I want to comment on some resent comments and emails, in one hit. So here is one reply I made earlier.
This idea started 10 years ago for me, when at the LSE I met a guy called Ricardo Selmer. He owned a company of 4000 staff, made everything from ship pumps to Insurances, all without a single manager in sight (I will explain what I mean by manager & management in a moment). It was remarkable. No plans, strategies, KPI's or anything like that. He offered an alternative from the ‘machine’ idea of an organisation with people as cogs and not humans. He did it intuitively, not as a result of theory or with a management consultant, no pre-conception or ‘plan’ just a need to have a fun, happy place to work. Soon after meeting and learning about Ricardo I discovered and studied ‘Complexity Theory’ or Human Systems thinking, which in simple terms explores how we ‘operate’ as people, in our systems, life and how this particular organisation stayed together and worked.
I started BGCBC over two years ago when the CEO invited me in to talk to the Senior Management. They were looking to change the way Public Services operated, whilst maintaining services with ever decreasing finances. My theory, tried and tested in over 25 small, medium, large businesses, I thought could help achieve results, increase democracy, remove the ‘systems’ of nonsense such as KPI’s and release staff to do things their way.
This was NEVER about getting 'rid' of managers (people), only management (the thing they get paid to do). If you get frontline staff to realise that they know the job best, that they can change it to do things better, then the results are amazing. Despite the impression from the programme it took two months to gain trust from the staff, to get them to understand they can change the ‘system’ and deliver a better service to the people of Blaenau Gwent. After all, most if not all of the staff were from the Borough, and customers themselves.
There are now no 'managers' left in Environmental Services, only a few leaders, and they change according to experience, responsibility, project and needs of customers and councilors, voted in as and when needed by the staff themselves. The money saved by this experiment was/is being invested for the most part back into frontline services, decided by the staff themselves.
I would add here, that in all other organisations I have dealt with ‘managers’ or as I call them leaders receive less money than frontline staff, after all as one person stated at the beginning, managers do less, have more freedom and after my process less responsibility.
It’s also worth noting here that the Binmen and the Garage bosses were the product of the Council system. They have behaved and acted this way, I suppose, simply as that was what the system expected. They are the product of the way the organisation was socially constructed and structured. They were/are not naturally managers, they became managers because the organisation expected them to and indeed the staff wanted it. They saw only one way of organisation. I showed them that there is an alternative. This alternative, whilst similar to ‘co-operatives’ is not, as there are always elected ‘leaders’, and in my private companies profit is still a motive, albeit a tiny part.
I also have to add that as the ‘Expert’ in all this, I never got paid a penny. I did this to prove to everyone, Councilors, Unions, Academics, more than anyone that if you ask the staff, trust them and let them do it their way to please the public, it is more effective, less expensive (for the most part) and much more efficient. Organisations are about people; people are messy, subjective and individual. Leadership is about people, dealing with messy, understanding we don’t see it all ‘one-way’ and if we treat people with respect and difference we get a better place to live and work. Good leaders sell passion and trust others.
I would also note here that as an academic, I never once ‘taught’ the Binmen or Recycling Crews ‘Leadership or Management’ theory. As I think most of the problems of businesses and work today is the historical subjectification of managerialism and performativity that still ruins most organisations in the western world.
In short I moved the 250 staff beyond focusing on targets and measures of effectiveness, away from performance management and instead focus on values and boundaries that really matter for organisational sustainability, which is people focused, more so individually maintained. Values and boundaries that inspire innovativeness, creativity and support natural human-system. The starting point of all this is ‘managers’, ‘CEO’s’ and anyone who will block the removal of power from the top and disperse throughout the organisation.
The change is taking managers to this place called ‘leadership’ (but not in the conventional sense, but I still don’t know how to describe it’s fluid, emergent process). Leadership for me revolves around ‘individual values’, ideas, direction, and has more to do with inspiring and influencing people as to direction and values than with day-to-day implementation, which is best left to the experts – the frontline staff. The ‘democratic leaders’ in my thinking, are capable of influencing other people to do things without actually sitting on top of them with a checklist. But all this requires trust, openness, communication, risk and creativity, which are founded on the leaders being from within the social network of the organisation. Leaders in my companies are within and throughout the organisation and resultant democratic processes as inspiring confidence in others and ourselves and as a result, we become more relaxed, communicative and successful (whatever this means for the organization or department).
My dislike for ‘management’ is nothing personal bytheway. It is about how we think about what management and managers are, and about how we act and behave in our role as manager, it is not the person. Managers cause so much unhappiness in organisations through a focus on targets and measurement, control, organising others with an absence of critical thinking skills, and not people. This is in part due to the growing standardisation in MBA programs and the trend toward measurement, regulation and command in vain attempts to avoid uncertainty. There are exceptions, but these managers (leaders) are rare and usually eventually ‘conform’ to the world of mechanics, cogs, targets and measurement. This destroys the natural fabric of human creativity, innovativeness, trust, openness, ownership, inspiration and leadership. We are simply different, each one of us are individuals with our own ways of thinking and doing. I attempt to realise this in my work and the development of an organisational architecture that accepts direction is needed in the organisation without causing harm to the people within.
Then it’s about changing the mindset of the workforce. From one of subservience to ownership; from a blaming culture to one of responsibility; from the individual to the networked. For employees to take increased ownership and personal responsibility for moving the organisation forward, employees require support, respect, trust, open communication, and opportunities. They have to network and communicate far more than is currently realised. However with change, comes risk and uncertainty and the biggest challenge is the acceptance that uncertainty is a natural part of the process. For example, inspiring frontline staff to choose their staff uniforms, or arrange shift-patterns, or order equipment, gradually increasing responsibility. Naturally, self-organisation and self-leadership will start to unfold, as other questions will begin to be raised.
The successes are always different in each division, organization, department and these are always stated, as ‘successes’ by the frontline staff themselves, no manager states what s/he wants from the outset. I am not a ‘management consultant’. The job and finish for the binmen and now all the workers still remains. The idea of this is we buy talent and outcomes (note here not output) and not time. If we maintain the same ‘managerial ideals’ systems, thought processes, then yes the increasing burden on the ‘men would result in a decrease of the value in wages, but this doesn’t happen. Why? Well its quite simple in most organisations we throw out all of the systems, processes, rules, regulations (even Health & Safety) and rebuild them from the service/product back up the structure (or in my world down). The Binmen, get released from for example filling in 5 forms before they leave each morning to one simple checklist. You are correct in that senior managers were not replaced, one left and wasn’t replaced right at the beginning, but his salary was used to hire 4 full time letter wardens and the same with others, although I accept a little was used to pay the frontline staff more, but this was to equal out injustices in the pay scales.
Whilst there are on the face of things similarities in Post-Fordism approach, these are incidental and if I’m honest only used by me to allow me in to the next department/organization as it simply ‘talks their language i.e. Manageralism. The quest of my approach is freedom, fun, trust, happiness and fulfillment of the workers. Allowing the passion of people to come to the fore, result in post-fordism symptoms (increasing productivity) but again, in some it doesn’t, it’s not the purpose. The purpose is simply to show, if we don’t treat people like children in work, telling them what to do, when, how and then watch them like 5 years we get similar results (perhaps) but a dam better place to work.
I agree with your worry and concern that I may indeed be providing a ‘shot in the arm of capitalism’ and or doing the work of "lazy" Senior Managers, and that thought was never my intension and indeed frightens me with same level. All I would say that as an academic in a business school for the last 15 years, the only way to change the managerial discourse is to change organisations from within, then hopefully the theory will follow, and we have an upwards spiral of change, towards the working class interests.
I hope this helps, and thank you for taking time to respond. I appreciate the thoughtful debate.