Make Hybrid Work

Make Hybrid Work

Sorry to say I somewhat disagree with Camilla Cavendish’s Financial Times article of 28Dec22*. She is a fine writer and I admire her pieces tremendously. But here she says it is time to admit that ‘hybrid isn’t working’. I think her apparent conclusion that hybrid cannot work is wrong. I’d put it another way. ‘Time to find out how to make hybrid work’. Forty years ago when I was building a business in Asia-Pacific the idea of ‘hybrid working’ didn’t exist. The concept had long been accepted. The ‘home office’ had already given tax collectors headaches. They didn’t like mixing business with pleasure, even if the mixture was merely location. 

Initially in the Covid Complication, working from home seemed to do well. People take their jobs seriously and the relative safety of avoiding crowded transport and not mixing at work allowed them to manage their time better from both a business and a domestic point of view. Many increased their hours of work. Why has that changed to a record of missed work achievements and desperate attempts by employers to get people back to the office?

Primarily, it has little to do with hybrid working. Covid made people think about their mortality, their work-life balance and their purpose here on earth. Pre-Covid, to have acknowledged that what you wanted in life was to be happy would have led to disbelief that you could be so brazen about your “selfish” desires. Happiness was thought of as almost a ‘rape of time’. It was a sin and very wicked. Actually, it has always been humankind’s simplest and most honest purpose. The problem is, few people know how to achieve it.

Happiness was trained, in many people’s minds, to equate with absence from work. Holidays were lauded as life-extending, mind-refreshing and essential for making you fit to work. All absolutely true, but when the holiday became more important than the work it appeared as the purpose of life. For a few this was not true but they hesitated to say so lest they be thought of as not liberated enough.

The way to make hybrid work is by restoring to the individuals who work this way the rights and responsibilities of their own forecasts and achievements. I did this with the company I built in the 1980s. First, I stopped setting people targets for their part of the business – I got them to set their own. I made their bonus, which I expected to be about 35% of their total wages, dependent on their achieving the target they had set. Left like this they would have set low targets so that they could achieve them. But the bonus itself was based on the target they set. Low target, low bonus if target achieved. High target, high bonus – but only if target achieved.

So what about low targets with high achievement, way above the target. Bonus then only on the achieved target, not the final result. Wasn’t that unfair? All of life is unfair and when you are forecasting you cannot possibly have all the elements of your forecast correct. I had flexibility. If an unforeseeable decision I had made put the target out of reach I exercised my authority to pay something towards the bonus they would have received had the high target been achieved. But the essence of the system was “you earn what you forecast and achieve”. 

To make the system work, I got the managers to whom I had delegated the forecasting to involve their teams. The teams, too, received their bonus payments on achievement of the targets they had helped to set. So when the teams were working out their targets, the team leader had considerable pressure on her or him to up the target for a bigger bonus. S/he herself or himself exercised caution in not setting too high a target. 

Working for this common purpose fused the teams together better than I had expected.

Didn’t teams then try to achieve the exact target and not exceed it even if they could? Absolutely. That is why I had a profit and cash flow chart of significant but steady growth. Its consistency allowed us to sell the business for 25 times earnings.

This system lets people do their jobs. 

It is management, whether home-based or office-based. 

Good morning.

John Bittleston 


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30 December 2022