In his book Work Rules!, Google’s Chief People Officer for ten years Laszlo Bock shares information about two Nike t-shirt factories in Mexico.

The first plant gives their workers more freedom. Leaders ask their associates to help set targets, organize themselves into teams, decide how the work would be divided up, and grant them authority to stop production when they see problems.

The second plant?  Not so much. Workers are given strict rules about how the work should be done and are required to stick to their assigned tasks.

The results?

The first plant is nearly twice as productive (150 vs .80 shirts a day) and has 40% lower costs per t-shirt (11 cents vs. 18 cents). The higher profits results in higher wages.  

As leaders, we get to decide: High freedom or low freedom?  Bottom up or top down?  Latitude or command and control? 

Laszlo quotes Peter from the 1999 underground classic movie Office Space: “I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.”

That’s low freedom.  At its lowest!

So, why is the low freedom approach to management the norm?

Laszlo hypothesizes it’s because it requires less effort and most managers are terrified of the alternative.  It’s easier to manage a team that does what it’s told.  It’s easier to not have to explain why. There’s no debate. No one disagrees with what we say. No one questions us when things go wrong. 

And, what could be wrong with that?

In this hyper-connected, networked world, the most talented people want to work for high freedom companies. Leaders and organizations that understand this reality become magnets for the most talented people on the planet.


Reflection:  What about the high freedom approach to leadership do I find exciting? What do I find scary?

Action:  Identify one organizational or team policy or procedure that communicates a low freedom philosophy.  Change it.

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