I believe in the empowerment innate in freedom, both as an entrepreneur myself and as an employer of a highly-skilled outsourced executive sales force. My philosophy is if you hire ’em, trust ’em.
My personal perspective is that the most effective business trop, particularly for the small businessman, is one of fulgent freedom. That is, a communal ambience populated by peer-level associates working in tandem to accomplish tasks or offer services within a through-branded value system, each member of the corporate organism bringing his unencumbered and uncensored individual strengths to the collegial effort of offering something distinct and useful to the world.
The key conundrum implicit in this business philosophy is how a leader can maintain sufficient control to orchestrate a profitable game plan while still allowing the maximum in creative chaos and personal development within an organization. Yet, therein lies the greatest ability to untap the full human resources of your cadre of employees and associates.
I was reminded of this by my haircutter Letty last week. While in her chair, I tried to tell her exactly how she should handle my beautiful forelock, mainly leaving it longer than it looked like she wanted to cut it. Well, it looked like shit when I got home and I had to shamefacedly go back in the next day to ask her to fix the damage wrought by my sage styling advice.
This experience was a cautionary reminder to me about the dangers of micromanagement. (For God’s sake let the professionals be professionals, Tim!) I strayed from my own business faith of letting my employees accomplish corporate goals by maximizing the free rein of their own skills, creativity, and intuition under a broad rubric of clearly bright-lined ethics and administrative process. I have always believed that this creates a much more committed, loyal group of associates, who invariably produce more confident, consistently authoritative work.
Now there is increasing neuro-scientific evidence to show that employees are less effective when their work is dictated top-down. Note the work of Yale professor Amy Arnsten, who’s Arnsten Lab has recently highlighted the importance of feeling in control. Arnsten’s research reveals that when people (employees) lose their sense of control, like when tasks are micro-dictated to them from on high, the brain’s emotional response center actually causes a decrease in cognitive functioning. Thus, the feeling of not being in control, whether it is based on reality or not, leads to a drop in employee efficacy.
For this reason I continue to be fascinated by John Case‘s concept of Open Book Management, in which corporate collegiality is encouraged through throwing open all aspects of corporate management, including financials and salaries. The idea is to not only help employees do their jobs better, but also give them a sense of ownership and empowerment in accomplishing their daily tasks. Open Book is being increasingly tried by owners and CEOs in small and medium-sized companies searching for a more integrated way of corporate management.
My friend Ed Dorian, owner and CEO of Dorian Drake, operates his firm under Open Book and he swears by it. He allowed me to sit in on a session of his quarterly management meeting last month. There was unquestionably a palpable warmth and sense of practical common purpose to the meeting I witnessed, a sense of practical problem-solving dialogue among equals.
Though I loved the tone of the meeting, I told Ed I would find it very uncomfortable to share bad or scary financials with my company. Wouldn’t this leave my associates feeling fearful and insecure? Ed told me his experience is quite the opposite. He told me, “We generally share all the financial news—good, bad, or ugly. In fact, I think Open Book is at its most powerful when the numbers aren’t good. This lets everyone know that it is crunch time and that we need to redouble our efforts to generate income and manage costs.”
I must say frankly this is a bridge too far for me at present. Or perhaps it’s simply entrepreneurial cowardice on my part, since in every other way I try to nurture a horizontal community of equals in my own firm, Corporate Rain. In a sense, I hope to have a firm of “bosses”, where each individual operates autonomously and lends the full power of his individual peculiarity and genius to each task.
As Albert Einstein put it in Out of My Later Years (1950), “Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.” Thank you (again), Albert.