What is Self-Management?

Self-Management is an organizational model wherein the traditional functions of a manager (planning, coordinating, controlling, staffing and directing) are pushed out to all participants in the organization as opposed to a select few. Each member of the organization is personally responsible for forging their own personal relationships, planning their own work, coordinating their actions with other members, acquiring requisite resources to accomplish their mission, and for taking corrective action with respect to other members when needed.

How can an organization operate without any structure?

It's a mistake to assume that a self-managed company has no structure. This assumes that structure = formal hierarchy, which simply isn't true.

Structure, in human organizations, is nothing more than the set of connections between individuals. In a traditionally organized company, that structure is relatively easy to describe and depict: it's an org chart, and each individual has a place in the org chart based upon their title and who they "report" to. In a self-managed company, connections still exist between individuals, but the fundamental difference is that the connections exist because individuals need to be connected, not because of titles or "chains of command.”

Self-Management is a set of principles and systems that, together, allow structure to develop in a more organic and fluid manner. And the structure that emerges is, more often than not, superior to more traditional structures in that the structure (when developed through Self-Management) can respond rapidly to a changing environment, and can reshape quickly and efficiently as internal or external forces demand.

Changing my organization

Questions we often receive from business leaders who want to implement Self-Management within their organization.

Why would an organization adopt Self-Management?

Self-Management is a very different approach to competition in a global economy. Patents expire. Trade secrets leak. Competitors replicate superior business practices. Systems and talent are fungible. The only remaining source of true competitive advantage is to drive the cost of traditional management toward zero and unleash the full potential of human performance in organizations.

Can you teach our management team how to make our organization self-managed?

In order to really bring Self-Management into an organization you have to break out of the mindset that would bring you to ask a question about your management team. Self-Management really requires one to put away the notions of "managers" and "employees" and to, rather, view all of the members of the organization as integral parts of the enterprise, each of whom must be given the right to make decisions that need to be made, to coordinate their actions with others and to structure their commitments amongst themselves. Moreover, it doesn't do much good to have a "upper class" of employees (managers by another name) who have some sort of "super-ordinate" authority

We are happy to help connect you with resources to learn about Self-Management. For more one-on-one support, we suggest connecting with one of our consulting partners, listed on the "Consulting" page of this website.

What sort of person is best suited for a Self-Managed organization? I assume it takes a special kind of person?

We've found that our enterprises are, for the most part, looking for the same things that most other enterprises are looking for: we love to find technically competent people who are honest and ethical, who are enthusiastic and energetic, and are self-motivated. We're looking for those who want to grow and improve, and are looking for an environment where they can fulfill their full potential. We're looking for "doers", not those who want to "tell others what to do", and we're looking for those who get a lot of joy out of improving things. We're looking for leaders who influence others to follow by virtue of their exceptional competency, and their ability to convince others of a course of action. We're looking for those who love what they do, or want to do what they love.

Working in Self-Management

What it's like working as a colleague in a Self-Managed organization.

Isn't it hard for people to adapt to such a foreign organizational model?

Actually, Self-Management is a more natural way of organizing than traditional hierarchy. Consider this: when your employees leave your front gate, who manages their life? Who tells them what grocery store to shop at, what kind of car to buy, what clothing to wear, what air conditioning company to use (and how much to pay them), and how to deal with the fact that the fast food restaurant over-charged them by $1.32? They do it themselves.

People, as they mature, become reasonably adept at coordinating effectively with others, at acquiring the resources they need to be happy, at recognizing when others haven't fulfilled their end of a bargain and at taking corrective action with others. Self-Management simply asks participants to keep that hat on when they come to work--and most people do a fine job of it. Ironically, in our experience, it's those who've had a great deal of experience in the "traditionally managed" world who have the hardest time adapting.

What is it like not having a boss?

One of the most common misconceptions among applicants and new colleagues is that they'll have no boss when they join an enterprise organized through Self-Management. Occasionally you hear a new colleague say something like, "I don't have to answer to you; I'm self-managed." This is code for "I'm accountable to nobody"--an abuse of the philosophy and principles of Self-Management.

The truth is that, when you commit to the enterprise Mission, and to your Personal Commercial Mission, you're bound by those Missions; they are your boss. You must be able to measure your actions against the Mission, and you should be able to justify your actions to anyone, in light of your Mission.

Furthermore, a Self-Managed enterprise achieves structure by colleagues making commitments to other colleagues, to provide services or products to those colleagues. By definition, if one makes a commitment to provide services or products to another colleague, they are now accountable to that colleague for their performance. And that colleague (as well as any other, for that matter) has the right to question your performance or methodology.

So while it may be true that there is not a person who has the formal authority to unilaterally force you to do something, you have an obligation to perform on your commitments--and to answer to those who you've committed to.

What is it like working in a Self-Managed organization?

Most people find it very fulfilling. In fact, Morning Star has, historically, had very low turnover rates; this is attributable, at least in part, to Colleagues' experiences working in the unique environment.

But it's also challenging; most people find the first year or two working in a Self-Managed organization tough. In addition to learning the business and familiarizing yourself with the technical aspects of your new job, you're also working to define your role--not necessarily from scratch, but the ultimate, fully-defined role, will be the result of your efforts.

Further, you're working to prove yourself to your colleagues. You've made it in the door, so they trust you to some degree, but to live up to your full potential, you've got to deliver, consistently--and ultimately get colleagues to become your "customers".

Most successful colleagues, though, will tell you that the best part of achieving success within a Self-Managed enterprise is the fulfillment that comes from cultivating social capital, from others willingly seeking you out as an expert or authority in a particular domain.

The most successful colleagues are those who come to be seen as authorities, in the truest sense of the term: others seek them out as authorities (just as you seek out medical doctors who have stellar reputations), not because they are obliged to seek them out by some artificial titular authority. Our more natural type of authority is harder to accumulate, but it's far more meaningful--and it's a big part of the satisfaction most colleagues receive from their work.

Freedom and Accountability

The two elements that are critical success factors for ensuring your organization is successful.

It seems like Self-Management gives a great deal of freedom to colleagues; isn't that dangerous?

Freedom must be balanced with responsibility in any organization. The Self-Management Institute promulgates principles, tools and education to promote responsible freedom in organizations. The set of principles that each colleague operates under, and the responsibility that each colleague accepts when they come aboard within a Self-Managed organization balance that freedom to ensure it is applied to a productive end.

Can anybody really spend money?

The short answer is yes; when a new colleague comes aboard, they have the right to acquire resources.

But that colleague is also hired under the assumption that they're a responsible adult who exercises good judgement. We're explicit about the fact that, when a person wants to initiate a change, or makes a decision, they should a) get others involved who will be meaningfully affected by the decision or proposed change, and ensure agreement; and b) get others involved who have substantive knowledge or expertise to add to the decision or proposed change, and ensure agreement.

This is a sign of maturity and responsibility. A person who makes decisions that affect others (including spending money), or that others can add to, without getting those others involved, has demonstrated a lack of maturity and responsibility, and will have a difficult time earning the trust of his colleagues. And trust is the currency that allows a colleague to grow--both in their career, and in the esteem of their colleagues.