Employees who work for Malcolm comment: “You know what is expected.” “All you have to do to be successful is follow the rules.” “It’s pretty efficient.”
Louella, who is also very successful, operates differently. “We don’t have a lot of rules. We train our people on how to do their jobs. We do track outcomes religiously but we have very few rules or required processes.”
Louella’s employees say: “She is easy to work for.” “No one is looking over your shoulder all of the time.” “If I wish to rearrange my work day, I can do it.”
Malcolm’s work environment is high-structure; Louella’s approach is high-freedom. Which is better?
Both approaches may work. Each culture requires managers to recruit employees who fit their styles. High-structure fits some people like a glove. For others, tight controls are suffocating. Self-monitoring employees work well in high-freedom cultures; less conscientious employees act out like rebellious kids in junior high.
For the long run, I favor an approach that recruits and develops employees to function in a high-freedom environment—not complete freedom, however. Expected outcomes and a few core values should be clear to all.
Companies that establish high-freedom cultures tend to have better success retaining good employees, providing better customer service, and earning reliable profits. And managers spend less time watchdogging, patrolling and sanctioning.