HR Insights, Talent Management

Giving Up Control: It’s Key to Unleashing Your Workforce’s Power

From istockphoto.com

And the walls came tumbling down.

Last week I read the article about Zappos doing away with all job titles and replacing them with what is called Holacracy.

Developed by entrepreneur Brian Robertson, Holacracy is a system of governance that takes things like managers, job titles and bureaucratic red tape out of the equation, distributing leadership and power evenly across an organization.

Instead of a standard hierarchy, companies in a Holacracy are comprised of different “circles” and employees can have any range of roles and responsibilities within those circles.

Coming to an organization near you

There was also the article about the company that instituted a policy that no one is to be contacted while on vacation. The thinking behind this concepts makes sense. We have become tethered to technology that we feel that we have to have in order to be on 24/7.

Some of the other “employee friendly” policies I found were free beer Fridays, pets allowed in the workplace, volunteer days, PTO instead of sick days, yoga at work, paternal leave, etc. Hopefully we all have tasted tele-commuting, however, that has taken a back seat at some companies. This list could go on and on and we know that these perks are not one size fits all.

Bye-bye Industrial Age

The walls of the Industrial Age management are slowly crumbling. This is aided by the fact that not only are the organizations changing, but the new worker mindset is already there waiting for their companies to come along.

Workplaces today are embracing innovation, new technology, diversity and inclusion in order to build sustainable success. The linchpin that drives these innovative efforts depends on the quality of leadership, culture, and management practices at all levels of the organization. Each one must play a part in the change required to achieve these aspirations.

The organizations that are leading this charge realize that all these initiatives requires thinking and doing things in different ways from what has been done in our relatively slow-changing, and disconnected, Industrial Age past.

The challenge ahead is to unwind more than a century of Industrial Age thinking about work  – mindsets that are controlling, mistake-averse and “know it all,” and evolve them into ones that are enabling, learning and willing to try new things and fail.

The notion of worker versus manager is outdated, and a collaboration between these two is needed to move forward with a new agenda

The primary drivers of the Industrial Age were equipment and capital, and that was what was important. Employees were seen as necessary but replaceable. Thus the term “hired hands” or “warm bodies” was born.

However, we now are living in a new economic era and the main drivers are knowledge and intellectual capital. The problem is that many of our management practices today originated back in the Industrial Age and the older manager was probably steeped in these practices.

Management knows best?

Whatever our systems and processes, they were conceived at an earlier time. Recruiting, hiring, training, and performance reviews all came along as organizations grew.

Communications were top down, if at all. Managers and bosses had all the answers. It was “my way or the highway.” Employees were not considered a part of the process in any way.

Our job descriptions force us, in a lot of cases, to try to fit a square peg into a round hole. The manager of this era saw his people as employees and subordinates.

Some of the companies mentioned earlier do not refer to their people as employees; you hear different terms such as associates, partners, etc. Today people want to be treated as part of the process and not just a cog in the wheel.

Controlling vs releasing

The Industrial Age mindset is one of controlling people while the modern era is more about empowering people to achieve their highest potential. Survival in this extremely competitive economic era demands that our people be allowed to bring forth their unique contribution. Isn’t that is what we hired them for?

Bottom line: we manage THINGS, but THINGS don’t have the freedom to choose. We lead PEOPLE who do have the power to choose.

Unleashing the potential of this age will require a fundamental break with the control paradigm. It will require leaders to embrace what the late Dr. Steven Covey referred to as “The Whole Person Paradigm.”

Connect with your people and you will reach new heights. Fail to connect with them and all the ills of the workplace will camp at your door.

Ron Thomas is CEO of Great Place to Work-GCC countries, based in Dubai. He formerly was Chief HR Officer of the RGTS Group in Saudi Arabia. Ron is also a senior faculty member of the Human Capital Institute. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as a Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS) and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living. Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia. Contact him at ronaldtthomas@gmail.com or on Twitter.
  • Roger Plachy

    What do we do with employees? Well, we don’t “lead” them as most advice and development efforts would have us do. Leadership is not a mantel that one chooses to wear proudly. Instead, being anointed a leader is bestowed by followers, at their discretion.

    Leadership cannot emanate from the organization position of “manager.” Now THIS is a traditional mindset we need to change. No amount of leadership practices will make a leader out of a manager who is out of touch with employees (whatever imagination-enriching term for “employee” is in vogue).

    Should we encourage employees to participate fully to develop and fulfill the organization’s mission? Of course—that’s what managers do.