The word management, it seems, is synonymous with “command and control” for many people out there. And, despite its inherent inflexibility, it is a very comfortable way of doing business for old-school managers and employees alike: Everyone has clearly defined roles and duties and the boss keeps everything on track by firmly guiding each task. This all-powerful leader frees staff from the onerous task of thinking and hopefully takes ownership of any failures (and likely, all successes).
However, in today’s dynamic business environment, in which processes, information and technologies are constantly evolving, that sort of top-down, rigid approach to leadership is increasingly antiquated. Yet as in the larger “world of business,” abandoning command and control can create an uncomfortable level of uncertainty for managers, much less their team members. So it probably seems like this would be the absolute worst time to tell your boss something is wrong.
The very fact that business is reshaping itself under our feet makes it essential that every employee, at every level, feel and be empowered to question everything. Think about it: If managers need to be focused on the larger marketplace, keeping an eye out for significant emerging trends and transformations, whose left to mind the shop? To be honest the answer is the people who always have: The ones doing the day to day work. The difference, really, is that these line-of-business workers need to do more than get the job done; they need to own the job in a way that allows them to influence their specific tasks and responsibilities, and to reinvent processes, products and even business models. And that means everyone must constantly question everything.
Consider the customer service rep: This is the position guaranteed to be on the front lines, interacting with the all-important customer every day. They listen to problems as well as requests for new products or feature sets. And perhaps they are brilliant at solving problems; masters of the quick fix or work-around. Good enough. But not great.
Great customer service representatives “own” the products and services offered by their organization. They communicate issues and suggestions through appropriate product feedback channels, who welcomes this information wholeheartedly. This communication then fuels ongoing improvements and new product launches that are aligned with customer needs and expectations.
And here’s an interesting fact: One of the things customer service reps hate is a feeling of helplessness; of not being able to resolve an issue for a customer (or worse a “known issue” that never seems to go away). Thus, in an organization with “flatter management,”—one where communicating issues across job functions is standard practice—not only are managers better able to focus on the big picture rather than micromanagement, empowered employees end up feeling better about their abilities, job and company. And, most importantly, the organization as a whole is better equipped to constantly evolve with the marketplace.
So go ahead, tell your boss he’s wrong. It may be the best news he’s heard all day.