Set Your People Free

In Gary Hamel's book, he suggests three areas on which to focus when creating a more human organization, and one of them is "too much management, too little freedom." As I said in my previous post, most people will agree with that statement at the high level, but I doubt as many will when the rubber meets the road–where people in charge actually have to manage less and dole out more freedom.

So think about your office and the various people that report directly to you. That's probably the easiest place to start. What would happen if you managed them less? It's hard to tell YOU what that would look like, since I assume it varies a lot case to case, depending on the culture of your organization, how many people you manage, how many people THEY manage, your personality, etc. So you have to figure this one out.

What is it you DO that manages these people? In what areas are they not free to do whatever they want–they have to go through you first. Can you see the places where you have the ability to GIVE freedom to your people. Imagine (this is only a thought experiment–for now!) what kinds of things would happen if you dramatically tipped the scales towards freedom. You still get to manage some, just significantly less than now. What are the range of impacts? What assumptions do you have that drive that range that you just came up with?

Even better, talk to them about it. Share the assumptions you have about why you manage. Would you really open yourself up that much? Hmm. Maybe I'll write another post on that.

In the mean time, at a high level, here are my predictions about what might happen if you give your people more freedom and manage them less:

Some people won't like it.
There are plenty of people out there who would rather have you make the decision. You get paid the big bucks, after all, shouldn't you be making these calls? Sure, you will need to make some decisions, but depending on the existing culture, you may be asked to do more than you should. Remember, freedom isn't comfortable, so if people aren't used to it, there will be some resistance. I know it's odd, but not everyone will jump at the chance to be in a more human organization, at least not at first.

You will have more time
The internal bandwidth that is used up by managing when you don't have to can be freed up along with the freedom your people now have. You will have new challenges, of course, so it's not like you're going to be bored. But you can shift that bandwidth to activities that will have more impact for you and the organization. In my opinion, THIS is why you get the big bucks.

You will have some 'splaining to do
This will be new. If it's not new, then the freedom part isn't really happening. Your people will start doing things that they didn't used to do, and you'll get new results, and you will not be managing it all in the same way you used to, and that will feel weird to you, to your people, and to others in the system. Even if the whole organization is you and the people that report to you, there are other stakeholders (members, customers, volunteers, etc.) that will not be used to the new way of doing things. Systems naturally respond to change, and in organizations it's not usually positive. You'll have to address that head on. Like any leadership challenge, there is an extensive communications piece to this.

You'll get better results
Your people will do better work. Freedom will allow them to bring more of themselves to work, and they will produce more. You will be more effective as a leader to, because you'll have the freedom to focus more on leading and less on doing the things you did before you got this position. things will look very different, and it will feel more chaotic at times, and there might be moments where you feel it's not working as well as it did when you had more control. But I am assuming the results you want are long term. Don't shut down the unbounded potential of employees who feel free just to give you the short term comfort of predictable results.