In the Joy at Work, Dennis Bakke, founder and past CEO of the multi-billion dollar enterprise, AEM does an excellent job of being authentic and showing examples of how companies can make work feel less like work. When he introduced the concept of management, he spelled out a few things that could empower employees lower in the corporate hierarchy. One of his pieces of advice was for management to give up certain power, decision making and activities in order for lower employees to feel more like contributing players and allowing them to have more control over their work.
His point to encourage managers to give us responsibility seems like a sound and noble idea. Having managers give up control to lower level employees will encourage retention and autonomy in the workforce. However, upon further analysis, something seemed astray. While a nice idea, I realized that if managers plan to keep their job are better off not giving up decision making, power, or rather control.
A Deeper Look
This idea seems to run contrary to a lot of popular business fundamentals but take a minute and consider the following:
When I was in my first full time position as a software engineer, I was talking to the CTO of Lithium Technologies who now Vice President at eBay about career development. He told me the best way to get promoted is to be doing exactly what someone with the title above you is doing. Hence, you need to perform the same activities as someone above you to become eligible for promotion.
Imagine that each person’s job as a series of activities. For example, let’s take a job like a waiter/waitress. They will need to greet customers, take orders, give the orders to the kitchen, place meals on the table, and collect the bill. Their boss, usually called the general manager, will have similar activities if they are on duty as well as, one on one meetings, firing employees, interviewing employees, giving employees feedback, opening the restaurant and handling heated customers.
Now, under Bakke’s idea, managers should give lower level employees more responsibility or rather activities. For a first step, the general manager will give up decision making – interview employees and having their direct reports handle them. Slowly but surely, each activity that once handled by the manager, now the employees are responsible for. At this point, when the manager has no activities to perform, do they even have a job? Well, no. By allowing lower level employees take more and more responsibility the manager has successfully removed the need for their involvement in the company.
Having lower level employees have more responsibility is supported by Self Determination Theory. This theory states that in order for employees to be happy in their work, they need to be intrinsically motivated and one of the pillars needed for that motivation is autonomy. By allowing employees more responsibility and control over their work, the company is effectively implementing the foundation principles to Self Determination Theory.
Another to empower lower level employees is effective career development. Utilizing this approach employees can overtime have more responsibility to keep on pace with career development.
Now, reflecting back to Bakke’s piece of advice, is it really something that managers should invest in? Especially knowing that they can eventually become replaced?
The argument for why this model might work is that people overtime will leave jobs and open up opportunities for other people in the organization. Unfortunately, some jobs become capped, locked in space and when preventing promotion unless someone above them is fired.
Bakke brought forward many great points in his book. The idea to promote internal career growth is an excellent idea, but it also must be supported by the management tier. Career growth opportunities are difficult. People are malleable entities where job can stay fixed. While a noble ideas, managers should be cautious to not replace themselves by allowing subordinates having too much responsibility. Lines need to be drawn in the sand showing what activities should a manager not give up in order to provide job security to managers and also allow employees effective career development.
Jeff Butler Internationally respected speaker and consultant, Jeff Butler helps bridge generational gaps between Millennials and companies looking for their talent and patronage. Butler has quickly built his reputation as a memorable presenter with tangible solutions for attracting, retaining, and engaging Millennials as employees and customers. Within just the past three years, he has spoken at two TEDx events and multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.