Reflecting on our past two Executive Roundtables a couple of insights have stayed with me. Tom van der Lubbe from Viisi Mortgages and Luke Kyte from Reddico shared how their companies are self-managed by their employees and that their success with this model is not a result of idealism or chance. They are both extraordinary successes, both commercially and in terms of employee engagement and satisfaction. Viisi was built from the start to be self-managed, but Reddico was a transformation from a traditional management model to becoming self-managed over a couple of years.
My first insight was from Luke when he was challenged on the many things that could go ‘wrong’ when empowering teams to become self-managed. Reddico’s experience was that 90%+ of their employees were ready to take on increased accountability and proactively worked hard to make the self-managed model successful. Only a small minority were not ready for this. So – why design an organisational model that is disempowering to 95% of the people in service of making sure that one ‘controls’ this small minority? Why not create a model where 95% of people flourish and then manage out the people for whom this model doesn’t fit?
My second insight was from Tom, where he shared the significant time he spends on researching other companies that have experimented with self-managed teams and organisations, as well as studying outcomes of academic studies. Every piece of the building blocks behind Viisi’s model has a link to findings on what has worked well and what hasn’t. Anything from Google’s experimentation and findings on what promotes productivity to studies in the NHS and health sector on what has people go above and beyond their ‘duty’.
My takeaway from these two thought-provoking roundtables is that so much opportunity is lost in our quest to make sure that things don’t go wrong. We have come to value people who can make promises and reliably deliver so highly that we risk becoming blind to the down-side – to make sure we reliably deliver we put in fail-safes, control and management to ensure predictability. What about learning from the increasing volume of insights into human behaviour and performance, and design systems that spur us into energised action, are agile and self-correct?
Yes, reliable and predictable performance has a major part to play in many organisations. But, where one is interested in discovering the hidden potential in a business, breaking new ground and see people flourish there is no doubt that taking the time to study the thorough thinking and thoughtful implementation behind building self-managed companies like Viisi and Reddico is well worth the investment.