A Short but costly Lesson on giving too much Freedom

Landscaping - Instant TurfI must admit I got caught out recently when I thought I was doing the right thing by this young tradesman. I needed some landscaping to be completed at the front of my property and it just so happened that at the same time I was considering my options, a young man (around 25 years) happened to drop by with a business card offering to quote me on the job. He had been doing some work in the area and noticed that I had been preparing my front yard for a major facelift. He seemed knowledgeable about his craft (landscaping and concreting) and was personable enough in a rough ‘tradie’ kind of way. Once I had seen his handiwork on some previous jobs, I felt comfortable he could complete the work to an acceptable level, so I decided to give him the opportunity. So far so good…

Landscaping Equipment - BobcatGiven I did not know him personally, I wanted to make sure that I would receive fair value for money so we came to an arrangement that I would pay directly for any of the material needed (machinery hire; sand and soil supply; concrete delivery etc.), and he would charge me at a daily ‘labour-only’ rate for him and his mate which would allow me to keep within the budget I had set aside for the project. He told me in advance what the daily rate for the two of them would be and it seemed reasonable enough so the project commenced with me confident that I had covered all the bases and that we were both on the same page with our mutual expectations.

Landscaping - Concrete MixerThe first couple of days I needed to be off site in meetings so I didn’t get much opportunity to observe what my contractor and his mate were doing. Each day there was evidence of progress in the right direction albeit slower than I expected, so I assumed that things were on track and I paid him as I had agreed to do at the end of the first two days of work. By day four I was beginning to get concerned that the project did not seem to be progressing as fast as I had hoped but I put that concern down to me not being knowledgeable in the ways of landscaping. Whenever I raised my concerns with my young friend, he assured me that things were progressing well and his super confidence seemed to allay my fears enough for me to question myself and my expectations rather than him and his abilities. By now I felt we were two days behind where we needed to be if I was to keep within my budget, so I decided to remain around for the next day to observe first-hand the work that was being done for me by our landscaper and his helper.

At the end of day five, the penny had dropped for me.

Here’s what I witnessed. The general theme of ‘a days work’ by my young landscaper….

Landscaping - Bricklaying ImagesArrive around 8.30-8.45 am. Take the next half hour preparing site works (i.e. unpack the ‘ute’ while chatting about the night before with his mate). Set tasks for the mate to complete while answering mobile phone calls for another half an hour. Do some work for about an hour before taking a break. Complete the morning break and work for another hour before leaving the site together at around 11.30 am to have lunch. Come back an hour later, and work until around 2.30 pm when it was time to clean up. Leave at around 3.00 pm (sometimes earlier I later discovered) to go and quote on other jobs.

As you (and I) will discover from this scenario, a day of work for two tradesmen consisted of probably only five to five and a half hours of actual work. The rest was made up of late arrival, long meal breaks and early finishes interrupted constantly by mobile phone calls and a lot of watching by the tradie’s mate while the tradie did the skilled work.

Landscaping - Concrete StepsThat evening I quizzed my young contractor what a ‘fair days work for a fair days pay’ meant to him, and much to my surprise he answered that if he is on site for four hours or less it is charged out at a half day rate, but anything over four hours was a full day regardless of how much time was spent on site working. When I mentioned that it seemed like I was actually paying for a full day for two of them for only 1.5 hours more that his half day rate he shrugged his shoulders and said ‘this was what we agreed on.’

And he was right!

In my eagerness to engage him and cover what I assumed was all the bases, I left out one very important aspect of our communication. At a daily ‘labour-only’ rate – what constituted a days work? I wonder if you have you ever been caught out like this as I was.

And here is the valuable lesson I learned from this recent episode. When giving freedom to people without framework built around that freedom, what you are actually doing is giving them licence not freedom. This is because freedom and autonomy without proper framework takes away accountability, and without accountability freedom for the individual is a fairly hollow experience for all concerned.

This recent experience of mine translates directly across to the workplace, especially with our fast changing workforce where we are attempting to create cultures filled with the young Gen Y whizz-kids of the future whom we want to attract and retain. In our rush to engage with them and their self belief that anything is possible for them (instilled into them via parents; schools and the media), we need to be very careful that we do not give them licence without framework in the name of self determination and autonomy. It is a fine line between the two but it can be a slippery slope if we are not more careful as their employers.

I guess you may be wondering what was the final outcome for my landscaping project? Instead of it being an enjoyable win-win experience for both of us, once my trust had been broken I believe it developed into a lose-lose experience instead. My project took double the expected amount of time to be completed and henceforth my budget blew out significantly, and the extra work that I had agreed my eager landscaper could do once the main project was completed was given to someone else to complete under tighter and more specific guidelines as a result. So my young landscaping friend got less work in the end and I paid more than expected.

Landscaping - Keija's grandpaHere is an excellent link to a blog written by a young and eager Gen Y achiever Kejia Zhu, an employee of Facebook. He’s a 29 year old guy who was born in China, grew up in the UK and now lives in America. Kejia wrote a blog this week which received a lot of attention worldwide because it speaks to the heart of the overblown expectations of the Gen Y generation and their search for instant success before they reach thirty. In his blog Kejia talks with a fair degree of insight about the value of patience and the wisdom that comes with age and years of experience in a world bludgeoned by stories of overnight fame and success.

When I read what Keija says about his 92 yo grandfather’s achievements and his own new-found insight into the meaning of success, it gives me heart that there is a place in this world for every generation if we are prepared to step back and honour the unique perspective that people of each each decade of learning and discovery brings to the table.


Drop me an email to brian@precisionprofiling.com.au if you would like to discuss further how to create the environment that attracts and retains the young leaders of the future for your organisation.

Until then… Let’s seek to understand more and judge less. Have a great week – Brian

Precision ProfilingWhat Makes You Tick? Through ‘Motivational Fingerprinting’ we uncover what you do, how you do it and why you do it, and most importantly, the hidden patterns that lead to your success, and that of your team.

Photo Credit – ‘Grandpa stealing wifi for his beloved iPad’  – Keija (@Kzhu)

About Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the principal director of Precision Profiling®.

He is a renowned practitioner, writer and speaker on building total customer cultures; values driven leadership and world best practice strategy and implementation.

He has been a guest lecturer on world best practice for the executive management programme at Monash University’s business college (Mt Eliza campus); an adviser to and key note speaker for the Singapore Productivity Association and a consultant to many major Australian and overseas corporations and government departments.

Read more about Brian Clark Here


  1. Thank you Brian. A powerful and insightful posting. I too got caught out earlier this year through not clearly defining the basis of a business arrangement – it too was with someone from a different generation . A timely reminder!

    • Cheers Pam. Yes the world is changing and fast and it behoves us to be careful as we navigate these new relationships. Great to hear from you and I hope you are well. -

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