Traditional management is costly and time consuming. Is self-management an alternative?

Middle management executes the company’s business plan. Its main function is to ensure:

• the Key Performance Indicators for the department are met;
• company’s expectations in terms of people skills and behaviours are met;
• people in the team feel they are being treated well and given opportunities to learn and progress. This is not in the interest of increasing manager’s popularity amongst staff but in order to prevent talent from getting a job with a competitor or disengaging.
However, it has been increasingly difficult for middle managers to fulfil all of these expectations. They have their own workloads and often a project work on top.

I have long been interested in the idea of self-service and its use within organisations. Self-service works well in a well run HR function backed up by a good HR information system. Why have HR professionals keying in data already provided on a form completed by an individual, when that individual can input the data directly onto the system himself.

A pre requisite of self service is selling the benefit of this shift of responsibilities from HR to individuals: individuals are in control of their own information and can immediately see the benefit being able to access this information themselves (provided the HR system is locked down and permissions based).

Can self-service be magnified so individuals are empowered throughout the company to help manage KPIs and monitor and manage performance? In essence manage themselves?

Traditionally, it is a manager’s responsibility to monitor performance, identify underperformance and motivate the team and individuals to do well. This traditional approach is in contrast with science and common sense, i.e. no matter how much we would want to believe otherwise, our motivation to act comes from within us and not from anyone else. If that’s the case why don’t organisations shift the responsibility for high levels of performance from managers to individuals? As long as people are of the right ability modern technology takes the concept of self-motivation and self-management to a whole new level.

Modern technology (e.g. reporting services coupled with user interfaces) makes it possible for an individual to instantly access performance against targets and motivate team members on team targets. Management reports are taken out the management fiefdom and given to individuals to manage themselves. This is no longer about simply being driven to do well. Access to feedback satisfies our innate curiosity for knowing how we are doing; seeing the results stimulates our competitive nature; we try harder and an improvement in performance is a result and self-management a by-product. With this self-management in operation many performance issues that are traditionally dealt with would not even arise. They would have been nipped in the bud by self-driven self-correcting individuals keeping their own performance in check. No need for wrestling with IT to obtain relevant performance stats; no need for embarrassing “performance discussions”. Manager’s role would evolve into “managing by exception”; i.e. only interfering when alerted by the system or in some more serious or persistent breaches of conduct.

No matter how attractive it sounds though, self-management will never fully replace a manager’s function: we don’t like to be told what to do but we like being told that we do well. Performance statistics are only as good as the logic behind them and they do not lend themselves well to monitoring “softer” skills (or qualitative performance data).

However, despite its limitations, “self-management” can offer significant benefits in terms of time savings, staff engagement and business results’ improvement. Time saved in the process could be spent on what is really important but often under prioritised, e.g. development discussions and implementing individual learning and development plans.

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