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2d03 – Successful organizations need managers!

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Do we need managers? Dirk believes so, Sebastian doubts it…

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Episode Transcript

Sebastian – Hello everyone! Welcome to our latest edition of, our podcast of debates. I am Sebastian, my co-host here is Dirk. Hi Dirk!

Dirk – Hey Sebastian, how are you doing over there in Europe?

Sebastian – I’m doing fantastic, I hear that you just arrived in the US so you’re completely jetlagged, aren’t you?

Dirk – No, it’s a good time for me right now. All my body feels like being in the middle of the day, it’s dark outside so I’m ready for you.

Sebastian – Okay, let’s get this started then. Today, we will debate on the following motion: “successful organisations need managers”. But before we get into the debate, let’s explain how it will run. There will be three parts of this debate. Each side will have two minutes to deliver a speech presenting their arguments in favour or against the motion. Then, each side will have another three minutes to respond to the other side’s initial speech and possibly add further arguments to defend their case. And finally, we’ll have one minute each for closing remarks. So before this recording, we have decided with the flip of the coin who will be in favor or against the motion. So, Dirk, if i’m not mistaken, you will be in favor of the motion which is “successful organizations need managers” and I will be against that motion. Now let’s flip the coin to see who will start with their speech. Dirk, you’re heads, I’m tails. I’m going to flip the coin right now and it’s tails so for once I am going to start with two minutes of arguments against the motion, the motion being again: “successful organizations need manages”.

Dirk – All right I got the clock running, no not running, ready for you! Just tell me when you’re ready to start.

Sebastian – OK, let’s get started. Let me ask you that question: you in the audience and you to you Dirk. How many good managers have you had in your career? Really? Come on, how many? Right, okay, you know the answer: not that many, wass your organization successful regardless? Yeah pretty much so, right? Overall, you know, the profits are rolling in and, plus or minus the economic crisis, things are working out fine. So do you really need managers? I’m not so sure. Secondly: how do you define “success”? We say successful organizations. Is it profits, as I said or implied maybe, or is it employee morale. You could actually look into different angles, it’s not necessarily just about profits, in this case we should define what success means. Finally, or maybe not finally but another argument is, do we need managers or leaders? Do you need people who are going to drive and be able to coordinate and inspire fellow employees and colleagues? Or do you need people who are just bureaucratic, hierarchical blockers against things moving along? Additionally, if you look at some of the results that have happened over the past decades, and I was surprised when I was preparing for this debate how numerous examples of self-management i.e. without a formal manager actually have been successful across industries, whether it’s the car industry with Volvo with Fedex where they have reduced the number of defects, they’ve cut service errors by as much as ninety percent at Volvo in a plant in 1987 with pure self- management. The latest example is Zappos, this company which was acquired by Amazon, which has introduced “holacracy”, which is this completely flat structure, which does not mean not having some structure. it’s just that leadership in this case is contextual: it’s not tied to a person, it is tied to a role. You become a leader, you organize this unit. There are my arguments against the motion. Your turn, Dirk.

Dirk – Thank you, Sebastian! Those are truly strong arguments but they count only one way. And so I’m arguing for managers. I have three points that I think make a strong case. Number one: managers are a fairly new thing. We introduce them in when organization sizes achieved a certain level and Peter Drucker – he’s a famous thinker of management theory – said that the main contribution of management and the reason why managers have been introduced to the workforce was that they help people learn and adapt faster. So before managers were introduced to organizations, organizations were doing mainly one thing in a structured way. And they can do that self-servicing, they can do that self-organizing. But if you are in a modern environment where learning and adapting and moving fast in these two things is a key factor for your success and success being defined as producing more, staying relevant, growing then you need to help your workforce identifying skill gaps, moving forward adopting new skills. And managers have that at the core of their roles. Now bad managers may lose that point and miss the point but that’s a core capability. Another part is in said complex organizations are managers important exception handlers. So if you try to move fast and at some point hit a roadblock and you need to decide which way to go and what type of solution may be the right one, human systems tend to break down because people cannot really make up their mind really fast, especially in controversial situations. And managers are the breaking point for that, the exception handler, the one that steps up and takes a decision. And the last point here is 10 people, 15 opinions, and managers tend to sort through these situations as well, which speeds up organizations and makes them in the end grow faster. For successful organizations of today that’s a key factor.

Sebastian – Managers are new things, you tell me?! Managers are new things?! This is completely old-fashioned, what are you talking about? The manager-hierarchy model is like old as factory-making and getting blue-collar workers in a factory and reporting it to a manager giving you your instructions. This is completely 19th century! Which century are you living in, Dirk? I know you’re German and you know industry is very strong in Germany and that’s not a stereotype, it’s the actual truth, but come on! Look at today, there’s not just one model: it doesn’t have to be just a hierarchical-manager type model, you can have plenty of models, and by the way I’m not advocating for any other specific model, I’m just saying look around, let’s explore other things and I mentioned one thing which you did not pick upon, maybe you’ll pick upon that in your three minutes but we don’t have to make authority exist tied up to a specific individual who, as you may have experienced, you listeners and you Dirk in your life, that may, unfortunately when it’s in the hands of one person, can be misused. If that role of leadership, of deciding, of taking a decision, evolves and is tied to a role specifically, then you allow for much more unbiased opinion. In fact, you can add expert opinion, you can have these circles, these units which are self-managed. I have the data here, you don’t give me any data! General Mills has increased productivity up to forty percent in self-managed plants. Fedex has cut service errors by thirteen percent in self-managed teams in 1989. There’s multiple examples which show that self-management actually works and it’s not just old companies. Valve, which is this video game company, same thing: they have a self-management organization. So this is something that is working, it is the model that is functioning and these companies are, as far as I know, Volvo, Fedex, General Mills, Valve, and Zappos, are thriving companies so it’s not exclusive. The motion is “successful organization need managers”. I’m saying they can do with managers, yes of course, you can have managers, if you want to. I’m just saying it’s not the only way to conduct your business. Having people learn and adapt faster because you have managers? Seriously? In a world where education, if you want it, is free: it’s on the Internet, you can go to training sessions. You expect your manager to oh thank you, my manager, for teaching me how to do my job. Really, this is the world we’re living in? No, of course not, normal people go to university, professional training all along your career does not depend, it’s not tied to your manager. Yes, you may be inspired by a manager but this is why I make a point that you need leaders, not managers. Train everyone, everyone, to be a leader so they can lead depending on the opportunity, depending on the moment, depending on the unit, the team they’re going to be part of. One aspect is to be self-managed: that’s just one option. Yes I respect my three minutes. I recommend that for your… that you will cut off exactly at two and three minutes.

Dirk – I give you 10 seconds left because that’s all I need to really kick you out of the water on your argument. So first off, managers are also long around us and citing the 19th century. May I remind you that the history of humankind is a little bit, at just a little bit longer than 100 or 200 years. And no, leaders and managers are not necessarily always the same thing and that’s the other thing that you kind of omitted in your passionate argument that you just made. The role of a manager and the position of a manager may be two different things. If you have self-managing teams, chances are they selected someone in their team who is fulfilling exactly the kind of function that you would expect an appointed manager to fulfill or at least the good ones. So you have that person that is the exception handler, you have that person that is kind of the natural quote-unquote leader, you have that person that helps others identifying gaps and growing and that’s my third point to what you just said. I’m not saying that the manager teaches us how to do our jobs and of course information is available freely, of course you can study up. But managers create systems that reward you for growth, that reward you for skilling up, that reward you for doing better. And they create those trainings, they bring those trainings to the companies. Before we had managers, companies like Ford for instance or other industrial complex companies gave a damn about the learning opportunities of their employees. So employees were close to machinery, just cheaper, and no one bothered to really skill them up, provide training, give them an opportunity to grow, have a discussion about their career path. That’s uniquely something that managers discuss about, that managers bring to our organization, that managers are paid for driving forward in large successful organizations. And these examples that you cited that may do well without managers in those positions, they still depend on someone actually managing these things. Maybe there is no formal hierarchy of managers, I even can agree to that idea that this may not always be the most useful and successful model, but there are still managers and so far I haven’t seen a single example where an organization really got rid of them, even those who tried and we both work in a famous example of that, Google would try to get rid of managers and reintroduce them at some point. I think we’re done now, you don’t have to defeat yourself.

Sebastian – I want my minute! Give me my minute back, what is this! Are you changing the rules? I’m taking notes, I’m going to thrash you in 60 seconds, you’re gonna die. “Humankind”, seriously? Yeah you’re gonna give me the humankind argument? You’re gonna suffer, my man.

Dirk – Come on, baby, give you 60 seconds, but I gave you three minutes here that’s not good.

Sebastian – You’re gonna suffer these sixty seconds. Mentors, leaders, peers, human resources, the training team. Where is the need for managers here? You have plenty of resources around you for helping you with you career in an unbiased way. I’m thankful that we don’t have to rely just on managers to reward me for doing better. Thankfully I don’t need a reward to do my job well because I love my job so I find it sad if people have to rely on that sole person, it makes this focal point so crucial in their life, it’s very risky. In any case what do leaders need from organization? Reliability, adaptability. Finding the right balance between the two, being reliable and adaptable, is tricky. It is not easy for a leader. Self-management and different forms of balancing those two things, reliability and adaptability, are the key thing. It’s not about being obsessed with one model, about yes you need to have manages to be successful. No! there are many other forms and explore them and you’ll see you’ll still be successful.

Dirk – Yeah I get it, you don’t want to have managers. I don’t buy the argument though. So, as I said, the role of someone who is managing will be there even if you get rid of the role. If you throw out all the managers, that one individual that you said that is taking care of the things, you still have these tasks to manage and someone has to do it and these are experienced or this is something that organizations discover once they try to really remove that role. So no matter how you identify your managers, if people step up voluntarily and rotate through, if they are elected, if they happen to be selected by some soft self-organizing principle, in the end you need managers in order to move forward to aggregate, to train people, to identify the next move and to be an exception handler.

Sebastian – So that’s it! We’re done with today’s debate: let us know what you thought of today’s debate in the comments of our website, 2 is the number, Don’t hesitate to let us know what better or other arguments we could have used to make the case for either side. And we’ll review the feedback and summarise it in one of our next podcast, so stay tuned.

Sebastian – You completely disrupted me with whatever fell on your side like what’s going on. Nice nobody can hear that, I love it, because I was like I like pause and realizing that nobody would hear that anyway. So I’m like nice interaction.

Dirk – So now I forgot what you said!

Sebastian – It’s completely unfair, you used more than two minutes, you disrupt my speech, I’m the first one to start which is obviously more difficult and it’s the first time I’m doing it, I realized how much more difficult it is actually. This is completely unfair, I’m gonna file an appeal and this is just unacceptable. Be ready for 60 seconds of suffering!

Dirk – Make up your mind if you want to start or not or give up entirely because you have nothing to say to my argument. Alright!

Sebastian – I am not giving up ever. I’m going to win this one, again. Start! That was intense! I didn’t say that! Are you? I said you Dirk but I (also) said “our listeners”. I get you!

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