Self-Management and No Management Are Two Different Things

Self-Management and No Management Are Two Different Things

A while ago I published a series of posts on the principles of self-management. It’s become a popular topic of conversation because a number of organizations are implementing holacracy. While the terms are being used interchangeably, they really aren’t the same thing. By Sharlyn Lauby, hrbartender

Self-management is the concept that individuals have responsibility and authority for their own behavior. This might sound like a no-brainer but, in the workplace, layers of bureaucracy have created cultures where employees have to go to a manager to solve a problem or to resolve a conflict.

Holacracy is an organizational system created by Brian Robertson, former programmer turned management consultant. It’s rooted in self-management. But it deals with organizational structure and how to distribute responsibility and authority.

Notice that no where have we talked about the idea of eliminating managers. Companies that support self-management can still have managers. It’s just that the managers’ role is different. The manager spends their time supporting a self-managing structure. Same with holacracy, except the manager title is replaced with another term. Conceptually, it’s the same. Managers don’t spend their time controlling and directing employees. They spend their time encouraging and supporting the culture.

It’s important to understand that wanting a self-managing culture doesn’t mean you have to abandon hierarchy. Implementing holacracy will replace one organizational structure with a new and different one. But neither eliminates structure. The organizations out there saying, “We’re eliminating all managers and we will have no organizational chart…” Well, that sounds like they’re eliminating structure. And those organizations have to figure out how they are going to get things done without it.

In fact, companies that are reducing structure to become more efficient aren’t eliminating it. And organizations reducing structure might want to look at concepts like holacracy and self-management as ways to invigorate the organization while redistributing responsibilities. But again, implementing these concepts doesn’t mean they’ve created anarchy.

Organizations are going to be faced with some organizational challenges in the months to come. As it becomes more challenging to find qualified talent, companies will have to consider strategies such as reorganization and redistribution of responsibilities. Don’t let concepts like self-management and holacracy scare senior management from having the conversation. Electing to eliminate managers is a separate decision. Yes, some organizations are doing both at the same time. That’s their strategy to deal with.

Giving employees responsibility and authority for their work can increase engagement and improve the organization’s bottom-line. The only way it works is by making sure employees are prepared, trained and supported throughout the organization. What the organization calls those individuals is entirely up to them. But they do need to exist.

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