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Looking at Holacracy? Don’t Be So Quick to Eliminate Your Management Structure

The purpose of creating a flat management system is to generate innovation. But in the process, managers often get a bad rap.

Take, for example, Zappos. Since the online shoe-tailer announced 18 months ago that its organizational structure would no longer contain job titles and put everyone in charge of their own work, about 14% of Zappos’ employees (about 200 people) accepted severance rather than participate in the company’s new organizational structure.

But instead of getting rid of our managers, should we be looking for a middle ground? And what are we missing when it comes to the important role of the manager? For CEOs, the manager is among our most valuable resources. In my own experience, an empowered and enthusiastic management team allows me to be more effective in the performance of my responsibilities. The manager is the CEO’s conduit to executing strategic and operating goals.  

“While we must attack wasteful structures, processes and positions, the role of the manager should not be eliminated. Instead, it should be retooled for today’s organization.”

Unfortunately, and unfairly, the manager takes the blame for the shortcomings in the way many companies are structured. While we must attack wasteful structures, processes and positions, the role of the manager should not be eliminated. Instead, it should be retooled for today’s organization. To start, CEOs should understand and accept the following:

  • Managers are NOT the problem. Our own inefficiencies and bureaucracies are the problem. If we put the manager in an organization that is designed (intentionally or not) to maintain the status quo, kill creativity and fear risk taking, why are we surprised when the manager exhibits this behavior too? The “micromanager” is often a symptom of an organization that is perfectly designed to generate this result by not promoting a culture of empowerment and by not giving the manager the tools and training to develop his or her team. Blaming the manager ignores the real issue, which is that many businesses operate using antiquated “command and control” philosophies.
  • Many businesses fail to articulate organizational clarity, regardless of structure. Managers often are vested with responsibility but lack proper authority or tools to execute on the company’s strategic objectives. At this point, managers justifiably are frustrated, and that frustration spills over to the front lines. Once again, the problem is not with the manager per se, it’s with a company’s failure to communicate structures, values and accountability and appropriately empower its managers.
  • Some companies offer little to no training in how to develop managers, how to clearly communicate, how to promote accountability and how to lead. Consider that many managers were promoted from front-line positions due to their work ethic and technical competence. These attributes don’t necessarily prepare someone to manage people in today’s business environment. The hiring of managers via promotion from within will work best if there is an accompanying plan to develop the high potential employee into an effective “manager of people” first and foremost. Somehow, many of us have bought into the contrast between a “leader” and a “manager.” In reality, our best managers are leaders. So, are we making the appropriate effort to groom our managers into leaders?
  • Today’s manager is the key to ensuring that your culture permeates throughout the entire business. A healthy culture is the convergence of the right people and process. It is about the right behaviors, philosophies and attitudes. Our cultures must be leader driven and employee owned. Today’s manager ensures that all employees are aligned with the company’s values, strategy and mission. Today’s manager looks beyond technical skills and KPIs to ensure that unwanted behaviors are eliminated from the company (i.e., lack of empowerment, status quo thinking, and micromanaging). Today’s manager kills waste and bureaucracy and establishes trust at the foundation of all relationships.

Appropriately trained and aligned managers are vital to the execution of the company’s mission and to the development of employees. Whether your business model is traditional or you adopt a new approach, a strong internal culture based on values, accountability and teamwork should always come first.

Eliminating managers may sound appealing, but I say, don’t buy it. Some level of management structure is essential to every company’s growth and the execution of its mission. The manager is an asset; he/she is not the problem. Be sure that you have the right people in management roles. Attack waste, bureaucracy, siloed thinking and outdated processes. Promote creativity and empowerment, and redefine the role of the manager to meet these needs.



Read more on this subject:

One Flat Management Company Goes Two-Dimensional Again

Considering Holacracy? Watch Out for These 6 Red Flags


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