An article titled “First, let’s fire all managers” captured my attention. If you are an MD or a manager it should halt you in your tracks.
We are all so used to the idea of having managers around that we might find the notion of doing away with managers downright impossible or absurd. Well, we all know that the role of managers has changed in the last three decades. The advent of the internet has drastically altered communications and the flow of information internally. In addition, employees, especially young employees, are drastically different from their managers. There’s simply less of a need for traditional managers.
How essential is it to have a layer of managers supervising workers? Gary Hamel, a visiting professor at the London Business School, observed in an article in the Harvard Business Review, December 2011, that “managers are expensive, increase the risk of bad judgement, slow down decision making, and often disenfranchise employees”. Would you agree?
The role of managers needs a fresh content to make them relevant to today’s needs – and please note, that some major companies have already eliminated this additional expensive and often very inefficient layer of senior employees.
How is it possible to do away with managers? The answer lies in self-empowerment and creating a culture of self-empowerment. Hamel provides an informal case study of Morning Star, the world’s largest tomato processor, with revenues of over $700 million in 2010 that succeeded in getting 400 employees to self-empower themselves. It created a culture of self-management with no manager in sight.
Hamel observes that “your organization probably wasn’t built around the principles of self-management. It’s most likely a bureaucracy – with a thicket of policy rules, a multilayered hierarchy, and a host of management processes – built to ensure conformity and predictability. Control is the philosophical cornerstone of bureaucracy…where managers are the enforcers who ensure employees follow rules, adhere to standards, and meet budgets.”
Let’s assume that you are not going to fire your managers or that they will not volunteer to walk. Be astute and take note of some self-empowerment practices as your company could gain much if you were to adopt practices such as these:
Make the mission the boss
Your company, if you are one of my clients, has a mission or purpose statement. Hamel observes that every employee should, in addition, be responsible for drawing up a personal mission statement that outlines how he or she will contribute to your company’s main overarching goals and clearly state what they wish to achieve. Says the President of Morning Star to each employee: “You are responsible for the accomplishment of your mission and for acquiring the training, resources, and cooperation that you need to fulfill your mission.” In this plant, everyone is driven by his or her personal mission statement and their commitments, not by a manager.
Employees forge agreements with others
Such agreements are, in effect, operating plans needed to fulfill one’s mission. Freedom is not the enemy of coordination. The BUs negotiate customer-supplier agreements with one other annually. Each has a profit and loss (P&L) account.
Everyone is driving a BUs. You cannot pass the buck up the line as there is no line. You do whatever needs to be done. You run your budget and decide on expenditures needed – if there are funds. (You are not a government which spends itself into oblivion before facing facts.)
Self-management extends to staffing decisions
Employees should be responsible for initiating the hiring process. They should appoint (or assist in appointing) capable colleagues.
There are no centrally-defined roles
Employees are able to take on bigger responsibilities as they develop their skills and gain experience. Do what you are good at. Focus on your strengths.
Encourage competition for impact not for promotions
At Morning Star there is no career ladder to climb. However, all employees are not equal and compensations levels are determined by expertise. You and your colleagues determine what your contribution is worth. To get ahead an employee must master new skills or discover new ways of serving colleagues. Strengthen your resume with bigger responsibilities – not a bigger title.
Clear targets, transparent data
People cannot self-manage without information. Provide all the information employees need to monitor their own work and make wise decisions. Track metrics indicating success in meeting your associates’ needs. Publish detailed P&L statements. Colleagues are encouraged to hold one another accountable for results. (“With this sort of transparency, folly and sloth are quickly exposed”.) Develop cross-company information to calculate how your decisions will influence other areas. Everyone has to have access to the same system-wide data. Eliminate information or business unit silos.
Experienced colleagues serve as coaches
Unilateral decisions are seldom made. Competent, experienced colleagues serve as coaches. Morning Star has a dispute-solution cum mediator process. A dispute seldom lands on the president’s desk. The fate of an employee does not lie in the hands of a capricious boss. Peer reviews, conducted properly, are bound to be fair.
Accountability needs to become part of your company’s DNA
Peer reviews are thorough. Each person has to justify their use of company resources, acknowledge shortfalls, and present plans for improvement. Business units are ranked by performance and those near the bottom can expect an interrogation.
Elect compensation committees
Every colleague develops a self-assessment document outlining how he or she performed against agreed goals, targets and other metrics. Colleagues elect a committee that works to validate self-assessments and uncover contributions that went unreported. They ensure that pay aligns with value added.
(Please note that I have leaned heavily on Hamel’s words. I trust that this effort will motivate you to obtain the full article from the HBR or from the author.)
Three of my current clients can confirm that many of the ideas in this article (and post) form part of my Built for Results programme. These clients are moving themselves and their employees to a higher level of proactive self-management. One client with a sizable staff component has no managers.
My advice to MDs is always not to appoint a new manager simply as the work load is growing. Managers are very expensive overheads. First ensure that your current managers focus on their teams and that they grow each individual. Junior employees are often able to carry astounding responsibilities, provided that they are carefully coached and over time are given increasingly more important opportunities which grow them.
Managers, who offer lame excuses for not building their people to the point where individuals become self-managing, should take note of these trends. Such managers are ensuring that neither they, nor their people nor their company grow.
Of course, MDs also have to make a personal effort to grow themselves and their managers.
All are to take action.
Albertkeywords: management, self-management