Column: Building a more flexible employee

By Andi Gray

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Wondering about how to solve this one. Got an employee who is good at things, as long as there are no changes. But we need more. Stuff always comes up and we can’t always put him in a place where he won’t be interrupted. We can’t protect him from problems that crop up, in fact, we need him to attack the problems, not just get in a groove and do what he’s always done. There are go-getters who solve problems and he’s an obstructionist. How can we turn him around?

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: Change and uncertainty are hard for some people. Flexibility and adaptability are great skills to have. Build up training programs to help your less flexible employees.

The longer that someone stays in a job, the more likely that person is to get stuck in a groove. Take a look at your workforce and the opportunities to give to them. Do you rotate people around regularly so they can learn new skills and practice adapting to new situations? Or do you leave people in the same position for years at a time expecting them to do the same old thing over and over again?

Work with your staff to develop some rules to live by. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Stay calm. Step back and think before reacting.
  • Simplify.
  • Keep at it and don’t give up even if things don’t go right.
  • Adjust expectations for what might be accomplished to match the reality of what’s going on.
  • Test outcomes, consider consequences and look for payoffs.
  • Movement in any direction is progress because it either tells you what will work or what won’t.
  • Always invest in learning new and different ways to do things.
  • Consider what’s best for both the company and the individual.
  • Figure out permanent solutions and eliminate problems.

It’s a balancing act with employees. Young, entry-level workers tend to be the most flexible and adaptable. And often have the hardest time sticking with it, whatever “it” is, getting bored and frustrated when left in one job too long. More senior members of your workforce may be steady performers. They expect things to stay the same and then have a harder time adjusting because they haven’t had to make as many adjustments since they settled into one job.

Help employees become more elastic by practicing the skills necessary for handling changing conditions. Ask people to switch jobs, go to class, change working hours — anything to expand horizons and keep from getting in a rut.

Find out if the people who are stuck have any interest in tackling the problems that are coming their way. If they are not interested, move them to an area where they will encounter problems that are more likely to be interesting to them. And again ask for engagement.

Talk with your folks who seem more stuck in their ways. Make it clear that you generally respect their work, work ethic and desire to do good work. Then point out that when they avoid tackling problems to the best of their ability that’s not their best work.

Ask people to form teams to solve problems. Combine more flexible millennials with more experienced baby boomers. Get them used to working together on things so that when things really go wrong, they come together more easily.

Looking for a good book? Try “Leading Change” by John P. Kotter.

Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., a business-consulting firm that teaches companies how to double revenue and triple profits in repetitive growth cycles. Have a question for AskAndi? Wondering how Strategy Leaders can help your business thrive? Call or email for a free consultation and diagnostics: 877-238-3535, AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com. Check out our library of business advice articles: AskAndi.com.

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About the author

Andi Gray
Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., strategyleaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping small to midsize, privately held businesses achieve doubled revenues and tripled profits in repetitive growth cycles. Interested in learning how Strategy Leaders can help your business? Call now for a free consultation and diagnostic process: (877) 238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi? Email her: AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com. Visit AskAndi.com for an entire library of her articles.

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