One of the people on our continuously growing Bucket List of organization pioneers is Chuck Blakeman. We recently talked to him to learn more about self-managing organizations. A lot of the organizations we’ve researched over the last year are self-managed or on their way to become self-managed. But as much as we like to talk about these radically different (and often successful) organizations, we also want to shed light on how they have made their transition in the first place. In our talk with Chuck, we went into great detail on the transformation process towards self-management.
Who is Chuck Blakeman?
Chuck Blakeman is an entrepreneur, author, and business adviser with a strong focus on self-management. He regularly contributes to Inc. Magazine and helps organizations to become self-managed with the Crankset Group. He proudly admits to “having not attended a business school or that kind of crap“.
Chuck often talks about Participation Age organizations. With this he means companies “with no departments, no corporate ladder or promotions, no HR department, and no written policies–just a few written beliefs. And with no managers, just a very few leaders, who lead because people are following them, not because they have a title on their door.“
Chuck’s bold statements resonate with us: “Companies are discovering that if they invite everyone to participate in the building of a great company, and to share in the rewards, both the company and the people profit more. This isn’t woo-woo crap; these are hard-core success strategies.”
Chuck talks from experience as he has started, build and led several different companies around the globe. His comment on how he ran one of his previous companies clarifies his views: “I was doing business in a way that was common sense to me, but it was considered goofy by others. We, for example had no titles and no managers.” We’ve witnessed some similar success at Morning Star, Finext, Hollands Kroon, the department of Social Security in Brussels.
Many more companies are aspiring to transition towards a more self-managed way or organizing. To support this change, we’ve asked Chuck what would be his advice to successfully make the transformation. He lays out four steps.
1. Educate with data and examples
In order for employees and teams to understand what it means to be self-managed, first you need to educate them. Share convincing evidence and data that proves the potential success. It helps people to understand the potential of the new organizational paradigm.
Even more powerful are examples and case studies. The stories of other organizations have a tremendous power to inspire people. But make sure you don’t just talk about the positive sides of self-management. Also discuss potential challenges and problems they might run into. Self-management isn’t easy and problem-free, so make sure people understand that upfront.
There’s a long list of inspiring examples on our Bucket List, including the challenges some of them run into.
2. Start with an enthusiastic team
To increase the chances of successful self-management, it is important to start with a team that is excited to change. If they are intrinsically motivated to start experimenting, the chances of success are increased tremendously. This not only makes perfect sense, it’s also something we’ve seen in other organizations. Don’t tell people what to do, but show them the promised land and get them excited to go there. Once they are excited, help them to get to the promised land.
Once a team shows sincere interest in moving towards self-management, help them to get there. Take away barriers, experiment with new ways of working, learn from your mistakes and coach and train them to successfully make the move. Then get out of the way.
3. Weed out those who are not “in”
According to Chuck, up to 20% of the employees will leave gradually during the transformation towards self-management. We’ve seen comparable numbers in our research. Most people leave voluntarily as they feel the new way of working isn’t an environment in which they want to work. So why would people leave voluntarily? Well, they might just not want to give up their status and power or they might feel they can no longer hide.
Chuck: “But if strong opponents of change continue to frustrate the transformation, weed them out. You won’t be able to make a significant change if you are not willing to weed out those who are not in.”
Unwillingness to change
From our Hollands Kroon case study: Most of the employees are enthusiastic about the self-management structure. However, some are less enthusiastic. Especially the managers are reluctant and would rather keep on working the way they’re used to. This seems understandable as their comfortable position is at risk. Once self-management is fully implemented, their job will probably disappear as their responsibilities will be distributed within the teams. All managers were offered new roles within the team. 7 out of 9 managers took the offer, 2 quit as they were unsatisfied with the redistribution of roles.
4. Organically expand
As soon as the first teams make the transition and the first benefits are being reaped, then self-management might organically expand within the organization. Support those teams who have become enthusiastic to join the self-management transition. Repeat the above steps and continue to expand the amount of self-managed teams.Don't tell people what to do, but show them the promised land and get them excited to go there.Click To Tweet
Chuck: “Slowly but surely the entire organization will move towards self-management in a natural way. In my experience this process happens much faster than some would predict, and can take as little as 6 months in an organization with a high trust level, with 12-18 months as a norm” This are quite ambitious predictions compared to what we’ve seen in the field. Most organizations that we’ve visited make the entire transformation in about two to four years.
Some of the companies that were successfully self-managed moved back to a more traditional way of organizing once a new CEO entered the company. If he or she doesn’t want to work in a self-managed way, the organizational structure is often too fragile to resist the change back to a command-and-control approach. We’ve seen this for example at FAVI when former CEO Jean Francois Zobrist left the company and things went back to normal.
We asked Chuck his advice on how to make sure self-managed organizations remain self-managed over a longer period of time. According to him, a constitution could help to protect the unique organizational structure. It is very similar to the way a constitution protects democracies all across the world. In Holacracy, another way of organizing, we’ve also learned about how such a constitution protects the organization from reverting back to command-and-control structures.
The lessons learned from Chuck can support everyone in a transformation towards self-management. If you are ready to make the transformation or if you are looking for like-minded individuals on a similar journey? Join our free Slack community of fellow Rebels through this link.