Once the leadership of an organisation has decided that a more empowering structure is a good way forward, they have to begin the transition to self management. The decision is just the beginning. How do you transition an organisation from hierarchy to self-management? It’s never easy or quick.
We have found that there are six essential things that help pave the way to a less bumpy ride.
Leaders must lead
Firstly it is essential from the start that the leadership adopts and embodies the principles of self-management themselves, otherwise staff become confused about the consistency of applying the principles. Trying to shift an organisation to self-management without having embraced the principles yourself is a bit like building the Burj al Araab without any foundations.
Know Your People
Secondly it is important to have a deep understanding of the people within your organisation at the outset. This means conducting a mapping exercise to be clear about the levels of skills, knowledge, character and personalities, and ideally their levels of maturity along the developmental model you choose.
For some organisations this is a first step towards becoming a coaching and learning organisations and helps prepare the way. Despite the widespread availability of psychometric and strengths profiling tools, there are still plenty of organisations who rely on straightforward job descriptions alone. As people are asked to explore their own talents, sense of meaning and purpose, and really look at how they would like to work and live in the future, windows begin to open in their minds to new possibilities. This can be very exciting for them, but it is also a time when fears and resistance are likely to arise so having good coaching support available at the beginning is important. In the future, you will want some of your managers to transition to the coaching manager role, but at the start they will need coaching support themselves.
It is very useful to use developmental profiling at this stage because you can then assess the level of psychological development of individuals. This helps you work out where the most resistance to self-management principles is likely to come from. The Barrett Values Assessment is an excellent example which allows you to track individual, departmental and organisational levels of consciousness and identify where cultural atrophy lurks so that you can focus your areas of support.
Shape A Clear Vision
This is one of the first exercises you can do using the collective intelligence inside your organisation. Rather than involving external organisations like brand agencies or management consultancies, review the organisation’s strategy and vision with the people who work within the organisation. If you run the review as a way of gathering intelligence, information and input from everyone in the organisation, you have made a crucial start to shifting to self management.
You can use expert external facilitators to support the process, or you can plan in early training for some middle and senior managers in your organisation. They will need to be adept in designing workshops which allow people with widely varying skillsets, cultural backgrounds, different personalities and characters to all contribute equally. They will also need a lot of observational experience in reading the air, sensing into and underneath obvious language, body language, shape and patterns in which people work. They will also have to be excellent synthesisers. The Activating Creativity 90 process is one of the best models we use in this period because it is quick, sharp and never fails to unearth the information needed at this stage.
It’s important to discuss the implications of self-management and its consequences for people in side the organisation so sharing the decision to move to this model with the organisation from the beginning is also key. You need to start a learning process about what self management is. It’s worth bringing in other organisations who are further advanced in the process to talk about their experiences if you can.
Start Shaping Frameworks
The next critical step is to start shaping your organisational frameworks and team frameworks at this point. Again, following self-management principles, this is something you do together as an organisation.
Organisational frameworks are complex to achieve. Moving from rules to frameworks is not always easily understood by everyone. To make it as simple as possible, an organisation needs to understand exactly where it must be compliant with the laws of the countries in which it operates, and where in all its processes it must meet regulatory standards. For example in terms of employment law, if a team member is not performing adequately, they can’t just be fired. There needs to be due process which documents clearly that the team member has been given chances to improve. In this case the ‘framework’ is whatever the organisation decides is the right application of the law of the country in which it works. Outside of these laws and regulations, everything is up for grabs. Establishing organisational frameworks is about understanding where the opportunities are for autonomous action and where they aren’t.
In the case of Matt Black Systems, an aerospace engineering company which designs and manufactures components for commercial and private aircraft, this meant developing clear processes for self-managed teams to ensure they met all regulatory, legal, safety and quality standard processes which apply to their industry. Otherwise planes would start falling from the sky. This was a long, complex and laborious process which they did in an analogue fashion by documenting every single step that a team would have to take to ensure compliance. Once that was done, it became clear that the room for freedom and autonomy would lie around building teams, choosing work colleagues, choosing work practices, choosing suppliers, choosing working hours and methods, responsibility for financial performance, workplace design and several other areas. Matt Black was a relatively small company. To do this inside an organisation the size of a multinational which operates a enterprise resource management system such as SAP, would be much more complex.
At this point often the notion of blueprint or development model arises. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of wanting to produce a blueprint or plan to make the transition to self-management. Many organisations try it. We have found in our research that the most successful organisations take a developmental approach because this allows for more mental flexibility and freedom in the approach to change. It also reminds people to continuously consult and take into account the opinions and views of the whole organisation which is an essential principle.
Run a Test Pilot
One of the best ways to introduce self-management is to run a test pilot. You can create an invisible perimeter around an area of the business – it could be a brand, a product or a specific project which has emerged from the vision consultation. It can be used to explore what works and what doesn’t, how team members need to adjust, what challenges arise. All of this can be documented for future use. It also takes advantage of the energy centres within the organisation for self-management. Inevitably there will be people who are more enthusiastic about the new approach than others. This energy can be leveraged in a test pilot.
It also has the advantage that any teething problems will not be experienced by the whole company. It is important to choose a part of the organisation that is reasonably representative of the whole so that what is learned can be applied in the rest of the company.