Millions of people labour under managers that do not motivate them or enable them to reach their potential. The resulting waste is huge. The solution is simple: let people choose their managers. Trust people to decide who would best challenge and support them to achieve their best.
A great manager can motivate you, support you through challenges and help you work through problems and use your best thinking. But a poor manager can de-motivate, frustrate and get in the way of you working at your best.
A study by CMI (Chartered Management Institute) in the UK found that 47% of respondents left their last role because they were badly managed and that 49% would be prepared to take a pay cut to be able to work with a different manager. More than one survey has suggested the most common reason for leaving a job is to get away from the manager.
The problem is huge. Based on the CMI figure, poor management could affect 20 million or more employees in the UK alone. It is absolutely about changing management's philosophical foundations (that management is about what the people who are managed need, not the other way round), and creating more natural hierarchies.
Imagine one of your most valued members of staff comes to you and says, ‘I love my job. I love the people I work with. I am even happy with what I am being paid. But I can’t stand my manager.’ If the conflict can’t be resolved the most common outcome is that they will leave.
The solution is to be able to respond, "That's fine. Who would you like to manage you instead". Indeed I would recommend that the option to change your manager be built into every appraisal and indeed be available at any time.
The first direct effect is to give workers a manager who they believe will support and motivate them. That alone could transform their life at work and what they are able to achieve.
However it would also critically affect the culture of any company that adopted this approach. Implicit in being able to choose your manager is the idea that the role of managers is to serve their people. Those who want to become successful people managers will know that their success will depend on how well they enable their people to fulfil their potential.
Companies who adopted the approach would need to start to choose who would manage on the basis of their ability at, and their potential for, managing people - rather than core skills or length of tenure. This implies looking for those for whom this is a strength and developing that strength.
So workers would get a manager who support and motivates them, companies would get to focus on people who are good at managing people for that role and overall the company would better serve the needs of its people and be more able to fulfil its purpose.
Survey their senior managers to find which would rather not be managing people, if they were able to keep their seniority and salary. These are likely to be the same people who staff are not happy at being managed by, though you could carry out an upward appraisal to test this.
Experiment with one or two of these senior managers. Announce a six month experiment where senior managers are able to focus on their core skills for a six month period. For that period, ask the people who they are managed by who they would like to be their manager for that six months.
Ideally the effect would be evaluated in terms of productivity, but also in terms of whether those individuals (the managers and the managed) found they were able to achieve more. If they did, it could be extended. If not, little is lost.
The idea has been tried. Semco enables a similar choice, as does WL Gore (where you chosoe your 'Champion'). Also many IT companies enable people to progress to a senior level without having to manage people.
However in this instance it is myself, Henry Stewart, who has implemented the idea Happy Ltd and has been promoting it as widely as possible. Several of our clients have adopted it in one form or another.
(If the author reads as Julian Birkinshaw its because (a) he's great guy and a key influence and (b) your software wouldn't let me put my name in!)