least the time of Frederick Taylor, the father of “scientific management,”
control has been central to corporate organization. It feels like what a
manager should be doing: Setting targets, monitoring adherence to procedures,
directing, shaping the future of the business. Control feels
essential—especially if you are the boss.
turns out that far from being vital, top-down control carries serious costs,
many of which have been hiding in plain sight. What is more, there is an
alternative. And not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy conjured up on a whiteboard, but
a real, working alternative. It has been practiced to varying degrees in companies
around the world for decades.
alternative has never had a name because—fittingly, as you’ll see—it hasn’t
really had a guru. Its principles have been passed from business leader to
business leader like samizdat. But more recently it has started to come
into the open. We call it corporate liberation.
can be stated simply enough: A liberated company allows employees complete
freedom and responsibility to take actions that they—not their managers—decide
are best for their company’s vision. That doesn’t mean that these firms are
unmanaged. On the contrary, the specific actions that we observed in close to
one hundred liberated companies prove the opposite.
example, every morning, a liberated company’s manager would ask whether there is
anything preventing their team from doing their best. That may not sound
unusual, but here’s the first twist: When their team shares a problem or an
opportunity with them, they will not offer a solution. Instead, they ask
them to find their own—after ensuring that there isn’t something she’s doing
that would get in the way.
beings have certain universal psychological needs: The need to be treated as
intrinsically equal, the need for personal growth, and to exercise
self-direction. Each of these needs is frequently and systematically denied by
traditional command-and-control managerial hierarchies. Perhaps the most
important benefit of liberating an organization—because it leads in turn to all
the other benefits—is the creation of an environment that feeds these universal
needs, rather than stifling them. - Glenn Leet
of the most striking findings about liberated companies is the extremely high
level of engagement and intrinsic motivation among employees. The collateral
benefit of this high engagement is that the liberated organization outperforms
the traditional one. The reason for it is not in some top-management talk about
serving the “whole person.” It’s simply that feeding psychological needs lead
to higher engagement and—as a consequence—to higher team productivity and
initiative and increased corporate performance.
manage a business or plan to do so, here are practical steps to build a
freedom-based workplace in your own company right now.
Steps for building a freedom-based team
employees won’t believe you trust their intelligence if you are always the one
with the “best solution.”
company’s vision. This
isn’t specific to building a liberated workplace. Yet, given the discretion allowed
in freedom-based companies, a shared vision is fundamental since it provides a
common criterion for the teams to make their decisions. Qualified people don’t
need to be told how to do their jobs, but especially when you set them free,
they need to know why they’re doing what they’re doing—so they can do it
the respect tide—the climate in which most manager-leaders show through their actions
that they respect and trust employees. It requires the manager-leaders to
remove the obstacles preventing teams from doing their best.
team what’s in their way. If any organizational practice or structural element is mistrusting
their intelligence, limiting their growth, or hampering their self-direction.
If yes, ask them to redesign it. Be prepared to see the majority of control
practices and structures—both in the hierarchical and in the support
functions—gradually replaced. The respect tide will stimulate teams’
willingness to set their own work schedules or to make their own hires, and these
demands affect organizational processes.
the guardian of the liberated team. When teams assume more responsibilities and make
more decisions on their own, fewer remain for all levels of managers. Managers
who accept this will be busy serving their teams while abstaining from using
their formal authority.
employees will be willing to come to work every day to do their best, your
manager-leaders will spend their days revealing employee potential, and you
will enjoy dinner every night with your family knowing that your business is
Adapted HBR Sept 2018
Carney & Getz