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Monday, October 5, 2015

Looking Closely at Transparency

Some management innovation ideas are almost too big to get your head around. That’s the way I felt when I read Jeff Haden’s interview with Buffer co-founder, Leo Widrich. Buffer makes a social media management tool that allows you to schedule, automate, and analyze social media updates.

Transparency is a buzzword in many business circles. But how about a company that is SO transparent they’ve published salaries of everyone at the company. And a number of other key performance indictors. Call it a “see through” enterprise!

But the hardest part for me to massage through my brain was the idea of “no managers.” Buffer opted for a road of self management. Widrich explains this approach in his interview with Haden: “The $7 Million Startup with Zero Managers.”

Widrich admits some early thinking on this rather radical approach needed adjustment. He commented, “When we first started on our self-management journey about nine months ago we thought that people should be able to make all and every decision that affects them. We realized that in reality that is actually a really big mental burden. So instead of everyone deciding everything, we've now moved to a model where we explicitly set the boundaries for what everyone is responsible for… and then trust them to do a good job.”

It turns out self managed salaries proved quite the challenge for several employees. They are looking at a revision on this. One where the employee will still have a say.

Another mistake was giving up the 1:1 meetings with team members. With no “supervisor,” no need for them. But employees felt their growth was stunted in the absence of feedback. It seems like the independent, self managed employee enjoys the freedom but misses the wisdom and camaraderie of community.

I was particularly interested in two more of Widrich’s conclusions from their experience in self management. The need for vision. And structure. 

First, his comments on vision: “Another point that we were surprised by was how much higher level thinking and setting of vision is appreciated by the team.”

And as for structure, “The more self-managed you are as a company the more structure you need. You really need to make things explicit and create clear commitments for what you’re working on.”

I was intrigued by the concept because of the several work personality tests I’ve taken over the years. You know, the ones given before you get hired — or after you’re hired — that reflect your personal work style. They are often detailed enough to be difficult to recall and seldom get fully utilized. One of my key components was decisions that affect me. Apparently, there are people who simply go with the flow of whatever the situation dictates. They tell me I’m the kind who likes to be involved when decisions affect me. Thus, self management has some appeal!

The takeaway message this week is really built around the idea of the need for community. Several people have written on the topic of American individualism, but it was one of the lessons I gained from reading Pat Apel’s book, Nine Great American Myths, that spoke to the issue of community.

The early fellowship of followers of Jesus was not developed around hierarchy. There was a need for structure, true, but you don’t find much beyond deacons and elders. What you do find is a strong admonition to build community centered on love for one another.

Jesus’s great friend Peter shared it this way, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:8-11, NLT)

Along with that, the church is a wonderful place to learn transparency. But for the newcomer, don’t worry. We don’t share our salary information.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

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