Self –Management ‘look before you leap’

Laying the groundwork for the successful implementation of self-management

My recent blogs have focused on self-organization and self-managing teams. By self-organization I mean a management practice that
• stimulates individuals to take responsibility for their objectives and for the tasks required to meet them
• provides the necessary space and rules at the individual and the organizational level that are need to succeed.

I would like to explore the conditions that should be met prior to implementing selfmanagement to increase the chances for success. Transitions to self-management should not be rushed. Proceed carefully and slowly and consider the following questions:

  1. What specific changes do you expect from the implementation of self-management and how will you measure them?
  2. Are your colleagues ready for this change – have they even asked for more autonomy and responsibility?
  3. Are managers and especially the top management supportive?
  4. Is the corporate philosophy and operating structure flexible enough to accommodate a very different way of working?

My experience supporting clients as they transition to self-management demonstrates key principles to address:

  1. Be prepared to define and measure the results of self-management: What constitutes better results and how will they be measured? For example, do you anticipate higher performance rates, greater motivation, fewer sick days, less burn-out etc., better or more sophisticated solutions to complex problems? Without a specific and well-defined objective in mind and a result(s) to measure and a way to measure the result, a business is not ready to implement self-management.
  2. Develop a rationale to help staff understand how they will benefit from the new way of operating: A company’s human capital, its people, is by far its most valuable asset. What benefits will employees receive by taking on greater responsibility and do they want to do it? If there is no benefit for them, can you nonetheless come up with a compelling reason for them to participate? Some staff may argue that it is the boss who should shoulder responsibility, whilst others may not feel capable of doing it. Indeed, management may question the skills, knowledge and general competencies of their staff to take on responsibility.
  3. Anticipate and address the effects of change on managers: A transition to self-management can destabilize managers. The transfer of responsibility it entails can lead to fear, a feeling of disenfranchisement and suspicion. Managers may become anxious about their possible loss of status, or a lowering of their position in the company hierarchy and an associated reduction in salary. They may doubt the ability of their staff to perform in the new environment, having found them unproductive in the past in the absence of close management. Younger staff members may worry that the traditional route to promotion may be lost to them if managerial positions will disappear.
  4. Define who will carry the ultimate responsibility for decisions: This can be particularly problematic within auditing functions where a lack of compliance can lead to official fines and impact one’s reputation. For all functions, as for auditing, it will be important to structure processes in a way that ensures transparency and avoids victimization in the case of poor results.

In summary, the following conditions should be in place to increase the potential for for successful outcomes from self-managing individuals and teams:

  1. Ensure a common understanding of self-management amongst participants. One means to do this is to co-create a vision for organizational improvement through self-management.
  2. Be ready to train, coach, and mentor employees before, during and after the implementation process.
  3. Work with managers to develop concepts for alternative roles and development paths for them. Create an environment that encourages them to be creative and to experiment with new ways of working.
  4. Apply self-management only where it is appropriate. Study your company’s business structure and functions, communication routes and decision making processes to identify the parts of the organization best suited (and not suited) for self-management.

What if these pre-requisites cannot be met, or can be met only partially? Can self-management still be applied? In some cases, yes: A team of internal consultants working within a governmental organization decided to adopt self-organization within a team of seven colleagues. Their manager suggested that they use the tool only amongst themselves and use it only on projects that allowed them to stay under the radar and only for those projects that had no effect on others. After one ear they would evaluate the process and its results and share it with other colleagues.

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