51% – the brilliantly simple concept to start creating real commitment

Read it on stairs (2)

There’s an element that gets overlooked when you set up your organisation with the right number of levels (yes, there is a right number, but that’s a different post), and when you make sure that the people in the roles will be able to add value at the level that the role requires.  You get a natural feeling of release or ‘that feels better’ as some of the key conditions that create micromanagement or disconnection are now dealt with.

Couple in some training about what the unique value-add of each level is, and we’re well on the way toward an enterprise that can seriously get things done, both today’s work, and tomorrow’s.  If you’d like some research on this, and no less than 50 years’ worth is good enough for you, check out the work of Elliott Jaques.  We use it because it works.

But there’s a darker side.

In the process of defining ‘levels’, the human need for dominance rears it’s head.  I’m talking about the idea that “I’m at a higher ‘level’, therefore I know better than you”.  Don’t get me wrong, most times this isn’t evil, and comes through as genuine caring for ‘your’ people.  But the very act of assuming you know what’s best for someone else….how comfortable are you with being on the receiving end of that?

Yet, we need people who can think in longer timespans so we’re OK in the future.  And we need people who can make things work right now so we’re OK right now.  We need all of these things for a successful business.  Hierarchy is actually natural.

So what do we do?

What we do is move to the mindset described by Peter Block as Partnering not Parenting.

Partnering means we treat all in the organisation as if we are partners in this business together.  Joint owners.  This isn’t a posters and coffee cups thing, this is a mind-set that drives the conversations and practices that we use.

If you’re like me, your reaction now is probably “that’s great, but we actually need to get work done and as the manager, I’m accountable.”  Well, here’s the thing – business partners do get work done.  But we are in a managerial hierarchy.  So here’s the simple concept from Peter Block that helps us through:

As a manager, treat your team as if they are your partners in owning the business, with yourself as the 51% majority owner.

Ponder that for a second.  Your inner cynic says “that won’t make any difference, 51% owner gets to do what they want!”.  But if you take that approach, you’re not acting like a partner, you’re acting like an aristocrat.  Or if you’re a nice aristocrat….like a parent.

And that’s the power in this concept – it forces a mind-set that makes you treat people like they are fellow adults in business with you.  And at the same time, as the majority owner, allows you to set the requirements the team needs to deliver in order to continue getting funded….otherwise known as salary.  Including your own!

So what sorts of things do business partners do?  Well, I’m one, so I can tell you:

  • Discuss what needs to be delivered now in order to receive funding (known to us as ‘fees’)
  • Discuss what sorts of things we might deliver in the future to receive funding (known as strategic work)
  • Make promises in terms of what we each will do for clients and for each other
  • Have meetings to discuss how the work is going and what needs to change to deliver on our promises
  • Have other meetings if something comes up that needs addressing, whether good or bad
  • Ask for help and help each other
  • If something is not what we expected, say so….shine a light on it

And here’s what we don’t do

  • Decide what ‘development’ each other needs (because we can work that our for ourselves given what we’ve decided to do)
  • Determine what each other is paid (we’ve agreed a system that sorts that out that we all feel is fair that relates to actual business performance)
  • Say yes to things we can’t deliver
  • Tell each other how to do our jobs (but we do ask for  help and offer advice and ideas)
  • Make unilateral decisions that could impact each other without having a conversation

And importantly, we care for how each other is going, not because it is our job, but because we choose to.   Because that’s what we think decent people do.  It’s not an ‘accountability’ or a ‘behaviour’ we measure, and it not something that is exclusive to the realm of managers. It’s called community.

Is this different to the usual feel of the manager-subordinate relationship?  Maybe to you it’s just a nuance.  Or maybe you’re more like me and found this to be a significant eye-opener.  And one that allows significantly more value to be added.

Worth a ponder.


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