Don’t Obey The Clock, Control The Clock admin January 20, 2020

Don’t Obey The Clock, Control The Clock

The most important play in the Industrial Age playbook for leaders was Obey The Clock.


On the assembly line, people were paid by units of work per time. Management wasn’t concerned with the hearts and minds of their workers, only how fast they could get something done without errors. Management was responsible for the thinking work and coerced workers to comply and continue working for as long as possible. Mangers were valued for their ability to get high production and profit outcomes, not for how well they took care of their people.


Thankfully work has changed. Unfortunately, we still use Industrial Age language that reduces collaboration and re-enforces consensus. Questions like “Are you sure?” or “It’s all good, right?” aren’t asking someone to think, only to answer “yes” or “no.”

Also, from the industrial era comes phrases such as “like clockwork” and “clock in, clock out.” Why we pay people by the hour is because when running an assembly line, we tracked units of work completed per time. The sense was the clock was in control. The pressure put on workers to complete their work faster (not better) determined the outcome (profit) for the day. We obeyed the clock.


Here’s the problem with always obeying the clock. It adds stress. Stress which makes our prefrontal cortices impaired.


Stress pushes us all back to the oldest part of our brain, that original reptile brain interested in only one thing–self-preservation. In self-preservation mode, we choose the least painful option. Don’t want to get yelled at again? Don’t tell the boss about a mistake. The unreported mistake may have bigger consequences later but the reptile brain isn’t concerned with that. Only with eliminating immediate “dangers.” Fears such as these cause us to shut down, stay quite and hidden in order to avoid “pain.” So much so, that doing cognitive, creative, and connect-the-dots type work is extremely difficult.


We need our prefrontal cortex unadulterated to aid in problem solving. To aid in thinking.


In today’s workplace, we need people to “do” and “perform” but also to be creative and think–the kind of work we call bluework. In order to switch out of the red (doing) work into bluework, we need to control the clock–alleviating the stressful pressure of time. We need to be able to say “Timeout. We’ve been very busy for a long time. Now, let’s see if what we’re doing is the right thing.” We need to pause to allow for thinking and reflecting over completed work. This pause pulls us out of redwork and shifts us into bluework.

Control the clock is the start of the cycle. Leaders today need to periodically control the clock with their team, instead of always obeying the clock. Controlling the clock sets us up for collaboration.


Learn how to call the Control The Clock play.  Download the handout here.

Learn more by watching this – Leadership Nudge® 292 – Control the Clock