Dear Aunty B,
I’m the operations manager for a team of around 12 people and although I generally have a good working relationship with the staff I manage, I’d like to know if you have any advice to make sure they are still working hard when I’m not in the office?
When I am in the office, my team follow instructions well and are always willing to pitch in when I ask them to. But when I go away for a few days, or even just one day, I come back to find specific tasks that I have set for them either half-done or not done at all. The only thing that seems to change their behaviour is my presence in the office. I even send them detailed emails before I go on leave to make sure they know what needs to get done and other things they can start working on if they have time.
Short of never taking a day off, do you have any suggestions for how I can make sure they keep working when I’m not there?
I have two words for you: sticky notes.
Now I know email might be more efficient – and quite frankly, better for the environment – but I recently came across some fascinating research that found the simple act of attaching a sticky note with a personal message to a document actually increases the likelihood of the recipient complying with your request.
The research is explained by Kevin Hogan over at Harvard Business Review. It’s based on a series of experiments by a US research Randy Garner, who measured how likely professors at his university were to complete a questionnaire, based on how they received it. The group that received the questionnaire with a stick note attached to it asking them to complete the form were much, much more likely to do so than those who received the form with either a typed cover letter or a handwritten cover letter. The people who received a sticky note from Garner were also more likely to return the form faster and give more comprehensive answers to the questions.
So what’s this got to do with making sure your team don’t slack off when you’re away? Instead of sending them a long and convoluted email next time you take a day off, try leaving them a handwritten note instead. Better yet, write it on a sticky note and attach it to their computer monitor or notebook.
Garner’s research found the sticky note works because it grabs people’s attention, it is personalised and it represents one person asking something of another. It can almost make the recipient feel important because you are asking them.
Give it a shot and let me know if it works.