Overcoming the management hierarchical control mindset—the key to re-inventing management and resolving 20 moonshots.
The assumption that employees must be hierarchically controlled has frustrated organizational innovation for decades. We and five well-known business leaders stumbled upon the solution to this intractable barrier by using “vision-led freedom” to shift primary responsibility for organizational control to employees—and in doing so opened the way to resolving most MIX Moonshot issues.
The management scholars and practitioners who developed the MIX Moonshot list joined a long list of experts who for decades have struggled with the insidious side effects of hierarchically controlling employees. Many offered “solutions” such as “participative management,” “empowering employees,” “reducing control,” “enhancing organizational agility,” “improving organizational learning,” etc.—but few produced lasting improvements because none addressed the root cause. As hierarchical control limitations increasingly conflicted with the changing demands on management, there was little recognition of its cancer-like effects such as conflicting with employees’ basic human need for freedom; perpetually communicating management distrust; and constraining growth by limiting the ability to learn from mistakes. Most importantly nobody questioned the root cause of all these issues—Is there any fundamental reason that management must control employees? Why can’t employees function with full responsibility, authority, and accountability—i.e. with full freedom?
Post-retirement research revealed that we and five well-known business leaders had unconsciously stumbled upon the solution by building management systems and cultures which shifted primary responsibility for organizational control to employees. This has potentially profound implications for this forum because this research also found that these trial and error efforts were guided by a fundamentally different management mind-set about people and organizations—a paradigm shift from “hierarchical control” to “vision-led freedom.” Freeing our thinking from the need for hierarchical control opened the way to experimenting how far we could extend ideas like "freedom," "self-responsibility," self-control," and "self-coordination"— which while previously discussed were fundamentally incompatible with hierarchical control. In fact this research explained how hierarchically controlled organizations have rejected such initiatives as threats to management control--much like the human body fights off threatening virus and bacteria.
Shifting primary responsibility for organizational control to employees produced extraordinary business successes in seven different industries for a variety of reasons. Workplaces full of intrinsic motivators like “freedom,” “trust,” “ownership,” “self-responsibility,” and “personal growth” inspired employees to behave like creative entrepreneurs focused on achieving their company vision for success. The ability to self-control and self-coordinate activities revolutionized the effectiveness of employees working together as teams and units by taking advantage of self-organized spontaneous order. Encouraging and helping everybody to develop their unique potential produced amazing win/win benefits for the business, employees, and society—as Thomas Jefferson observed freedom unleashes "the capacity of man to improve himself." Finally much to our surprise the combination of dispersed power, open access to information, and self-motivation to behave like internal auditors improved organizational control and provided insurance against management corruption.
As the list of moonshots suggests, the mindset shift to "vision-led freedom" also removed the root cause of 20 of the 25 issues on the MIX Moonshot list!
For those skeptical about these impacts, the book "Freedom, Inc." by Brian Carney and Isaac Getz (http://freedomincbook.com/) provides 13 more case studies of freedom-oriented successes including Terri Kelly’s W.L. Gore and Associates.
Bill Nobles and Paul Staley shared the research producing these findings. We are also deeply indebted to Peter Drucker and Douglas McGregor who produced much of the supporting rationale 50 years ago and came close to discovering freedom's benefits—only to be stopped by their convictions that management must hierarchically control employees.