I recently heard an American journalist who had just returned from France sharing her observations about how effectively the French seem to parent. While she may have been over-generalizing, the principles she articulated made a lot of sense, and not just for parenting.
The fundamental principle is to create a frame of unbendable rules that is very broad and reflects expectations that serve everyone well. Then, within the frame, allow a great deal of freedom. For a child, for example, an expectation might be that he learns to eat in a healthy way. The unbendable rule might be that he try all foods offered and can then decide how much of any food to eat.
How might this apply to the workplace? For a colleague, the unbendable rule could be that she meet all deadlines for client work that has been designated as a high priority. How she manages her own time to achieve a perfect record of meeting deadlines and satisfy high priority clients is up to her.
Similarly, an experiment called ROWE – Results Only Work Environment (pioneered by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, formerly HR Executives at Best Buy and documented in Daniel Pink’s 2009 best seller Drive) in which employees are accountable for achieving results but are free to determine
when, where and how they achieve them, has been shown to boost productivity, reduce stress and significantly improve morale and employee retention at many companies bold enough to try it.
Why does this work? Because people are motivated by shared purpose and by doing what leads to a sense of shared accomplishment. They are de-motivated by feeling that they can never meet other’s expectations and that whatever they do will likely be met with criticism. People need the opportunity to find their own way to feel pride in what they do and succeed within the framework of how we define success.