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Reason #41 to Leave the BlackBerry at Home: More Efficient Employees

Lost your BlackBerry somewhere along St. Charles Avenue (you know you had it with you at Popeye’s…) during your visit to New Orleans for Mardi Gras?  You might come back to more efficient employees because of it…at least that’s what you could take away from this recent Harvard Business Publishing article.  

In his post about helping employees choose by eliminating choices, blogger Peter Bergman includes an anecdote about an employer who wanted to get his employees in the practice of going to each other instead of him (presumably, I’m hoping, to encourage collaboration and innovation and not so he could play endless hours of peaceful, uninterrupted Facebook Scrabble), so he took a three-week vacation and didn’t check his email or voicemail once.  Ah, of course.

I guess you could look at this move two ways: As either an inspired, Mr. Miyagi-style approach to management (and possibly the ultimate testament to your faith in your employees)…or as an irresponsible, self-serving move that your employees could potentially view as abandonment and that risks alienating them.

I vote for the former. At first read, I felt bad for the employees who were Hansel-and-Greteled while their manager went AWOL to enjoy a luxurious, stress-free vacation (I’m not going to begrudge anyone a well-deserved vacation, but not checking your voicemail for almost a month? What if there was an emergency?)  

At the same time, a truly effective manager would ensure his employees are self-sufficient enough to effectively overcome workplace dilemmas on their own, right?

Ultimately, the way your employees react likely depends on the culture you’ve built.  For this particular boss, his experiment worked for the best: “When he eventually picked up his voicemail,” Bergman says, “he noticed something interesting. The first messages were all asking him what they should do. The last messages were all telling him what they eventually did do.”

But is this kind of tough love approach too risky at a time when companies can’t afford many mistakes? Or is it just the impetus employees need to start thinking creatively and being more innovative with their problem-solving?  What’s your take on all of this?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
31 comments
Beverly
Beverly

I actually just did this myself for a week. It was the 1st time in 4 years since I have had my blackberry that I have not stayed in touch. It felt great! And everyone back at the office handled everything just great! It was the 1st time I truely relaxed on vacation!!!

Beverly
Beverly

I actually just did this myself for a week. It was the 1st time in 4 years since I have had my blackberry that I have not stayed in touch. It felt great! And everyone back at the office handled everything just great! It was the 1st time I truely relaxed on vacation!!!

Mike
Mike

This is kind of the "One Minute Manager" approach. My favorite line of that book is when the employee comes to the manager and says "I have a problem" and the One Minute Manager responds, "Great, that's what we hired you to solve." -- Empowering employees to be able decisions, big or small, is a huge boost to the employees morale as well as helps define the company culture. The CEO/President/Owner is used to having everybody come to him/her and it becomes overwhelming (and sometimes a waste of their time) when their job is to have the vision - express the vision - and empower better people underneath him create the vision.

Richard
Richard

I have to agree. I have owned my own retail business now for 19 years and probably during the last 7-8 years I have not called the store when I have been out or on vacation. There are always small "fires" that need to be extinguished, but what can YOU really do if you are a 1000 miles away. They know how to get a hold of me if there is an emergency. They usually handle the situation like I would have anyway and I believe they feel empowered and that they are trusted. I have a stress free vacation and I thank them when I return!

Richard
Richard

I have to agree. I have owned my own retail business now for 19 years and probably during the last 7-8 years I have not called the store when I have been out or on vacation. There are always small "fires" that need to be extinguished, but what can YOU really do if you are a 1000 miles away. They know how to get a hold of me if there is an emergency. They usually handle the situation like I would have anyway and I believe they feel empowered and that they are trusted. I have a stress free vacation and I thank them when I return!

Aaron Strecker
Aaron Strecker

The idea is succession planning for decision making. We plan for who will take over the job if someone leaves, but what about when they are still employed and just plain unavailable at the time the decision needs to be made? Plan for that too.

In the anecdote, I don't mind the idea of pushing decision making down to the employees. However, if you give them the expectation of what you want, then you may get the desired outcome sooner, easier, and with less stress to them.

Aaron Strecker
Aaron Strecker

The idea is succession planning for decision making. We plan for who will take over the job if someone leaves, but what about when they are still employed and just plain unavailable at the time the decision needs to be made? Plan for that too.

In the anecdote, I don't mind the idea of pushing decision making down to the employees. However, if you give them the expectation of what you want, then you may get the desired outcome sooner, easier, and with less stress to them.

Angela Jones
Angela Jones

Although potentially very risky, you want to know you have employees that are capable of decision making. Besides, if in two weeks the company tanks you have to ask, "Do I have the right employees in place?"

Way to go!

Angela Jones
Angela Jones

Although potentially very risky, you want to know you have employees that are capable of decision making. Besides, if in two weeks the company tanks you have to ask, "Do I have the right employees in place?"

Way to go!

denie
denie

what about the boss who strives for perfection for himself and others and no matter what decission is made by his staff, it's never the "right" decision or the way he would have handled it...

and, he has a difficult time delegating because it won't get done they way he would do it... makes the staff feel very inadequate....

denie
denie

what about the boss who strives for perfection for himself and others and no matter what decission is made by his staff, it's never the "right" decision or the way he would have handled it...

and, he has a difficult time delegating because it won't get done they way he would do it... makes the staff feel very inadequate....

Elise
Elise

What this manager did reminds me of a study done on accident rates in an area where traffic signs were reduced or removed. Amazingly the rates dropped. When drivers were put in a position to make decisions without input, they made better and safer decisions.

The same holds true for employees. Given the opportunity to operate independently, they make decisions that help the company move forward.

Elise
Elise

What this manager did reminds me of a study done on accident rates in an area where traffic signs were reduced or removed. Amazingly the rates dropped. When drivers were put in a position to make decisions without input, they made better and safer decisions.

The same holds true for employees. Given the opportunity to operate independently, they make decisions that help the company move forward.

Ellen
Ellen

Some managers would be afraid that not being in charge for that length of time and allowing employees to think and solve problems on their own might demonstrate a real lack of a need for a manager - others might see it as an opportunity to really engage employees and add value to the organization in other ways.

Patrick
Patrick

What a wonderful test but if the culture is not aligned to letting them make decisions then the group will feel alienated and resent the manager for abadoning them for his own selfishness. But done right this is what prepares employees for advancement. I have learned that as long as I make the final decision then all decisions are funneled to me to make out fear of making a mistake. You should give the employees the tools, training and resources to help them do their job then get the heck out of their way. With follow-up and progress reports employees learn how to manage the day to day stuff while the manager can focus on steering the company.

Steve
Steve

We have signs posted on the managers office doors that say:
"If you have a problem, make an appointment at the front desk, if you have a solution, come on in" I think that says it all.

James Armistead
James Armistead

Giving employees the autonomy and freedom to make their own decisions and learn from mistakes is instrumental in their development process and is to be encouraged ... even if Mr Bergman did choose a rather risky experiment to demonstrate this and incremental empowerment is more advised in the workplace.

My hat is off to Mr Bergman for another valuable insight into management practices!

Antoinette Alzugaray
Antoinette Alzugaray

I have to agree with this approach because it is crucial in today's bussiness to build an organization that could run on auto pilot when necessary. Managers/supervisors should be prepared to handle the office for a week without mayor Ko's.

Tricia
Tricia

I agree with the "hit by a bus" attitude. I've tried the passive agressive way of thinking by giving someone the a number to contact in case of "emergency" and although it's just starting to work (after 10 years) I am still trying to tell people how to do things incase "I get hit by a bus" and you have to do it. They mostly just laugh and say that's not going to happen so I'm not listening.

Eric Lamendola
Eric Lamendola

This type of experiment is not only indicative of a company that is not employing a completely top-down management style, but also shows that a well established mentality of line-decision making is necessary to make a business function. As it is difficult to work both "on" and "in" your business simultaneously, being in a position to empower your staff to make command decisions allows upper management to focus on executive level decision making.

It is amazing how empty your Email feels when you successfully delegate to the point where you can count on the competency of your staff to make the right choices and report results rather than queries. This allows team members to feel ownership of decisions and enables them to celebrate in positive results (and obviously learn from and be accountable for negative results).

If you would like to leave the Blackberry(r) somewhere, my suggestion would be to leave it out of the conference room to get more productive meetings.

Eric Lamendola
Eric Lamendola

This type of experiment is not only indicative of a company that is not employing a completely top-down management style, but also shows that a well established mentality of line-decision making is necessary to make a business function. As it is difficult to work both "on" and "in" your business simultaneously, being in a position to empower your staff to make command decisions allows upper management to focus on executive level decision making.

It is amazing how empty your Email feels when you successfully delegate to the point where you can count on the competency of your staff to make the right choices and report results rather than queries. This allows team members to feel ownership of decisions and enables them to celebrate in positive results (and obviously learn from and be accountable for negative results).

If you would like to leave the Blackberry(r) somewhere, my suggestion would be to leave it out of the conference room to get more productive meetings.

Dawn
Dawn

Sometimes you need to push the birdies from the nest. More managers need to manage their team members, not their team member's daily tasks. You should be confident that your team knows their job(s) and can get through a crisis if you are not there. If you empower your team to make the necessary day to day decisions, you will have a good start on succession planning, you will learn which people are your ‘natural' leaders and just maybe not have to put out fires everyday but prevent them from even happening. Although this manager's approach sounds a little scary, I bet he wouldn't have done it if he didn't have faith in his team's abilities.

Dawn
Dawn

Sometimes you need to push the birdies from the nest. More managers need to manage their team members, not their team member's daily tasks. You should be confident that your team knows their job(s) and can get through a crisis if you are not there. If you empower your team to make the necessary day to day decisions, you will have a good start on succession planning, you will learn which people are your ‘natural' leaders and just maybe not have to put out fires everyday but prevent them from even happening. Although this manager's approach sounds a little scary, I bet he wouldn't have done it if he didn't have faith in his team's abilities.

Steve
Steve

I thought this was a pretty good strategy for building a culture of empowerment. While a vacation is always nice, I think one can apply this same strategy without even having to leave the office. If issues come up and your employees come to you for a decision, just throw it back at them by asking "what do you think should be done?" Then let them follow through on their plan of action while supporting them all the way. Then when you do take a vacation, you will have just that much more comfort.

Ed Wooller
Ed Wooller

As an employer, he is able to guide culture and direction of the business.

This is all good, especially if he gave clear instructions before he left to the employees, and clear guidance as to when customers (his ulitimate bosses) call in.

For others who answer to a boss, they can achieve much of the same with the 'hit by a bus' approach in the first post.

Ed Wooller
Ed Wooller

As an employer, he is able to guide culture and direction of the business.

This is all good, especially if he gave clear instructions before he left to the employees, and clear guidance as to when customers (his ulitimate bosses) call in.

For others who answer to a boss, they can achieve much of the same with the 'hit by a bus' approach in the first post.

Wendy Clackum
Wendy Clackum

I have to agree with this approach, even though it was a little risky and could have had a bad outcome. Maybe having one person on the inside line that could give you a "scoop" as to what was going on to make sure they weren't hanging themselves would be a win-win scenario. Employees need to learn how to make decisions without you around in case you did fall off the face of the Earth overnight.

Wendy Clackum
Wendy Clackum

I have to agree with this approach, even though it was a little risky and could have had a bad outcome. Maybe having one person on the inside line that could give you a "scoop" as to what was going on to make sure they weren't hanging themselves would be a win-win scenario. Employees need to learn how to make decisions without you around in case you did fall off the face of the Earth overnight.

John Shuey
John Shuey

Companies need to push a lot of (not all, of course) decision-making down. It needs to be routine; it makes the best possible use of that thing on the end of employee necks. For efficiency, you want employees to handle higher-order tasks involving critical thinking.

Man, that is a hard sell in many companies!

Fran
Fran

I totally agree with this action. It's what I tell my staff is the "hit by the bus" attitude. If I get hit by a bus, or if you get hit by a bus - business doesn't stop. We need to make sure that someone can step in for us and make decisions. They may not be the easiest to make and some mistakes will be made, but the world doesn't stand still because one of us got hit by the bus!

Fran
Fran

I totally agree with this action. It's what I tell my staff is the "hit by the bus" attitude. If I get hit by a bus, or if you get hit by a bus - business doesn't stop. We need to make sure that someone can step in for us and make decisions. They may not be the easiest to make and some mistakes will be made, but the world doesn't stand still because one of us got hit by the bus!

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