Self-management in action
Create the joy and well-being of belonging to an organisation that celebrates individuality, autonomy, creativity, self-organisation, and intrinsic responsibility.
If we wish this to be true, how do we get there?
There are a standout quote that keep surfacing in my mind. I write it here because the the mindset change at Double Retail [my previous business] was tough, but worth it.
“I knew that self-managed working environments can act as an incredibly powerful catalysts (if one is open to it) for greater self-awareness and growth. These are spaces where you are almost inevitably confronted with yourself, your limits, strengths, weaknesses, triggers, unhealthy coping mechanisms.” Elena Denaro, Reflections on practical self-management: week one.
👼🏻 and the 👿 learn to co-exist
Here is where the hard work started. To believe in (or want) the first quote statement to be a reality we have to understand the second statement is also true. As a practical example I will tell the story of how Double Retail [Double] became a self-managing business, shedding the need for a classic organisational hierarchy and a command and control operating model. As Elena Denaro says, it requires us all to dig deep.
[Fig. 1 – not a traditional hierarchy]
A potted people & emotion history of Double
To make some sense of what this is I have compacted my 10-years as co-founder history of Double (13 if you include the thinking about it, planning, procrastinating, and setting up). It looked like this:
Many [good] losses
You may have noticed I used the feeling of ‘Loss’ in the list of ‘Constant Prototyping’ above. Our learnt behaviours are so deeply rooted that, for some, there was a strong sense of loss. Loss of the feeling of control – “what I can’t ‘manage’ I can’t control.”
For some the loss of being given a to-do list was deeply challenging. After all, it requires a lot more active effort and care to, and for, your colleagues and commitments when that to-do list is your full responsibility.
There were so many bad habits we lost that, looking back, it’s hard to list them all. Needless to say, when we chose to de-manage each other, hidden and wonderful creativity, energy, and self-motivation emerged in all of the team. This creative explosion allowed the business to evolve and achieve way more than its size and convention would suggest, a big gain.
Many more gains
Well, a loss, when flipped in the mind, can be a gain. That is what happened here. By working hard on our understanding of ourselves as individual and team, what was at first felt as a loss soon became a gain. In reality when you experience ‘autonomy’ then ‘mastery and purpose’ follow [a great little animation of Dan Pink’s concept].
A question: “Estimate how much time you spend discussing your colleagues and individuals in management meetings?“
We did this a lot. Why? Because we didn’t actively listen or really talk to our team, either individually, or collectively. The reality was, and is, really listening, learning, and understanding who we work with is hard! It’s even harder allowing for their ‘spiky individuality‘. When you do, however, amazing changes happen in all sorts of positive ways – I’ll list a few that we discovered;
- We don’t need to be managed. Self-organisation within the teams emerges and systems of advice and information flow get created and adapted regularly. In simple terms, we don’t need to be parented by others day-to-day.
- We do need to be fully informed, know the goals, and check-in regularly to know we’re on track.
- Secrecy sucks. How can you do good work with half the knowledge? Withholding information serves no one. We are all adults and are more empowered to make better decisions and be more adaptable when we have the full facts.
- Transparency is far from easy and it means different things to different people, so ask ‘what do you need?’, often! But remember, total transparency with no context is just noise.
- “Oh, you have a life and commitments outside work?” Off course we all do. Respecting and allowing for this duality is essential.
- Learning to be trusting and to be trustworthy is a closed loop!
- Talking about all aspects of money, profit, and loss is hard but is essential.
- Hiding money issues is harder and serves no one.
- Learning to trust each other takes a lot of vulnerability. Listening and wanting to understand take time and care.
- Only You know You. What I see and feel is not what You see and feel. In other words My worldview is not Your worldview. A simple notion, but a complex reality that grows more complex with more people.
- We do our best work for and with each other when we are intrinsically motivated by our meaningful role within that work, and we have many many roles in work and we are not just a Job Title.
- Lastly – positive business transformation and change for good can become normal and, even easy to embed.
Other less obvious gains
Again, not an exhaustive list but indicative of what becoming a people positive and self-managing organisation grew in Double.
- Customer loyalty, longevity, and returns – The industry in which Double operated [Retail design & project management] was and is fashion led. Client contacts turnover can be astonishingly high, so customer loyalty is very hard to achieve. Through becoming led by ALL the people in business we had the majority of clients still growing in revenue in relationships of 7-years and over. Some of these relationships through 5 changes of client team.
- Supplier loyalty – To service the business offer we needed super loyal and reactive suppliers and service providers. Like customer loyalty the self-managing operational model allowed all employees to build lasting and deep relationships with suppliers.
- Staff retention was amazing. I’m not saying we didn’t have challenges, or conflicts at times. A growing business doesn’t need the hassle, or cost of time and money, of constant re-recruiting. We achieved a retention rate of over 95% year-on-year over the 10-years. This was a huge bonus in a knowledge and expertise retention for a service based business.
- Project management information flow, on-time, and on-budget delivery improved massively. Self-managing organisations need transparent and total visibility of information. This includes goals, tasks, budgets, profitability, and many more. Building the right open information systems around self-managing responsibilities and accountability allows great things happen – without any management oversight! [Fig 2.]
- Momentum and energy for Big Change projects came from everyone. Letting go of hierarchy, privilege, status, time-of-service, or a myriad of reason why ‘my idea is better than your idea’ allowed good ideas to emerge from the whole team, regardless of age or personality.
What did our people feel about it?
This is not all just theoretical HR stuff. You don’t do it to your people, your people do it themselves and together – and it is never complete. One thing is true though, the more you experiment, the more ‘everyday’ big changes come for the whole team. When you really work in a trust circle – working out what trust and trustworthiness means for you and your business – then good things happen.
This is what Liza had to say about her experiences;
The self managing ethos was an alien concept to understand and grasp. It wasn’t one that I had heard of from school, university or internships. There were 2 key realisations for me which lead to understanding how to work in a self managed team:
Each person has hers/his speciality. Their knowledge was acquired either from training or experience and had nothing to do with age or title.
Respecting that speciality. If you hate being told how to do your job, why would you do the same to someone else? Respect your colleague’s knowledge and experience and, even better, learn from it! The minute I understood and applied the 2 key points above, I was more efficient with my work and my relationships. I knew everyone had my back as much as I had theirs. Also as a team, the more information we received, the better we understood the bigger picture and the entity we were creating, working for, and more importantly working with. Liza Boutet, Client Lead.
Want to know or do more?
If any of this story resonate and you want to start experimenting with becoming more people-positive through self-managing ways of working, then get in touch.
Written by Matt Tipping
Founder of The Good Stream
Come back soon for more articles on changing the nature of business for good.