Let Go!

Transitioning People Through Constant Change

In my previous series of posts called “Kill the Hierarchy” I discussed the need for organisations to flatten the organisational structure if they are to survive in what is now described as a VUCA environment - volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Change is constant and unpredictable. Organisations have to be able to respond quickly to ever-changing conditions.

In this series entitled ‘Let Go!’ I discuss how leaders need to get out of the way and let go of the control.

Organisations can only be responsive when they flatten the structure, remove the bureaucracy that slows them down and give employees autonomy. Decision-making is distributed, communication flows easily throughout the organisation. Employee innovation, creativity and experimentation are embraced. Employees can self-manage. They decide what to work on, how and when.

I believe one of the biggest challenges facing organisations wishing to create this autonomous workplace is getting managers to let go. Managers need to become leaders and surrender control.

No one ever did anything awesome or great just because they were told to!

The ‘Let Go’model shown the diagram below, illustrates that respected leadership comes when managers surrender control and are prepared to tolerate risks.


© Karen Ferris 2018

Let go!

Leaders have to ‘get out of the way’ and give employees autonomy, delegate decision-making, and allow them to self-manage. Great leaders inspire, and then get out of the way.

"Surround yourself with great people; delegate authority; get out of the way" - Ronald Reagan

There are two aspects to letting go which moves a leader from one that is mistrusted, feared or doubted, to one that is respected. These are:

·      Surrender of control

·      Risk tolerance

Surrender of control

If we are to become the responsive organisation that we need to be, we require leaders who let go and surrender control.

As Matt Myatt, writing for Forbes said:

“Surrender allows the savvy leader to serve where control demands the ego-centric leader to be served. Surrender allows leadership to scale and a culture of leadership to be established. Surrender prefers loose collaborative networks over rigid hierarchical structures allowing information to be more readily shared and distributed. Leaders who understand surrender think community, ecosystem, and culture – not org chart. Surrender is what not only allows the dots to be connected, but it’s what allows to dots to be multiplied. Controlling leaders operate in a world of addition and subtraction, while the calculus of a leader who understands surrender is built on exponential multiplication.”

When leaders surrender control they delegate and establish trust. When leaders establish trust they inspire and motivate. This leads to increased speed and ability to change direction quickly, rapid decision-making and alignment of individual outcomes with organisational outcomes.

This is exactly what is needed to survive in a VUCA world. Leaders have to realise that their ability to influence will reap much more than their ability to control.

Control just slows everything down and leaders become bottlenecks. The organisation is suffocated. Surrender brings speed, innovation, creativity and collaboration. Control brings frustration, cynicism, disengagement, and mistrust.

Lets Go.jpg

Risk tolerance

Leaders need to get out of the way and let employees take calculated risks. Leaders like Jim Donald let employees take risks without adverse recourse.

When Jim became CEO of Extended Stay Hotels in 2012, he noted that employees where in fear of losing their jobs. The organisation has recently emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 and so employees were aware of the financial pressures and the potential for redundancies.

Jim realised that this fear was restricting creative thinking and innovation. What he wanted were employees who dared to do something different and would take calculated gambles.

In order to foster this behaviour he had several thousand ‘get out of jail free’ cards (from the Monopoly game) printed and he gave to them to his 9000+ employees. The idea was that when an employee took a big risk on behalf of the business, they could call in the card and no questions would be asked.

These cards were a safety net to let people know that they could take a risk. One hotel manager in New Jersey did just this. She took the risk of cold-calling a film production company who were rumoured to be soon filming in her city. The company ended up booking $250,000 in accommodation at her hotel.

“90% of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get things done.” - Peter Drucker

He who knows best

Think of it for a minute. Who knows best about what is going on in the organisation? There are countless times when it is the employee who knows more about what is going on because they are closer to it. 

Who is best to respond to a customer enquiry about the specifications of product ABC? The leader or the product support guy?

Who is best suited to answer questions related to the agricultural productivity of farm ABC? The leader or the farmer?

Leaders need to get out of the way and let those best placed to get on with their jobs.

"He who knows best knows how little he knows." - Thomas Jefferson

In short

To sum up this post, I refer to the Wall Street Journal article “Smart Executives Shed Some traditional Tasks to Focus on Key Areas.”

The article talks about the former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline who wanted his 100,000 employees to work both smarter and faster.

“Encouraging employees to be more accountable for the work they do and to eliminate unnecessary steps and even approval processes that slow productivity certainly makes sense. But empowering employees as Mr. Garnier says he wants to do requires business leaders who are willing to let go of their need to be in charge of everything.

Coming up!

In my next posts I will discuss each of the leadership styles in the “Let Go” model – feared, mistrusted, doubted and respected – and what leaders need to do to become respected.

More posts on their way over the coming weeks and months, exploring how we need to take a fresh and radical look at organisational change management, and the changes we need to make if we are to thrive.

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Also remember that older posts from me are available via the Resources section.


Karen FerrisComment