A new perspective on management

A long time ago I attended a seminar on management. A partner of a well-known consultancy argued that managing is simple. He compared it to balancing a broomstick on the tip of your finger: the broomstick is constantly falling over. By paying attention to how the broomstick will fall and always making adjustments, it stays in balance. How hard can management be?

Managing for control
This story illustrates the (unconscious) beliefs behind traditional management: “if you do not (pro) actively control and adjust, there will be chaos.” Management gives instructions – what is to be done and how – and controls the output. Another important assumption is that the desired results will then “automatically” emerge from the process. And there is implicit distrust that teams can achieve the desired results autonomously: the broomstick will fall if it is not scrutinized all of the time.

For a long time this view worked fine: with apparently predictable and longterm growth, it was relatively easy to make a strategic plan, divide it into periodic schedules and use it to manage the organization.

Pulling the grass
But following such a process no longer automatically leads to the desired results. As discussed earlier, change processes often fail because employees are not taken along well enough in the movement that management aspires to: lack of support, insufficient focus and change capacity cause the most frictions. The result: insufficient agility and resilience and little pro-activity to external events and developments. The feeling that this creates among many managers is that they are busy “pulling the grass and hoping this will make it grow faster”. An exhausting and unsatisfying activity.

But grass cannot be forced. That applies to everything in nature, including humans. This in contrast to “things”, such as…well: a broomstick. Too much direction and control, driven by underlying mistrust, leads to stress. Burnouts as a result of work stress are now the most important occupational disease, possibly around the world. The way in which it an organization is managed plays an important role here.

Organize for success
Every gardener knows that you can influence the soil, creating a fertile situation. Responsive organizations manage to create such a situation and let teams thrive. How do they do that?

First of all, autonomy is invested as much as possible with the employees in teams. People are more motivated when they can work together autonomously. That means a high degree of independence, decision-making authority and responsibility. The degree of autonomy or self-management can differ, depending on the culture and beliefs that live within the organization.

But isn’t it going to be chaos, as the broomstick metaphor predicts? On the contrary. Research into self-managing teams shows time and again that employees who determine how they do their work are more motivated, collaborate better and achieve better results. Provided there is clarity about the direction and goals. Creating that clarity, together with the team, is where the manager adds value.

The key here is trust. Trust is mutual, so you get what you give: people try their best not to shame it and are motivated by it.

Don’t control, create!
There is then still plenty to do for managers. But their role now is about creating the breeding ground for success – not about directing and controlling.

What are the ingredients? Clarity about the goals has already been mentioned – of course with sufficient support (70% of the teams do not agree with the goals of their management!). In addition: ensure that people come into their own! That means that they do what they want to do, what they can do and that they can focus on their work. Encourage good team dynamics (feedback). This means that every team is complete, and that it is clear to everyone what their role is and how it contributes to the goals of the team. Psychological safety is the most important ingredient here. This ensures that people share ideas, give their opinion, dare to make mistakes and celebrate successes together. This is the fertile ground for creativity and growth!

Give your team freedom in confidence.
Just like the gardener trusts nature to do its job. Will it always go well then? Of course not: usually something happens that is not foreseen. Which is exactly why you have a responsive team and where you can make the difference as a manager. By overseeing the situation and helping people to find an answer to (new) dilemmas together.

The world is far from predictable. And that’s one reason responsive teams are needed. Another reason is that people thrive when you tap into their intrinsic motivation and creativity. This requires managers who inspire employees with clear goals and then let them come into their own in a safe environment.