Goodbye managers, welcome self-managers

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done” - Peter Drucker

These days we hear quite a bit about organizations that get rid of managers. As provocative (and wonderful) it may sound, if you read a bit too fast you may only get half of the picture.

  • First, let’s fire all managers
  • How Medium is building a new kind of company with no managers
  • How Zappos is getting rid of managers to retain a flat startup culture

Organizations become more efficient not by only removing traditional managers, but by turning everyone into self-managers. In fact, if we remove the capacity to manage in our organizations, there are good chances that they will collapse. If we define a manager as someone who is responsible for getting things done, then we actually want more managers. If we define a manager as someone who has power, then we also want more of them.

But power and getting things done, both need to respect our human nature. We can’t manage people and exercise power on them the way we do with inanimate things. People can learn, people have intrinsic will and soul. So eventually we don’t manage people anymore. We remove people management and replace it with self-management.

Self-management is the ability to deal with ourselves in relation to others: setting up our own targets, making our own decisions and live with them, dealing with our own fears and ego issues.

So the question is then: how can organizations have self-managers?

  • Option 1: get rid of all of those who can’t self-manage
  • Option 2: bring in role models who can guide and coach
  • Option 3: setup an environment and rules that leave no other option than self-management

In reality, it is a combination of the three. What is certain is that it doesn’t happen out of nothing.