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How Much Management Is Management Enough?

Excerpt from “GAME CHANGER: How to Be 10x in the Talent Economy”


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Rishon Blumberg

a year ago | 5 min read

“Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to.
— RICHARD BRANSON

In a two-year study on team performance recently covered by Laura Delizonna, Ph.D., in Harvard Business Review, Google revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, or the belief that you won’t be punished if you make a mistake.

As Paul Santagata, head of Industry at Google, put it, “Our success hinges on the ability to take risks and be vulnerable in front of peers.” This data is particularly valuable because, well, if there is anything Google does well, it’s data.

Santagata posits six steps to bolster a safe atmosphere:

  1. Approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary.
  2. Speak human to human.
  3. Anticipate reactions and plan countermoves.
  4. Replace blame with curiosity.
  5. Ask for feedback on delivery.
  6. Measure for safety.

Step #6 is germane to our vision of 360° Management. For our money, great management and the sense of safety it can engender is a corporation’s greatest invisible asset.

However, a sense of safety is not what people usually think of when they think of management.

Betterworks recently ran a piece called “People Hate Being Managed — What Organizations (And Managers) Need to Do Instead,” in which author Deborah Holstein points out that only 1 in 7 employees believe performance reviews inspire them to improve. “Newsflash,” she writes, “No one WANTS to be managed. Even the term, ‘manage,’ evokes feelings of control and manipulation.”

Holstein astutely recognizes that the roadblock to good management usually is found in a lack of bespoke practices. “If an employee receives feedback from their manager who’s been only loosely involved in their development,” she explains, “they’re far more likely to reject any constructive criticism they receive. It’s only natural.

If they don’t feel their manager truly knows them, their work, and their strengths, why would they believe their manager has a good grasp on where they need to improve? Many employees who find themselves in this situation will question whether their manager is even qualified to be giving them feedback.

And when the review process is closely tied to earning a bonus, raise, or promotion, employees can’t afford to be open to feedback, both figuratively and literally.”

Great bespoke management is hard to find, but what would the workplace look like with no management at all? In a curious and telling counter-example on the importance of good management, Tony Hsieh, the late CEO Amazon-owned Zappos, tried to abolish traditional managerial roles by implementing a system called Holacracy.

According to Business Insider, this self-management program is the creation of Brian Robertson, a former software developer and entrepreneur turned management guru. Through Holacracy, Hsieh and Robertson advocated a workflow that allows engineers to develop ideas utterly without the direction of a manager.

On the surface, it sounds great. Work is processed through “roles” that are always subject to change. For instance, an employee who isn’t a marketer can take on the marketing role, in addition to whatever other roles they hold down, should they get the urge.

In lieu of management, Holacracy implements what Robertson calls “lead links” — people who assign roles and represent “their circle,” but with one key difference: These “links” are in no way responsible for the individuals they oversee.

It is not a surprise to us that Hsieh’s noble experiment has had some serious casualties. When Hsieh’s e-mail call for Holacracy hit the company server, the organization divided three ways, between believers, nonbelievers, and those who “decided to remain out of convenience, despite their reservations.”

All official titles were abolished, and 14 percent of the company — a whopping 210 employees — voluntarily hit the road.

As one disgruntled employee put it, with the move toward Holacracy, “Employees are in constant fear of losing their jobs for saying or doing something that proves to management that they aren’t a ‘culture fit.’“

Another employee described the change as a gear-shift toward a “disruptive atmosphere” that included “bothersome social experiments.” One beleaguered employee gave the company a two-star rating and bemoaned the fact that top brass would allow so many strong employees to leave just to bolster an ideology.

To us, this story has a plain and simple lesson: No management is definitely not the answer. Less management is frequently not the answer either. What the modern company needs is a game changing program of 360° Management for everyone — flexible, agile, human centered, and fear-free.

One of the most important after-effects of 360° Management is that it often weeds out those who aren’t a good cultural fit for a given organization. There have been several instances in our own careers where we had the wrong people on various projects.

Sometimes these people were employees, sometimes they were clients, and in a few unfortunate cases, they were even business partners. In each of these instances, we waited far too long to take action. In fact, truth be told, we usually took no action at all. In many of these cases, we waited until someone else took action.

Not only did we want to give someone endless “benefit of the doubt,” we really believed in our heart of hearts that, if we made the correct moves, we could get these individuals to “straighten up and fly right” (and by right, we mean the way we wanted).

Was our excessive tolerance due to an unconscious desire to be given the same latitude should we fail ourselves? Or did we merely have an aversion to the conflict we thought might ensue should we address matters directly? The answer is anyone’s guess, but the long and short of it is we clung to several bad work relationships way past their sell-by date.

This has been a really hard pattern for us to live through. We pride ourselves on the ability to evolve and improve quickly when presented with good information, but with this challenge, we seemed to repeat mistakes over and over and, what’s more, we had to live with the negative consequences on a daily basis.

These were not bottom-line problems on a spreadsheet. These were interpersonal problems that sat in our office and looked us in the eye. #painful.

Over time, by embracing and implementing 360° Management, this state of unhealthy affairs has been mostly eradicated. With inner vision from trusted advisors, above and below and alongside us, our own weaknesses and ambivalences were exposed, and our true feelings about some difficult colleagues came out.

One thing that receiving 360° Management helped us see is this: When someone is failing in a role, you do a huge disservice to everyone involved by not addressing it. A person who is not thriving needs to be freed up to move to a place that is the right fit for them.

360° Management cuts through the morass of baked in hierarchies and gets everyone to the truth quicker.”

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Rishon Blumberg

Rishon graduated from the Wharton School. From concert promotion, to co-founding Brick Wall Management, 10x Management and 10x Ascend, he has imbued his passions with purpose. Founded in 1995, Brick Wall is a music management & entertainment consulting firm that managed, marketed, and shaped the careers of musicians like John Mayer, Vanessa Carlton, Citizen Cope & more. With the formation in 2012 of 10x, Rishon brought his experience managing creatives to the technology space - creating the first-of-its-kind tech talent agency. In 2019, 10x Ascend grew out of 10x Management, to help senior tech talent negotiate their W2 compensation packages. Rishon’s first book published by HarperCollins Leadership was released in Sept 2020. Game Changer: How To Be 10x in the Talent Economy, reveals the strategies companies and individuals can take to become 10x.


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