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By Monica E. Oss

December 12, 2011

Managers are the people who make sure an organization works, right? So, imagine my surprise when I saw the title of a recent Harvard Business Review podcast, Fire All the Managers. The podcast features Gary Hamel and his piece, First, Let’s Fire All the Managers. Dr. Hamel’s view is that management is the “least efficient activity in your organization”.

He goes on. “Your organization probably wasn’t built around the principles of self-management. It’s most likely a bureaucracy—with a thicket of policy rules, a multilayered hierarchy, and a host of management processes—built to ensure conformity and predictability…In a bureaucracy managers are enforcers who ensure that employees follow rules, adhere to standards, and meet budgets…”

Gary Hamel’s proposition: move to an organization where there are no managers – where people manage themselves. “By making the mission the boss and truly empowering people, the company creates an environment where people can manage themselves.”

I am all for empowerment, but 20-plus years as a manager gives me a very mixed view of the ability to “make the mission the boss” and “empower people”. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to eliminate managers – management is, in fact, a high cost to any organization. But, to empower people on a team is to share responsibility and share the financial consequences of both good and bad performance. In my experience, many American workers would prefer a pass on accepting additional power when it comes with a larger share of responsibility. Be prepared though, because this is where we’re headed with productivity-based and performance-based compensation plans.

I have to give Dr. Hamel credit – it is an interesting planning exercise to think about what an organization would need to add or remove for a “no bosses” model. To me, it’s less about eliminating managers and more about upgrading the role of managers. In a flatter, more competitive environment, the fundamental question is Are Your Managers Prepared to Lead? all members. The Peter Drucker perspective is that the task of management “is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective, and their weaknesses irrelevant.” It may not be “no bosses” as much as the boss is now the coach.


Monica E. Oss
Chief Executive Officer, OPEN MINDS

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