Discipline makes Daring possible.

Managing without managers

Managing without managers

I found this excellent article by Michele Zanini yesterday: ‘Can we manage without managers?’.

It’s well worth a read, but here are the phrases that jumped out for me:

vanguard organisations … don’t get rid of management as a set of activities (e.g., planning, allocating, reviewing)–but they syndicate it to the broader organization.

By giving people the ability to gain influence (and compensation) based on accomplishment as opposed to advancement,  an organization ends up with more, not fewer leaders.

Because actually, we want leadership without managers.

One of the objections often raised to a no-manager organisation is “If you remove layers, you’ll end up ovewhelming people at the top“.  Overwhelm at the top is a common experience for growing micros.

What this article shows is that there are other, far better ways of dealing with that than adding managers.    Writing down the music in your head, so that others can play it is one of them.

Why not start as you mean to grow on and make everyone a leader?

9 bad reasons why you might want to disappear from your business

9 bad reasons why you might want to disappear from your business

Here are 9 negative reasons why you might want to disappear from your business:

– You fall ill.

– Your partner falls ill.

– Another family member falls ill.

– You get run over by a bus.

– Your partner gets run over by a bus.

– You burn out.

– Your parents need care.

– You have to move house.

– You have to move country.


And here are 3 very positive reasons why you should disappear before you need to:

– You want your business to make a bigger impact now. Serve more customers, better, support more people working in it, and make that work more meaningful and fulfilling for them.

– You want your business to become an asset, not a job. The source of your pension, an income for your family, an income stream for your next venture. To sell it for more money.

– You want your business to take on a life of its own. To become your legacy, continuing to make an impact long after you’ve gone.


– You are still able to do whatever you need to do.

– Your business can continue to support you while you’re away.

– You have a business to come back to if you wish.

A modest amount of Discipline when you’re a team of 3 to 9 people, makes all this Daring possible. More quickly than you think.

Three Freedoms

Three Freedoms

What is freedom, really?

Here’s a possible definition, not mine*.  Three freedoms, each building on the one before.

  1. The freedom to walk away, knowing that you will be taken in elsewhere by other people who see you as one of them.
  2. The freedom to disobey, knowing that you can ‘vote with your feet’.
  3. The freedom to create new and different forms of social reality.

The third can’t happen without the first two.  Not without becoming tyranny, anyway.

These are big ideas, but since our businesses can be anything we want, we can practise them small.



*In the sense that I didn’t think of them.  They come from “The Dawn of Everything” by David Wengrow and David Graeber.

Pinning things down

Pinning things down

When we want to examine something closely, it helps to take a snapshot of it, to capture it at a point in time, to pin it down and look at it as a specimen.   This makes it easier for us to analyse its composition and construction.

This is a useful way to gather some information, as long as we remember that for all systems, including our businesses, the natural state is to be moving, changing and renewing.

For most things worth investigating, static means dead.



Circles are an interesting form of organisation.  Like King Arthur’s famous Round Table, nobody is ‘above’ or ‘below’ anyone else.  All are on a level.

A circle can be the basis of useful mechanisms for sharing work fairly, without the need for discussion, consensus building or command.

For instance, if you all work in an office, someone has to open up each day.   Often it’s one person’s job.   What happens when they don’t turn up?

You could decide to give everyone a key, and it’s simply the first to arrive that opens up.    But if you are the habitually early one, you might start to resent being the only one who has to do this in practice.

Or you could create an ‘opening up ‘ circle (which could include everyone) and do it by rotation.  You might even use a single set of special keys to make the mechanism visible, perhaps even more like a game.

There are probably more jobs that could be organised in this way.   You could rotate delivery drivers through different routes or rounds, to give them a change and to introduce customers to more of your team.   You could rotate people through networking events in the same way.  You could even rotate people through Roles to expand their experience and get clients used to the idea that anyone in your business can help them equally well.

The beauty of a circle is that you can start anywhere, and go clockwise or anti-clockwise.  You can choose whatever frequency you like for the rotation.  It can even accommodate absences – you just jump the gap if today’s person is missing.  Best of all, there’s no room for argument.  Everyone takes their turn, then forgets about the job until it comes round again.

No need to write up complex rotas, just draw up your circles, put them somewhere visible, and set them going.

How powerful a signal it would be if everyone, including the boss, took their spot?

Down with management

Down with management

I’ve talked before about the application of pin-factory thinking to work that requires empathy, creativity, imagination, judgement and flair.   This kind of thinking reduces management to supervision, control, and reporting.   Activities that are easily automated, but add little value.

No wonder we have an employee engagement problem, an innovation problem and a productivity problem.

Because we have a management problem.

People don’t need managing.  We are perfectly capable of managing ourselves, and do so every day.

We don’t need supervision and reporting.  We need communication – a vision, a score to follow, feedback on how we’re doing.

We don’t need to be controlled.   We need freedom – to make mistakes, learn from them, correct ourselves, improve how we do things.

We don’t even need to be led.   We can lead each other – the right leader, at the right time to deliver what’s required.

Down with management!

Long live responsible autonomy!



Management – the co-ordination of activities executed by many people – is expensive.  Managers don’t contribute directly to the bottom line, and good managers cost good money to hire.   So it’s no surprise that firms around the world have been looking for a way to get rid of managers.

One solution is to automate – management by algorithm, as used by Uber, deliveroo and the like, and increasingly applied to fields such as home-care.  This is hideously expensive to set up, of course, and it depends on creating an effective monopoly.   Plus it effectively turns humans into mindless robots, paid accordingly.

The other solution is to devolve responsibility out and down to the front-line – radical de-centralisation, where teams on the front line manage themselves.   An extreme (and very successful) example of this is Haier Industries, essentially what Corporate Rebels call ‘the biggest startup factory in the world’.

At Haier, ‘teams’ are startups, consisting of internal and external people (such as suppliers), all working to create value for customers, sharing the risks and the rewards along the way. They are monitored and supported, but not controlled.  Haier doesn’t decide what will work and what won’t, the market does.

In contrast to Uber and the like, Haier has created a highly profitable solution to getting rid of managers – by creating an ecosystem that enables self-managing people to do what only humans can do – create value for other humans – supported and rewarded by systems that help them to keep growing.

In the future, there will be no managers, only management.  What kind of management do you want for your business?  Uber? or Haier?

I know which I’d prefer.



When we think of innovation, we tend to think of physical or digital technologies embodied in products or apps.

Management is a technology too.

And as Michele Zanini, co-author with Gary Hamel of ‘Humanocracy‘ observed only last Friday:

“Our research suggests that the longest-lasting competitive advantages come from innovation in management systems and practices, not from business or operating model innovation. So diligently pursuing management innovation pays off handsomely.”

And the good news is that small businesses on the cusp of scaling are best placed to take advantage of this.

Founders Syndrome

Founders Syndrome

I learned a new concept this morning: ‘Founder’s syndrome’.  Here’s the Wikipedia definition:

  • The organization is strongly identified with the founder;[8] and a result sometimes believed to be related to the founder’s ego.[9][10][11]
  • Obsessive leadership style compared to a more standard behavior.[12][13][14]
  • Autocratic decision-making (autocratic management style): Founders tend to make all decisions in early start-up companies, big and small, without a formal process or feedback from others. Decisions are made in crisis mode, with little forward planning. Staff meetings are held generally to rally the troops, get status reports, and assign tasks. There is little meaningful strategic development, or shared executive agreement on objectives with limited or a complete lack of professional development. Typically, there is little organizational infrastructure in place, and what is there is not used correctly.[11] Furthermore, the founder has difficulty making decisions that benefit the organization because of their affiliation.[10]
  • Higher levels of micromanagement by checking on employees or colleagues subject matter work instead of maintaining and evolving the overall company’s picture.[15]
  • Entrepreneurs show higher levels of bias (e.g. overconfidence) than do managers in established organizations.[16][17]
  • There is no succession plan.[11]
  • A failing so-called leadership transition[18] within first couple of years leading to consequences such as trust, moral, unforeseen future for the business.[19][20]
  • The founder has difficulty with adapting to changes as the organization matures.[10]
  • The culture of the leadership team and company plays an important role for success or failure.[21][22]
  • Often the founder’s idea is central to the initial business and clients of the company, so that if markets change, the need for the initial idea might vanish.[23]
  • Key staff and board members are typically selected by the founder and are often friends and colleagues of the founder. Their role is to support the founder, rather than to lead the mission. Staff may be chosen due to their personal loyalty to the founder rather than skills, organizational fit, or experience. Board members may be under-qualified, under-informed or intimidated and will typically be unable to answer basic questions without checking first.[24]
  • Professionally trained and talented recruits, often recruited to resolve difficulties in the organization, find that they are not able to contribute in an effective and professional way.[24]
  • The founder begins to believe their own press/PR and other marketing related issues.[25]
  • The founder, who is usually the CEO or managing director, suffers HiPPO (Highest-paid-person’s opinion), which means that often their ideas, decisions, etc. keep winning over the actual better ideas, decisions, etc.[26][27]
  • The founder becomes increasingly paranoid as delegation is required, or business management needs are greater than their training or experience.
  • Falling into two traps:[28]
    • Actions without a goal or
    • Wrong actions based on defined goal

The founder responds to increasingly challenging issues by accentuating the above, leading to further difficulties.[29] Anyone who challenges this cycle will be treated as a disruptive influence and will be ignored, ridiculed or removed. The working environment will be increasingly difficult with decreasing trust. The organization becomes increasingly reactive, rather than proactive. Alternatively, the founder or the board may recognize the issue and take effective action.[30]

A lot of this looks to me like the classic painful transition from one-person-band, to few-person-band, to full-blown company.   Which is really the transition from a small, personal, human-scaled business to a large, impersonal capitalist corporation.   The founder wants to keep things personal and true to their original vision.  New owners or new management want to make things efficient, corporate and therefore impersonal.  As far as the founder is concerned, they want to make it ‘someone else’s business‘.  Of course the founder resists.

There is a preventive for ‘Founder’s syndrome’.

Embed the founding vision and personality into the operating processes of your business before you try to scale, with a Customer Experience Score.  You’ll be able to scale without managers, even without investors other than the people you serve.  The best of both worlds: personal, true to the original vision and magnifying your impact.

Even better, once it’s built into the way your business works, your Score takes on a life of it’s own, nurtured and improved by everyone in the business.   It becomes harder for anyone to interfere – even you.

Tension and delight

Tension and delight

Of course, inspiration on its own isn’t enough.   Inspiration needs a starting point, a constraint, something to bounce off, spark to or rebel against.

The maker of this ‘crazy’ quilt was already constrained by the assortment of odd-shaped leftovers they had.  Perhaps also by the limited colours they’d been given.   They decided to impose another constraint  – the nine square layout.  The result isn’t random.  Nor is it purely functional.   It satisfies more than the need to keep warm at night.

Why would someone do this?

We humans like order as much as we like wildness.  We desire both certainty and uncertainty, rules and license.    Pulled by these opposites, we find the tension between them uncomfortable.

So we turn it into the most delightful thing of all – art.   Capturing a fleeting, but satisfying moment of balance between the two.    The ‘right’ balance is elusive, every time we try, the result is different.  That’s what keeps artists in practice.   The ‘right’ balance is also personal.   That’s what gives each artist their own style.

If you want your business to feel human, it needs to be a place where art can happen.

You can’t dictate the artistic solutions.   But you can create the required level of tension, by imposing rules, order and constraints.

If those constraints are designed around making and keeping your promise to the people you serve – if they define a floor, but no ceiling – you’ll have created a safe, exciting and human space for everyone.

Especially you.