Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 119 – Flex, Freedom Or Friction. Company Driver

Dear leaders, I haven’t been able to shake a phrase I heard and wanted to share it with you. 

On a recent livestream, two CEOs were debating how the company driver has to be friction driven. Meaning; that you have to create friction and then apply control to run a successful company.

They both agreed this method is engineered for success.

I’ll be honest, this made my blood boil, it was two traditional CEOs suggesting you had to control people to garner performance. 

IMHO this is mostly BS. 

Ever since hearing this, I have been deep in thought and in conversation with other business leads about how you can apply three different models.  

1/ Flex
2/ Freedom
3/ Friction

Flex, flex is my go-to method of choice, flex provides guidelines and frameworks to be successful. It is empowered by the information you provide, celebrates wins and ensures quick and easy feedback is given in the right moments. 

Flex works if you provide guard rails, often an essential part of “flex” is giving the right directions and speed signs (like you see while driving) and being able to be pliable, with the guidelines, with your people, but never too much with performance and goals. 

Freedom is giving complete autonomy to your teams and allowing each team/department to go off and run it their way. Freedom works until it doesn’t (usually means performance has taken a dip or small pods abuse this) or freedom is taken too far.

Freedom has become the default for many and when freedoms become too free, the company has to react and often overreact and remove any freedom. Often then causing issues and increased staff turnover. 

Friction – when tension is created to apply pre-determined control measures. This is often causing friction between department leads and cross-functional leads to build a competitive atmosphere where the strongest or most politically savvy survives. 

I’ll admit, we can create situations that encourage friction (I have done it a number of times with my departments in the past), such as friction between two competitive teams or competitive executives, however, friction for many is combat (not conflict) and some will want to win so badly they will take this until one admits defeat or the other leaves, sending many ripples through the business and encouraging younger team members to mimic these behaviours – be aware of this before you drive this behaviour. 

By all means, smartly test your teams, and understand their motivations and what really triggers the right reactions but learn quickly and do not push those who are close to the edge or unable to compete in these environments. Many CEOs were brought up in a time when only the stoic and “the strongest survive”, in today’s business world this only causes friction and the rewards never compare to the battle scars created. 

This week ponder on what type of company driver you have and what behaviours you encourage from your business. I bet you are driving some behaviours that you will want to address in the next business cycle.

Thanks, and have a great week, 

Danny Denhard