The future of work is more autonomy, not more command-and-control.
You were not born into this world to be supervised and managed by other people.
It’s a weird thing to say, but it’s worth reminding yourself that you are an independent human being with your own ideas, visions, and passions.
Instead of acting on these ideas, the vast majority of us sign up to be micro-managed by other people for most of our lives.
Traditional management is a strange arrangement we’ve gotten ourselves into.
When you cede your autonomy to another person, you lose a little piece of your human dignity.
When you decide that someone else’s judgment is superior to your own, you hurt yourself psychologically and emotionally.
We can do better. We can change corporate culture to better serve employees and customers.
Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, & Where We’re Headed
Management and supervision were command-and-control innovations of the Industrial Revolution.
Factory owners hired factory foremen to transmit the commands to compliant factory workers.
A whole education system sprang up to support this end-goal and foster obedience in young children.
Why do you think the education system you grew up in was more concerned with whether you followed directions and showed up on time, than what actual skills you learned?
It’s time to put the Herd mentality aside and build something new. It’s time to enter into a new social contract with one another as we enter the Agile Century.
Corporate Culture Change
Corporate culture change is hard. Changing corporate culture requires a sharp break in previous ways of thinking. Changing corporate culture requires a mindset reset at least as dramatic and disruptive as the one that started the Industrial Revolution.
But we can do it if we opt out of the culture of traditional management.
Here are four concrete ideas for changing corporate culture:
- Freedom of individuals and teams. The thorny problems of the new century require responsiveness to change above all else. Tasks change, roles change, and projects change. The age of the factory worker who knows how to do only one thing is ending. So people must have the flexibility to craft their own career paths within an organization. Career paths don’t look like ladders anymore; they zig-zag like lightning bolts across different fields, departments, and even companies. The organizations that embrace this will attract the best talent.
- Serving people. Agile organizations serve clients and customers, not executives and bureaucracies. The Industrial Revolution perfected the art of mass producing junk for mass consumption. Along the way, they dehumanized many of the relationships we once had between the work that we do and the people with whom we share the fruits of our labor. Mass producers of goods had their day in the sun. It’s time to return to craftsmanship, artistry, and genuine connection between human beings.
- No more managers. Valve, the highly successful video game company, had their new employee handbook leaked. The handbook revealed that employees had no managers to report to. They were expected take risks, start projects, and be held accountable to each other. Absolutely revolutionary.
- Integrating work and family. What I find is that people want the organizations they work in to reflect their values. That includes integrating their work and personal lives, as opposed to putting a wall up between the two. Most working parents I know want the flexibility to attend a child’s volleyball game in the middle of the day and shift work to the night.
Everything we are learning about human psychology and well-being says that people are more fulfilled and happier when they exercise self-direction and autonomy.
For the complicated and creative challenges that face us in the future, we must have the ability to choose what we do, where we do it, when we do it, and who we do it with.
A project-based economy that’s not dependent on salary slavery is the first step in the right direction to becoming more autonomous people building the awesome new products, services, and organizations of the twenty-first century.
Image by comedy_nose.