The United States and Australia both have vast expanses of grazing land, but they take different approaches to managing that land, maximizing growth and protecting the value of the large herds of cattle living there.
In the US, hundreds of thousands of miles of barbed wire are held in place by millions of wooden fence posts. The cost and effort required to maintain these structures is substantial and ranchers must be constantly vigilant.
Many places in Australia take a different approach. While methods are still needed to ensure cattle remain under the watchful eyes of ranchers, the reliance on fences and barbed wire is lessened. A reliable waterhole means life in the vast and unforgiving landscape of the Australian Outback. Cattle know this and they stay close to their waterholes. Thus, fences are irrelevant.
The two approaches are obviously tuned to their unique settings, however, it does raise an interesting question. In the business setting, which philosophy would be more effective? To manage through the use of extensive rules and protocols (fences) or to invest in a culture of trust and shared values (waterholes)?
Challenging the “Tried and True”
If an established model has functioned well for a long time, businesses will often stick with it.
One established model worth examining is the physical commute to the office.
We’ve assumed, for all eternity, that physical proximity is absolutely necessary for managerial oversight. Despite the fact that having everyone work together in the same space requires a greater expenditure, including physical spaces, utilities, upkeep, and maintenance, the routine was deemed essential.
There’s also the fact that physically commuting to work every day has a number of detrimental effects, including:
- Stealing hours of potential productivity
- Causing human stress
- Creating environmental pollution
- Requiring excessive resources
Maybe, in the past, you’ve considered it a necessary cost, allowing you to oversee your team members to ensure they’re productive and don’t waste company resources.
The pandemic has fundamentally challenged this paradigm. Many companies were forced to switch to remote work, utilizing technology to support and facilitate this platform. A great experiment ensued, challenging the established norm.
Now that the question of returning to the old ways has emerged, leaders aren’t so quick to get onboard.
Now there’s an understanding that it’s possible to create a company culture of shared responsibility, support, belonging, and trust. The need for “fences” might well be replaced by a “waterhole” approach. Also, now that team members have experienced a new way of doing things, you must be prepared for the fact that they will make future employment decisions based on these factors. After all, if a person can eliminate two or more commutes each week, the company allowing them to do so will become very attractive.
Culture as a Cornerstone
When an organization has a positive culture, it not only supports the work currently taking place, but it also becomes the foundation for a new working paradigm. Making your business friendly and supportive is a strong leadership move. It means your team members will have to think long and hard about ever leaving.
The pandemic has given leaders an opportunity to invest in creating company cultures that are overtly trusting and based on mutual accountability. Seizing that opportunity will pay great dividends when it comes to the loyalty and retention of your team members.
Imagine a team so loyal to their company that allowing production to slip or focus to wane would be akin to walking away from the waterhole — simply not in their self-interest.
When compared to this vision, the thought of rebuilding and maintaining “fences” in perpetuity seems less appealing.
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Tim, with his extensive background in education and management, is a great part of our Fired Up! team dedicated to inspiring teams and leaders. At Fired Up!, our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams, and align operation practices to engage organizations and drive breakthrough results.