Back to Being Farmers?

Key Point: Many of us are stuck in archaic ways of managing ourselves and others at work. I was thinking about my Dad and Mom the other day and what it was like to be farmers, scratching out a living on a quarter section of Alberta land. They started work each day as needed, usually when animals had to be attended to. They finished work when they decided to. The job was never really “done” on the farm. If they needed a nap after lunch, they did so. No one was there to watch over or manage them. If you wanted to survive as a farmer, let alone flourish, you had to get results. A performance review was whether you got a yield from a crop or a return from investing in your animals. Coaching came from friends, family and neighbors. Feedback from plants and animals happened everyday. You had to learn or lose. And of course weather was the constant unknown. A similar story applies to craftsmen who had to provide value in the form of a product or service. No value meant no money. (These principles of course still apply to farmers, craftsmen and entrepreneurs today).

Could you imagine telling a farmer or craftsman that you wanted to introduce a new model of working in the offices of the western world, where accountability and autonomy where the guiding principles? That no results meant no job? That people were self-accountable for how and where they chose to work based on the needs of customers and teammates? Imagine that we didn’t use time as the primary currency for determining results? How much vacation time or sick time should a farmer or craftsmen have? Who decides? They would probably burst out laughing at this “new management theory.”

Yet that’s where many organizations are at. The reality today is that with highly mobile technology available, numerous jobs can be performed in many different ways, times and places. We don’t need to “punch in” the real or virtual time lock. And similar to farmers and craftsmen, the work is often only “done” when we stop working. Results may not be as straight forward as getting a yield from a crop, but they are mostly quantifiable if we work at defining them.

Character Moves:

  1. Challenge yourself to think about accountability (to achieve valued results) and autonomy (bounded by customer, co-worker and regulation requirements) as the foundation for work… NOT just TIME at work. And challenge location too. Do you REALLY have to waste one hour commuting to work and another hour back? Why? When? For whose benefit?
  2. Stop yourself from self guilt trips based on whether you work a certain time (unless of course a customer or teammate needs you to be there at that time). And also stop judging others or being suspicious if they are not visibly tied to their cube or monitor. Care more about whether they and you are providing valued results. Attend to your results first.
  3. What if you had no prescribed hours, vacation, leave, sick days, or other artificial constraints? Would you work differently? Are you valued for your results, skills and attributes or the hours you work at your desk? Be in control of your destiny through the value you provide.
  4. Be absolutely clear with others what valued results are. Describe both quantifiable outcomes AND expected behaviors. And then be self-accountable and achieve great results. Remember that result clarification is not episodic but continuous. The world is constantly changing and so must you. Let go of the amount of time given and cube occupation as the primary currency for assessing valued work.

Farming in the Triangle,



Leave a Comment