More and More Companies Are Eliminating Managers Altogether. Would You Be One of the Four Out of Five That Would Thrive There?

The Gallup Employee Engagement Index shows that 29% of people could be self-managed without being encouraged to do so. Another 52% of people will take charge and be contributors if in the right environment that encourages participation. And 19% are incorrigible–they won’t step up no matter how hard you encourage it. It’s a survey about “engagement”, but corollary research shows that managers are the biggest impediment to people being engaged. The good news is that if a company creates the right culture and a managerless structure, 81% of people will get on board.

Why is this important?

I hear it every week: “We can’t find good people.” What does “good” mean? Someone who will take the bull by the horns, get things done well and on time, and not require babysitting to do it. But the fact is I only hear that from companies with managers. I’m aware of 100 or so companies that don’t have managers (and there are easily a few thousand that I’m not aware of), and I’ve never heard them say they can’t find good people.

Just a Few Companies Without Managers

These businesses and many more like them have been able to staff their entire companies with people who don’t need to be managed. Here are just a few:

Whole Foods – 60,000 Stakeholders

W. L. Gore – 10,500 Stakeholders

Barry-Wehmiller – 7,500 Stakeholders

Menlo Innovations – 300 Stakeholders

Valve Corporation – 100 Stakeholders

Crankset Group (full discolsure–that’s our company) – 21 Stakeholders (6 full-time)

Let’s be clear. These are companies in which no one works for anyone else–there are no bosses or managers. Leaders become leaders because people are following them, and they stop being leaders when people stop following. A healthy Participation Age company needs the management function, but never needs managers. Teams manage themselves by dividing up the management functions among team members. In doing so, they find that the overwhelming majority of what managers do just isn’t necessary, and that the position of manager is irrelevant.

These companies, and many more like them, have been able to do this when others “can’t find good people” for one simple reason: They’ve created organizations that don’t have managers. This attracts the 81% who don’t want to live in an office day care center, but want to function as decision-making adults both at home and at work.

Conversely, when you build a company around managers, you actively attract the 19% who don’t want to grow up at work and love being told what to do. And you make it clear to the 52% in the middle that if they want to keep their jobs, they’ll stop asking why, do what they are told, and focus solely on production. In these companies, the 29% who are natural stakeholders will be considered annoying because they keep asking questions like, “Why?” and suggesting better ways to do things. Managers are threatened by these people and expend a lot of energy putting them in their “place.”

This is why great people leave companies. When people are managed, you destroy their desire or even their ability to bring the whole, messy, creative person to work. And that is the part of the person that will be the most valuable to any company in the long run, not the part that is simply “productive.”

Could you make it in one of these managerless companies? Are you one of the 29 percent who are joyfully annoying, or maybe part of the 52% who would love to have a brain at work if they were only allowed? If so, welcome to the Participation Age. Now go find one of those companies that will welcome you with open arms. They’re all around us, and becoming more common all the time.