What you can learn from your next pot-luck: self-management and what it means for managers

iStock_000000066138_SmallAs adults, we self-manage in every aspect of our lives outside work. Over the July 4th weekend, for example, we had a small block party — a potluck barbeque before the fireworks. Some people brought ribs and chicken, others the side dishes. One family supplied the extra chairs and somebody else did a run to the liquor store for additional “adult beverages.” There was no project plan for the party, and no weekly management meeting where everybody filed a status report for a manager to read, edit, and send to his/her manager to be sure everything was on track. And magically it all worked out! We completed the party on budget, and on time; in fact, we finished eating just when the fireworks started at 9pm.

How did we manage it without a boss? Was it a miracle? No, of course not. It worked because we all felt accountable for delivering our piece of the party, and we all trusted everyone else to do their part. So why exactly do we seem to ignore all of this once 8am Monday morning comes around (or frankly anytime in this 24/7 electronically-tethered world of knowledge work that many of us do)? Why do we all act like corporate sheep and submit to the idea that somebody else should tell us what to do, and even worse, how to do it?

At work, people don’t need managing, they need leading and coaching. Leaders paint the picture of where we’re going and explain how we fit into that plan, and coaches are there to help us if we want advice or don’t have the all skills or experience yet to do our part of the plan. If you look at what good managers do, that’s EXACTLY it. Google’s Project Oxygen team spent 18 months understanding what good managers have in common and found a set of 8 behaviors. All but one are behaviors that are better described as leading and coaching. Quite a few companies already get that people don’t need managers. Morning Star Company, a tomato processing company in Los Banos, CA seems to be everyone’s favorite example. iStock_000016813565_Small Zappos is another pioneering company (actually 10 companies under the Zappos brand umbrella), now in the news for struggling with full-scale adoption of holacracy. It is very difficult to switch on the fly from running a business with a traditional management style to one governed by the principles of holacracy, but I still applaud Tony Hsieh for being a pioneer. Don’t worry, in case you think I’m just another consultant advocating a new “fad”, I’ll say this: I don’t expect holacracy is the equivalent of a killer management app, and I’m not suggesting that all organizations should adopt it. But what if we used the ideas from it that worked, without getting caught up in the parts that didn’t? Who said it has to be all or nothing?

Here’s my thought: What if we simply decided to stop using the word ‘manager’ and used the words ‘leader’ or ‘coach’ instead, depending on the person’s actual role and accountabilities? What if ‘manager’ was only used when referring to the role of managing a process? What we call things is more powerful than we think. It informs how we judge success, how we choose our actions, how we see ourselves. Would ditching the word manager change our expectations for roles? Would we perhaps promote talented people into “leader and coach” roles because they had demonstrated those skills already? Remember, it’s much easier to spot natural leaders and coaches than it is to spot good “managers” in the traditional sense. We have a tendency to promote people into traditional manager roles when they are really good at doing some process, whether or not they have any skills for coaching and leading people. But if the role was that of a coach, you’d be looking for people who were good at getting people to perform at their best. And renaming the role might make it easier for traditionally bad ‘managers’ to remember what they are actually supposed to be doing — e.g. coaching their people, not micro-managing their daily activities.

No, I’m not saying that just changing the word would make a huge difference overnight. Changing a culture isn’t that easy. But making that sort of cultural shift has to start somewhere, and this could be a powerful step. And just think about the possibilities if we started thinking that way!

Disagree?  Let me know in the comments below!



About the author:

Marcus Scott, PeopleFirm
A founding partner of PeopleFirm, Marcus has 20 years of experience as a business thought leader.  Both as a consultant and as an internal employee, he has helped a variety of corporations with their business and people strategies, external and internal marketing programs, and new product and service development. Marcus has maintained a passion and respect for the human element of organizations throughout his career. He is equally adept at both highly strategic projects that define how companies compete in the labor market and the day-to-day details of executing an employee survey program. His focus (some might call it an obsession) on structure and patterns enables him to convey complex information in easily understandable terms that can be translated into clear insight for executives, managers, and front-line employees alike. His current areas of focus include people strategy and driving high performance through employee engagement.

PeopleFirm is a management and HR consulting firm dedicated to helping you achieve that ultimate win-win: inspired people driving inspiring performance. We focus on effective tools, measurable outcomes, real results, and getting your people out of their seats and engaged in your company’s growth.We use people strategy, talent management, organizational performance, and change management, to help you partner with your people to build an organization that excels in today’s new world of work. People are your last competitive frontier. Make them count.

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