Empowering employees: What self-management isn't?

I observe a trend nowadays which is to "empower employees". This only shows that nowadays employees have no power what so ever. This idea of empowering a person makes me a bit doubtful. It feels like saying: we are going to empower you under certain conditions and here there are: you are powerful but you need someone else approval, your are powerful but you cannot decide how to perform your job ect ect. In fact it feels like fake power. Employees themselves end up not believing a word about empowerment practices. Yes I am empowered but only in areas you want.


So empowerment is not the way company will generate an engaged workforce. What could it be? 

Some start to talk about implementing the agile framework to other areas than IT but again it is limiting employees growth and the company's development. If we want to see the most creative, the most dedicated, the most efficient employees we must totally change the way we interact with them.


We need a radical evolution!

So far we are facing paternalistic constructions in companies. No one can move as long as the father figure says so. We are all adult why not treat us as such? I propose another way to see the world of work. One where You can do what you do best and decide what should be done while exchanging with others that are impacted by your decision. One where your potential is recognized and magnified. One where you can change roles and tasks as you grow. One where your personality is not something to hide but to be proud of. I offer you the possibility to make your workplace a living place.

I hear you saying "what on earth are you talking about? You cannot be yourself at work. It would be a mess" Isn't your workplace some kind of mess already? plus it is not because companies function a certain way nowadays that it is the good one.

There are alternatives to the patriarchal management and one of them is self-managed companies.
We can choose to free employees from the obligation to report to someone else. We can free them from the burden of silos. We can trust them and allow them to work as they want, how they want and where they want as long as they create the value they were hired for. Misconception I often hear when talking about self-management are the following ones:


Misconceptions about self-management

  • Self-management creates messy processes (as if processes in business were good nowadays...)


In fact in self-management people are responsible for their actions and are really accountable which means that if a process is not working effectively people must take action to correct it. Rules and acceptable behavior are explicitly expressed and help people evaluate what is best for the company. 

  • People take decisions that only profit them 

In self-managed companies people are hired to make the company vision a reality. We are inherently good and want to participate to the world betterment. Bad behavior are born because of work conditions that create them. Self-management creates more space for everyone. Furthermore, employees' needs can be expressed without shame which encourages a culture of trust and transparency. In an open culture employee will take the best decision for the company. Only psychopath or people not aligned with the company vision may take negative actions and can be therefor fired.  

  • Self-management is anarchy

Self-management is not anarchy at all. In facts it creates exactly the opposite because it enforces transparency and trust. People are working together toward the company vision and agree on the best way to get there by taking on the necessary roles. Self-management is in the end very organized but flexible which we cannot say about current organizations.

  • Employees are not motivated

First, ask yourself what motivates you and imagine working for a company that is working on something you believe in. This company gives you the tools and time to work toward the realisation of its vision. Wouldn't you be motivated? The question now is are you working for a company whose Vision awakes you or are you working for money to pay the bill. Many companies don't really have a vision which make vocational working unpractical. Companies must rediscover their vision before implementing self-management. 

Self-management baldy implemented 


You may want to implement self-management but be confused about how to do it. I also saw employers implementing self-management without realizing that they did not implement self management but:

  • Let employees on their own with no vision

Basically they provide an income to their employees and tell them "work!" but aren't clear about the reason why they should be working or what is expected from them. So be clear about your why and what. 

  • No planned communication

Another mistake is to let communication be a spontaneous act which means days, weeks and months can pass by without having people talking together about the evolution of their work. 
In this case, I encourage you to have fixed meetings with clear goals but not predefined agenda. For example Weekly update about what was done, is being done and is to be done. The solution meeting: facing an issue? ask competente people to help you find a solution for it.  

  • Expecting people to do thing a certain way

You told or let people work on their own term but did not explicitly stated what you expected them to do or expect them to work a certain way. In this case, you need to clarify with the person the way she  is planning to achieve her goal. You can then express your ideas on how they could solve it too which may open them to a new solution they did not think about. It is also possible that your option is not practical for them. The most important is that they produce the expected result before a defined deadline.


Self-management is not a magic wand

You need to believe self-management which means you must believe that people are good and can take decision on their own. You must believe that letting others be is the way to go. You must believe that money is not the end of your journey but that your organisation as a "raison d'être" and that you are a vessel of its realisation. 

Self-management is easy to understand but difficult to implement because we have to be conscious of our conditioning, mental models and belief. Each individual can flourish in self-development when we truly understand what it means for each one of us. 

We need more people working for things they believe in. We need people who care about their clients' need. We need to rethink the way we work so that we can change the world. 

What does it mean for you? How would a self-managed day, week, month, year look like?

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