Unmanagement: Collaborative Management for a Content and Effective Workforce

Practice Management tax staff collaborate

What is “Unmanagement?” It is managing through collaboration, not a ubiquitous hierarchical managerial precept. Instead of relying on top-down directives, managers guide and mentor employees, assisting and encouraging them to achieve company objectives and goals as an engaged group. The structure does the heavy lifting. Managers rely on interdependence among employees, emphasizing interpersonal fundamentals and company imperatives, not details and micromanagement.

Managing employees has three main components:

  1. Hiring and firing of personnel.
  2. Creation and maintenance of an efficient, effective and productive work environment.
  3. Achievement of company objectives and goals that are consistent with its mission and vision.

Of greatest interest is the work environment – the interface between employer and employee. It is the game field upon which business is conducted. It is where a company’s greatest asset – its talent – must effectuate the company’s game plan. Certainly, acquisition of employees and company objectives and goals are important; however, it is the work environment that is most affected by an Unmanagement structure.

The work environment can be viewed through the acronym MOOD: morale, ownership, overlap and decision-making. As in all social endeavors, setting the proper mood is imperative. The workplace is no different. What is MOOD?

Morale: Management is responsible for company morale, sets the tone, and should be the company’s most ardent cheerleaders and most effective motivators. If they are not enthused and positive about the company, why should any other employee be? Good company morale inspires employee confidence, enthusiasm and loyalty. In a collaborative environment, an esprit de corps – a feeling of pride, fellowship and common loyalty – is essential if the workforce is to have a sense of common purpose and effectively act as a cohesive group. Employees thrive because they want to, not because they have to.

Ownership: While instilling a sense of ownership in employees can be a delicate balancing act, if accomplished effectively, it pays great dividends. Employees with a sense of ownership are more involved. They display greater concern for attaining company objectives and goals since they are vested in the company’s success. By ownership, I am not referencing legal ownership, but rather a sense of responsibility for the company as a whole. An employee with a sense of ownership works for the success of the company, not the mere completion of his or her task. The downside of too much employee ownership is the blurring of the employer/employee boundary. If not handled properly, entitlement issues will derail the benefits of employee ownership, as some employees try to reinstitute a strict hierocracy with themselves as self-anointed overseers.

Overlap: To the extent possible, the scope of employee positions should overlap. Each employee should have some responsibility for the work of their co-workers, where their efforts interface. When employees are not afraid to surface problems, overlapping creates a self-supervising structure. The preconditions for overlapping include the clear delineation of expectations, the skills to engage in constructive communication, and a culture where problems and errors are treated as opportunities for improvement. If employees fear retribution for exposing errors, they will bury them, exacerbating an already bad situation.

Decision-making: On a basic level, decision-making is the selection of a course of action, or inaction, from two or more alternatives. This is where the collaborative process is widely applied. Managers guide employees from problem delineation through solution identification to solution choice. Rather than managers promulgating solutions to perceived problems, a collaborative approach engages employees in problem identification relevant to their tasks and solicits viable solutions given the realities of the company’s operations. Not only is employee perception of problems grounded in the daily operation of the company; their solutions are also attuned to how the company really works.

If solutions obtained through a collaborative process are not what management wants to hear, the company generally has more problems than it thought. Employees work better and internal controls are stronger when employees understand the reason for the process and the process is consistent with the realities of the workplace. After all, who knows the daily grind better than the employees making it happen? Managers are the guardians of the big picture. The employees know what is happening when the rubber hits the road. The collaboration of these two groups will yield the best solution to a given problem.

Clearly, all four aspects of MOOD are interrelated. Collaborative decision-making increases employee sense of ownership. This, in turn, boosts employee morale and spurs constructive and effective overlapping of employee responsibility. Unmanagement really is converse to normal management practices in that non-management employees drive the system within the confines of company goals and objectives. A great manager is one who assists, educates, energizes, motivates and inspires. Employees cannot be mandated to achieve their level of greatness. The goal is to create an environment which encourages each employee to rise to the level of their highest potential, not sink to mediocrity.

Editor’s note: This article is a brief abstract of the book Mr. Leffler is completing of the same name. For more from Mr. Leffler, check out his article “Succession Plan or Exit Plan: Whatever You Call it, You Need One Now.”

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