national government decided embark on a long-term project to engage more deeply with Asia, to ensure that Australia develops the skills, and cultural awareness to build stronger relationships.

What we did:

After the government’s Australia in the Asian Century Task Force completed their report, Maverick & Boutique was asked by the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet to help develop the internal team responsible for the implementation of the plan to develop strategies for involving 30 other departments, major corporations, small business, universities and trade Organization in the roll-out of the plan. For this one day workshop, the implementation team used the Zing meeting system to rapidly share ideas, and reach agreement about the way forward.

 

The task is to harness the collective brainpower of the military and their suppliers on three continents to work out how to better manage complex projects in a more uncertain, ambigious and rapidly changing world and to publish the recommendations as a White Paper.

It’s a complex project in its own right. The project taps into the expertise of defence procurement agencies in Australia, the US, Canada and the UK, as well as  defence and aerospace suppliers such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Raytheon, Rolls Royce and Thales.

The Zing/Maverick and Boutique network has been facilitating a series of conversations for the International Centre for Complex Project Management. The team comprises Nick Obolensky (in the UK), Abby Straus (in the US) and John Findlay (roving).

A small army of consultants is helping to write the 10 chapters. The chapters deal with the difference between complicated and complex, the leadership styles and competencies required, the tools and methods that are proving most useful, better ways to deal with risk, new approaches to knowledge management and education as well as issues that require further research.

For each chapter, participants were asked to consider how to deal more successfully with the kinds of problems/difficulties that might be encountered in the future. Each question was accompanied by a set of prompts to probe all the different aspects of the issue.

After talking in pairs about each question for about 5-10 minutes to have as much air-time as possible, the task force members captured and shared their ideas using the Zing complex adaptive learning system, which helps shape emergent knowledge. Participants then read aloud and looked for the patterns or stand-out ideas. Examples of past project successes and failures were also recorded.

Here are the kinds of questions we have been asking:

1. BASELINE TRENDS.  What for you is complex and how do you deal with it? Compared with what? What are the big trends/discontinuities emerging?
2. What kinds of EXECUTIVE BEHAVIOURS, LEADERSHIP QUALITIES or CULTURE are essential for great projects or lead to project failures? What qualities do you need to develop?
3. Describe in 25-50 words a real example of a project failure, cost-over-run, cancellation, etc. where issues of EXECUTIVE BEHAVIOURS/LEADERSHIP QUALITIES/CULTURE was a factor.
4. What is RISK for the private sector? What is risk for the public sector?
5. Give examples of projects where RISK was poorly or well managed and the factors that led to these outcomes.
6. COMMERCIAL MANAGEMENT. What do you see as the main contracting challenges in the future?
7. Describe a project where COMMERCIAL MANAGEMENT was either poor or brilliant and the factors that led to these outcomes.