No Permit Required !!

This past weekend my wife, daughter and I traveled to Athens, Ohio to help my son clear out his apartment one week before he graduates from Ohio University !! (I’ll write more about this milestone next week.) Being an alumni and proud Bobcat, I always welcome the chance to visit the town and my old school. There wasn’t a ton of time to enjoy ourselves in the sleepy city because we were there for a purpose.

I don’t know if you’ve been on a college campus lately, but parking is challenging. It’s a giant revenue option for landlords of apartment complexes and also for the university dorm system. Street parking in Athens is at a premium as well, and vehicles are bumper to bumper on each and every block. This isn’t a complaint, it’s just an observation of what students face. It’s always takes quite a bit of time to circle around and around blocks surrounding our son’s apartment with the faint hope that we’ll find a spot where we can squeeze in our car.

This weekend we not only had our car, but we also rented a UHaul box truck to get everything back home in one trip. The only truck available could have been used to move the contents of an entire house !! This made driving, maneuvering and parking an adventure to say the least. I wasn’t sure how we were going to get near his apartment building with this behemoth. There was NO way it would fit in any parking space.

As I was waiting near the truck as my family marched back and forth moving items to be loaded, my mind wandered and I wondered about the marked parking spaces and the permit needed in order to use them. You see, in addition to the distinctly marked parking spaces, there are a myriad of cameras for security as well as signs warning that illegally parked cars would be towed at the owner’s expense. My son even noted that as we were driving through town he saw four roving tow trucks eagerly searching for illegal activity. They couldn’t wait to bury their hook under an axle and tow yet another hapless car away to an impound lot. There would be at least a fee involved if not a traffic ticket.

This layered system which limited options and threatened punishment reminded me of the workplace. I know that may seem extreme, but hang with me. Many managers of others don’t want performance from their staff. They want people to occupy their space and their space alone. You can’t wander into any one else’s space because that would mean absolute chaos !! Wouldn’t it?

In addition to making sure people stay where we expect them to be, we add layers of veiled threats of punishments either through discipline or performance management systems. We so desperately want people to stay put that we develop programs and systems to ensure that moving around isn’t an option. We are no different than the lined parking spaces at my son’s university.

Why do we continue to think this effective? In the world of desired collaboration and engagement, how does confining people seem like the best option? Sure, the systems of limiting people’s experience and reach produces results, but are they the best results possible? I don’t think they are.

I think it’s time to have a “no permit required” approach to work. We need to foster relationships and expect that people will do their best when they interact outside their regular space. We can’t continue to bemoan the reality of corporate silos if we aren’t willing to break them down. I understand that we need structure in our organizations, but it should be structure that allows people to perform and not constrain. We can’t keep thinking the worst is going to happen everyday without imposed restrictions. People have the desire to get work done and done well if they’re given the environment to do that.

We ended up pulling the UHaul directly in front of the apartment garage. We parked our car in an empty space without a permit. I kept watch as everyone brought down the items to the truck, and was prepared to move if needed to let the other tenants out. We broke the “rules” in order to do the work needed. We accomplished it using a system that was speedy and efficient. We even had time to interact with the landlord’s son who saw we were breaking the rules. He commented on how it was smart to get a head start on moving a week before graduation and understood that we weren’t complying, but would be done soon.

This week take a look around and see if you’re causing more barriers and parking spaces to exist. Take this approach and remove the permits. You’ll be pleased to see how amazing people are and how engaged they can be if you’ll only allow them to work as people within a system instead of in spite of it !!

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