When people talk about what it takes to get employees fully engaged, somebody invariably declares the need for greater “empowerment.” Nice thought. Wrong direction. Truth is, empowerment is a fundamentally flawed notion of how to approach world class engagement among interdependent adult human beings.
Doug Kirkpatrick, a former colleague with The Morning Star Company and co-founder of the Self-Management Institute, puts it this way in his TED talk. “Empowerment implies that one person with power is lending their power to a subordinate who has less power. The problem with this scenario is that what is loaned can be repossessed. People in self management have all the power they need from day one to acquire resources, build relationships and do their best work. Self management is beyond empowerment. Self management is power itself.”
The concept of self-management is not new, and it’s not uncommon in small entrepreneurial operations. The challenge, most pundits assert, is how to scale that approach for large operations. In 1990, the president of The Morning Star Company, a new start-up in the tomato processing business, decided he was going to run his operation with no managers and no bosses – no matter how big they got. How did it work? Today, Morning Star is the largest tomato processing company in the country, and still growing – without any managers or bosses.
The Value of Freedom
At the heart of the self-management philosophy is a fundamental premise: the value of freedom in the workplace. People are more engaged when they are free to do what they know and do best every day, and they don’t need bosses to tell them what to do or check up on them all the time.
That said, self-management does NOT mean that people can run around doing their own thing willy-nilly without regard to their impact on others. To the contrary, Morning Star’s operating systems and processes are grounded in a rigorous application of the two basic, driving principles underlying the code of law:
- Human beings should not use force or coercion against other human beings (criminal law)
- People should honor the commitments they make to others (civil law)
A somewhat related self-management model that has gained notoriety during the past decade is “holacracy.” Wikipedia describes it as “a specific social technology or system of organizational governance … in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy.”
Drawing on Human Nature
Regardless of what it’s called, the movement toward self-management is picking up momentum, and the results have been dramatic in many places where it’s being applied.
It also epitomizes the principles in my book, “Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement.” If you want to get the best from employees, working relationships must be designed in tune with the two most compelling traits that differentiate human being from all other living creatures. Those are imagination and free will – the capacity to conceive of things that do not exist in the natural world combined with the desire and ability to freely make choices that are not dictated solely by our animal program for survival.
Two big barriers standing in the way of organizations making the leap toward self-management are fear of losing control and a lack of trust in people’s ability and desire to always do the “right” thing without supervision. If you break down that word, it’s easy to see the fundamental flaw in what it implies. In truth, there is nothing “super” about the “vision” of a boss who rarely has as much insight about the job as the person who does it every minute of every day.
If you’re looking for inspiration to help make that leap, here’s a spot-on quote from Steve Jobs that speaks volumes about the rationale for self-management : “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Our ImaginAction System can help you take baby steps toward self management principles. Download our free guide to learn more. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.
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