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September 14, 2010 / W. Stanton Smith

Flexibility within reason

The controller of a college was telling me that flexibility didn’t work, that people took advantage of it to the exclusion of getting the job done, and that flexibility was unworkable in high pressure environments.

I asked her to describe her program for flexibility in the Controller’s department. The program consisted of a spreadsheet which all employees in the office had access to. People signed up for the schedule that suited them.

Deadlines and quality are not flexible.

The result: missed deadlines, lack of coverage, poor quality product. I asked her why she didn’t insist on deadlines being met and quality standard is being adhered to. She seemed surprised that I asked as she said that would work against flexibility.

My response was that nothing can get in the way of deadlines and quality; those aren’t flexible.

What is flexible is the how and where.

Flexibility has to be managed by the employees as well as the departmental manager. It is a mutual responsibility but the manager is ultimately accountable.


Photo by erin m via Flickr


Moral to the story: to be effective flexibility means being reasonable and reacting rationally to challenges employees have during the course of their careers with you. By contrast chaos and lack of accountability spell disaster not flexibility.

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