Stop Managing People – Start Facilitating Self-Management

October 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

For me, it is so easy to fall prey to the spell of Frederick Taylor. Taylor promoted Scientific Management in the mid 1800’s. His theory reinforced the ideas that people should be told what to do and controlled with pay policies. The Taylor theory promoted the idea management is smarter and must therefore “manage” the employees who are less intelligent and less educated. Our language still reflects this theory even though most managers will deny they believe it.

We use phases like, “we need to better manage our people; we need to drive improvement, or drive change; we need to manage employee performance every day.” These are all consistent with the Frederick Taylor model which holds that employees need to be managed. Let’s change our paradigm. To begin to do that let’s change our language. Let’s start encouraging and facilitating self-management.

Self-management means helping everyone to focus on the improvement of their interactions. There are two steps to start facilitating self-management. First, we must draw a distinction between interpersonal interactions and system interactions. Interpersonal interactions are one-on-one communications with co-workers and/or customers. System interactions are the bits of information that pass between people in a process. I call these “hand offs.” Discussing issues or having a conflict with another is an interpersonal interaction. A new sales order is a hand off between a sales person and operations. Employees can manage both their interpersonal interactions and they can manage their individual hand offs. They don’t need a manager to help them with either one. They can manage the quality, speed, efficiency, effectiveness of all their interactions. They can take responsibility for their behaviors and for the quality and speed of information they process. Some employees may not be fully ready to manage these on their own. This is where managers can help them by facilitating. They can facilitate by identifying and removing barriers to self-management.

The second step in self-management is to give “Fearless Feedback.” Instead of “working on employee performance” we need to provide immediate, respectful, and accurate feedback. When employees are behaving in ways that damage trust or in ways that prevent learning, they need to know. If they are building trust or learning, they need to be appreciated. It sounds so simple and it is not easy because it requires discipline.

Dr. W Edwards Deming said 94% of the problems are in the system. If this is true we should spend at least 94% of our time on improving the system. When people act out with poor behaviors (those that damage trust and learning) it is because the system created frustrations for them and they over react. In my experience, those behaviors are a “red flag” indicating problems in the system interactions. The key is to deliver and receive fearless feedback at all times. Fearless feedback can create total responsibility to correct both interpersonal interactions and system interactions.

Leaders can begin to facilitate self-management by helping everyone understand the distinction between interpersonal interactions and system interactions and then encouraging respectful feedback on both. It is estimated the average manager spends nearly 30% of their time managing poor performers and correcting their mistakes. Imagine how much more profit could be generated if we freed up this valuable management time. We can do that if we stop trying to manage employees and begin to facilitate self-management. We can change our language first.


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