The Business Case for Managing Ourselves

by Sharlyn Lauby on August 29, 2010

The Harvard Business Review published a post by Vineet Nayar on Who is the New CEO? The article is a well-thought out vision that, in the future, successful CEOs will focus on building decentralized organizations and enabled employees.

This makes total sense to me.  I’m sure businesses right now don’t want to build extra layers and structure.  That can be very expensive.  What they want are people who understand the organization and feel comfortable identifying problems and taking action without a lot of supervision.

The challenge is, this concept is somewhat new to companies.  Let’s face it, the empowerment phase never really caught on.  Many organizations only know how to operate in an environment of “approvals” or “directives.”  For example:

  • When two employees have a disagreement, where do they go?  Either to their supervisor or HR to solve it.
  • If there is a problem with a process, what do employees do?  Ask their manager how to fix it.

The only way I can think to enable your workforce is to teach them how to become self-managing.  Give people the resources to manage their own behavior and hold themselves accountable.  But I’d add – instead of just a high-level theoretical overview of the concepts of self-management, offer employees hands-on tools they can use every day.  Include specific sessions on:

  • Problem-solving:  provide employees with a model to solve their own problems
  • Conflict management:  give employees a method to work out interpersonal conflict
  • Professional development:  offer guidelines for employees to create their own learning opportunities

And don’t just assume that your leadership team knows how to supervise a self-managing workforce.  This is probably a new concept for them too.  Remember to give them the training they’ll need to successfully lead their self-managing employees.

The latest economic data supports the notion that companies are not significantly adding to their payrolls.  This means managers need to spend more time on those things that directly generate revenue – and less time playing referee to their staff.  Add to that the impact of gig economics and managers spending their time directing contractors, freelancers and virtual teams.  It only makes sense to give employees the tools to manage themselves – it not only helps them, it helps the entire organization.

Image courtesy of BC ELN

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