Death of the Manager

The ‘death’ of the manager as businesses flatten structures

As businesses grow and develop most add in layers of management. Those who start out on the ‘front line’ move up the ladder into management roles. Teams grow; hierarchical structures take power and responsibility away from those who are face to face with customers. Managers move further away from the day-to-day delivery of the business, the needs of the customer and the role they were recruited to do (and were really good at).

In layered businesses, managers may take responsibility for …

  • Communicating messages down from the top to the bottom.
  • Addressing poor performance and conflict.
  • Keeping teams motivated and happy.
  • Protecting teams things they didn’t think they needed to know.
  • Making decisions about the best way forward.

removing a layer of managementOwners are used to knowing everything that goes on in their business, a hangover from the early days when they needed to be involved in every aspect and I can be hard to let go. This tight control has worked well for them, taking their business from start-up and through turbulent times into a successful business. Frequently however owners are not making the best use of the amazing and varied skills in their team. Letting go is often the first steps an owner must take if they art to accelerate their business growth and performance.

Business owners often highlight their frustrations around a lack of individual accountability and initiative in their team. Often these issues are of their own making, in part due to the nature of hierarchical businesses and a paternal leadership style. There are often issues around trust, rumours, politics and complaints.

The owners we work with are looking for something different, away from traditional hierarchies. They are seeking something that allows them to maintain the agility and culture of their early days where everyone got stuck in and was accountable for delighting each customer.  They understand the value each employee needs to bring to the business. People focus on the structure and their next move or opportunity to climb the ladder rather than actually doing a great job.

As an owner, you’ve worked hard to recruit talented and motivated people. In our experience people come to work to do a great job, they want to be amazing. However, owners often complain that their people have moved from excited and engaged high performers (real shining stars) to indifferent cynicism (or grumpy expert). Individually they were all doing their job, however, they aren’t making the best of their collective capability.

What would happen if you pushed accountability to the lowest point in the business? If you simply removed all managers in the business and simply empowered people to make decisions and choose what they needed to do each day? If you created a business and culture where everyone is productive in ways for which they were originally recruited, adding value to the business every day. It is often clear from our conversations with owners that traditional models are just not going to fit with their innovative high growth businesses. Look out for a case study in the new year where one of the businesses we are working with is doing just that.

We work with leaders and business owners to deliver help them with these challenges, to empower their teams and take the business to the next stage.

If this is something you would like to work on with your team, give us a call and we can arrange to meet and talk about your specific challenges.



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…from putting in place strategic frameworks to crafting people processes to making something as dry as a ‘project process’ come alive.
Toby SawdayManaging DirectorSawday’s Publishing