Buying Big Stuff

By Paul Green, Jr.

The Problem:

In a recent meeting with a group of colleagues from one of the Self-Managed firms we work with, one of the participants expressed some frustration with a project they were working on.  It involved a sizable investment—not an extraordinary amount of money, but enough to pay a person’s salary for the year.  On the surface, the idea this colleague had was a good one; it was going to reduce costs significantly (and add a measure of safety to the facility to boot), but it seemed that the amount was in this no-man’s land. 

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About the Author

Paul Green, Jr.

Paul Green Jr. developed a deep interest in management and organizations while building a business that he co-founded in Central California. He realized that a few subtle tweaks to the rules of organizing can bring about unbelievable benefits within a business, and he set out to build a business that epitomized the effective organization.

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    Alan Gwynn

    Proposed Solution

    What a great scenario and test of the self-management model. My approach to this type of scenario has been the following.

    To restate one of the fundamentals of the Self-Management credo…when someone asks, “Who’s your boss” to a colleague that is living and breathing the Self-Management model, that colleague will invariably answer, “The Mission is my boss.”

    But we have a kind of gray area wherein the mission supports the project in question both in spirit and intent but there is risk of failure or perhaps there are other known tried and true methods that could just as easily be employed.

    The Self-Managed individual that is reluctant to pull the trigger without further endorsement needs something to provide a measure of confidence.  Without analyzing this individual’s personality, or perhaps the political ramifications, or whether he had his morning caffeine I.V. drip, this person is basically lacking the clause that I refer to as “The Grand Says Who”.

    We already know the mission supports the project in theory.  And Self-Managed companies want to encourage an appropriate level of risk in decision making.  But without a human fall guy or The Grand Says Who to take the lashings if something goes wrong, this person needs a litmus test for decision making.  The litmus test I use most frequently when confronted with several options that could work but may not is the following:

    1.  Barring the things I can’t control, will this endeavor directly or indirectly improve the metric in question. (usually the answer here is yes or there wouldn’t be a discussion at all)
    2.  Could this endeavor adversely affect progress that’s been made?  Do we need to do more due diligence to discover unintended consequences?
    3.  Is the proposed solution sustainable?  Are there one time funds now that won’t be available to support this down the road?  Is there additional training or other projects that need to be approved in tandem with this one for this to really work?
    4.  How can I ensure successful implementation and measure ROI?

    No Grand Says Who clause is fool proof of course.  Humans are the most creative and adept finger pointers of all.  But for the Self-Managed individual who is truly working for a Self-Managed organization, the answers to the above questions will typically provide a decent litmus test for adhering to the organizational mission statement.  I’ve encouraged the teams that I lead to develop their own litmus test for the projects they call a “gamble”.  Once the litmus test has been employed, the reciprocal response of the Self-Managed organization then, whether success or failure results should be, “Thank you and may I have another!”

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      Alan Gwynn

      As a footnote to my post above, I did not mean to imply that the company should simply absorb the costs of a failure if the project is a flop.  I think that a collaborative and well reasoned litmus test can be a responsible way to make the best analysis of whether to invest share holder resources in a given manner.  Just as a Self-Managed employee could expect to reap certain rewards from a successful project implementation (whether increased credibility, financial, or other), I believe that a Self-Managed employee would step up to the plate and be ready to repair credibility and work toward reparation in the case of failure.  This is a discussion of another order of magnitude.

      I didn’t want the last line above to seem glib with regard to the trust that a Self-Managed company places in it’s employees.  Just as the Self-Management model produces some fantastic results in terms of innovation, it also provides the framework for employees to partner after a mistake and make things right.

      Anybody else have some different approaches to Paul’s question above regarding employee confidence to endorse projects in the “purchasing rights”, “no man’s land?”

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    Thanks for taking the time to bring up such a detailed question. I would love to hear how you actually proceeded. My company just started it’s journey towards self management and I have been thinking about investment a lot lately.