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Want Happier Employees? Get Rid of the Bosses

Managers, VPs, executives... they all need to go. Here's how one company reorganized itself for maximum employee satisfaction.
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For many employees, a job is a place they go because they have to. They have to pay the bills. They have to get in by 8, work 8 hours, and leave by 5. They have to report to their boss because he has to report to his boss who has to report to... you get the idea.

If your employees are spending well over a third of their time doing things simply because they have to, it should come as no surprise if they seem, well, a little less than motivated.

I noticed this was happening at my company. Our top-down hierarchy only reinforced the problem. Employees were working in silos, instead of collectively, because they couldn't really see how and where they fit into the overarching goals of the business. They completed tasks simply because they had to. I realized that the managers, execs, department heads, etc. were getting in the way.

So, a few months ago I decided to get rid of all the layers. Instead of a rigid hierarchy, I flattened the structure, threw out fancy titles, and reorganized the whole company into teams. It wasn't an easy shift--it quickly became clear that some positions previously amounted to "middle men" and weren't entirely necessary anymore, so I had to let some people go. We're still adjusting, but I can say that even though we're only a few months into it, it's working: We all work in teams that self-manage. There's no need for bosses or management to nag and tell people what to do. And productivity and motivation are through the roof. 

Here's how I did it:

The Team Philosophy

Individuals need to be managed, but teams manage themselves. The first step is to break down your departments (they're not the same as teams). In a typical organization, you may have a marketing department that generates a lead, a sales department that then makes the sale, a production department that delivers, and a service department that supports the customer. But when you think about it, everyone should be working for the customer. So instead of employees residing in department silos, create teams that bring them together under this shared goal.

Then remove hierarchy within these teams. No one should have a "senior" or "VP" title. Leaders may naturally emerge within the teams, but there should be no official reporting structure. Initially, I thought my senior level people might balk at this idea. But once they saw the changes in culture and work habits, they got behind it. I let them choose their own titles--as long as they didn't try to introduce hierarchy.

You also want to make sure your team's goals are tied to company goals and company performance. Have your teams measure their own performance at set intervals (every two weeks or once a month may work). They'll learn from their mistakes and continuously improve between milestones.

Take Money off the Table

Money is naturally a "have to." We have to pay our bills so we have to make money. But thankfully money only motivates us to a certain point. Once money is off the table, this is when the real culture shift can happen.

Salaries are naturally hierarchical. But what happens when you eliminate hierarchy in your business? Don't worry--it doesn't involve flattening salaries across the board. (We didn't lower any salaries at Ciplex, though we did give out a few raises.) You still have different pay levels but they're not rigidly tied to certain job titles; they're tied to performance. Now when I make a new hire I always ask the person what kind of salary she's looking for and how much would be enough to get money off her mind. When the salary question is presented in the right way, I find most people are honest. We won't hire the person if we can't afford it. If a team member can pay his bills and not have to worry about money all month, you've accomplished this very important step.

Give the Gift of Autonomy

Autonomy is one of the biggest motivators. Your team is made up of adults right? So treat them like adults. Remove rules and give your teams full freedom to accomplish their goals.

They will figure out on their own when they have to come in and leave, if they can take a vacation, if they can only put in two hours today or if they have to put in 14.

If any one team member takes advantage of this new freedom, the rest of the team will vote that person off the island--Survivor-style.

Challenge Them

Employees want to constantly advance their skills and be better at what they do. If they're not challenged, they will look for challenges elsewhere. That's the last thing you want.

You already handed them a challenge by forming teams and setting team goals. Naturally each team will want to find ways to be better, more efficient, and effective. But what else should you do? Meet with all of your employees and determine what skills they have that aren't being utilized. Find out what they want to become better at and where they can improve. Then support them by removing obstacles that might be in their way.

Determine What Makes Them Tick

Get to know your employees. Why are they doing what they are doing? Do they see themselves doing this type of job for a long time?

Your organization needs people with the right purpose. The right drive. Your job is to help them find their purpose within your company or to potentially let them go if they're not a good fit.

Lead Your Team

Now let's work on you.

Remember, the teams you've created will police themselves. You no longer need to correct them or even help solve problems for them. Instead of being a manager, support them by being a leader.

Leading, unlike managing, requires employees to adapt and adjust to their own challenges and problems. If someone comes to you with a problem, ask good questions and provide the support he needs to determine his own solution. That way, ownership of the problem doesn't transfer to someone else or escalate.

Keep The Culture Alive

Compared with where we were three months ago, Ciplex today feels like a completely different company. Our team members are truly happy and everyone wants to be there. I know that everyone is doing everything they can to meet our company goals.

Some have been offered jobs at competing companies that pay higher--but they've turned them down.

Even I--a former micromanager who used to get squeamish at the sight of an employee on Facebook at work--have learned to let go. The other day I even shopped online for an Xbox for the office, simply because I heard some employees love to play it.




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