Freedom to Do the Work that Matters Most photo

Freedom to Do the Work that Matters Most

Since atleast the time of Frederick Taylor, the father of “scientific management,”control has been central to corporate organization. It feels like what amanager should be doing: Setting targets, monitoring adherence to procedures,directing, shaping the future of the business. Control feelsessential—especially if you are the boss.

Except itturns 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 analternative. And not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy conjured up on a whiteboard, buta real, working alternative. It has been practiced to varying degrees in companiesaround the world for decades.

Thisalternative has never had a name because—fittingly, as you’ll see—it hasn’treally had a guru. Its principles have been passed from business leader tobusiness leader like samizdat. But more recently it has started to comeinto the open. We call it corporate liberation.

The ideacan be stated simply enough: A liberated company allows employees completefreedom and responsibility to take actions that they—not their managers—decideare best for their company’s vision. That doesn’t mean that these firms areunmanaged. On the contrary, the specific actions that we observed in close toone hundred liberated companies prove the opposite.

Forexample, every morning, a liberated company’s manager would ask whether there isanything preventing their team from doing their best. That may not soundunusual, but here’s the first twist: When their team shares a problem or anopportunity with them, they will not offer a solution. Instead, they askthem to find their own—after ensuring that there isn’t something she’s doingthat would get in the way.

Humanbeings have certain universal psychological needs: The need to be treated asintrinsically equal, the need for personal growth, and to exerciseself-direction. Each of these needs is frequently and systematically denied bytraditional command-and-control managerial hierarchies. Perhaps the mostimportant benefit of liberating an organization—because it leads in turn to allthe other benefits—is the creation of an environment that feeds these universalneeds, rather than stifling them. - Glenn Leet

Thus oneof the most striking findings about liberated companies is the extremely highlevel of engagement and intrinsic motivation among employees. The collateralbenefit of this high engagement is that the liberated organization outperformsthe traditional one. The reason for it is not in some top-management talk aboutserving the “whole person.” It’s simply that feeding psychological needs leadto higher engagement and—as a consequence—to higher team productivity andinitiative and increased corporate performance.

If youmanage a business or plan to do so, here are practical steps to build afreedom-based workplace in your own company right now.

Steps for building a freedom-based team

Lose yourego. Youremployees won’t believe you trust their intelligence if you are always the onewith the “best solution.”

Share thecompany’s vision. Thisisn’t specific to building a liberated workplace. Yet, given the discretion allowedin freedom-based companies, a shared vision is fundamental since it provides acommon criterion for the teams to make their decisions. Qualified people don’tneed 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 itbetter.

Createthe respect tide—the climate in which most manager-leaders show through their actionsthat they respect and trust employees. It requires the manager-leaders toremove the obstacles preventing teams from doing their best.

Ask yourteam what’s in their way. If any organizational practice or structural element is mistrustingtheir intelligence, limiting their growth, or hampering their self-direction.If yes, ask them to redesign it. Be prepared to see the majority of controlpractices and structures—both in the hierarchical and in the supportfunctions—gradually replaced. The respect tide will stimulate teams’willingness to set their own work schedules or to make their own hires, and thesedemands affect organizational processes.

Becomethe guardian of the liberated team. When teams assume more responsibilities and makemore decisions on their own, fewer remain for all levels of managers. Managerswho accept this will be busy serving their teams while abstaining from usingtheir formal authority.

Youremployees will be willing to come to work every day to do their best, yourmanager-leaders will spend their days revealing employee potential, and youwill enjoy dinner every night with your family knowing that your business issucceeding.

Adapted HBR Sept 2018Carney & Getz