Flexibility vs Uncertainty

The last thing you want in a your organization is to be so tied to policies and practices that you never do anything new. It helps to be flexible and allow your employees the freedom they need so they can do what helps them do their job best, which may not be the same for everyone. Talented employees may be pretty specialized and have their own style of work…getting the most from them often means giving them the freedom to work as they do best.

But while flexibility is good, uncertainty is bad. Uncertainty is like friction in your organization, slowing things down as people have to stop and wonder what they really need to do. You want to give people freedom of action (flexibility) but do so within a set of clearly understood requirements (certainty). Having freedom of choice does not do you much good if you don’t know which choices will actually be acceptable.

Let’s take an example: say you have 50 employees whom you expect to go through a formal training program. They need to complete 5 classes of the 15 or so offered by the trainers in order to complete the program, and you tell them which 5 they need to take, based on their specialty. But then you informally say, “oh, but it some cases you might be able to substitute, we will deal with that on a case-by-case basis.”

So, what courses do they really have to take? What courses can be substituted? How will you ensure they get the training you think they really need? How do they know that, when they’ve finished 5 courses, they will really complete the program without being told “oops, you did not take what we really wanted you to take, you need another 2 classes.”? If 50 people decide to ask you about their course requirements every time they sign up for a class, that is 250 discussions you are going to have that you did not need to have. That takes time.

Flexibility is a good thing, but people need to know what that flexibility is supposed to help them accomplish. You need to state clear objectives, as well as any limitations, before offering up freedom of action. In this example, something on the order of “You need to take 5 classes; 2 are essential for people in your specialty, and then you choose 3 from this available pool of classes” could help reduce the confusion and ensure people are accomplishing what you want them to accomplish.


Freedom of action without clear requirements = uncertainty

Freedom of action with clear requirements = flexibility

Be sure you know the difference, and aim for flexibility every time.

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