B S Raghavan

Management nirvana: Out with the boss!

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on September 06, 2012

In the course of my cruising the Internet, I was delighted to come across a stimulating discussion on ridding offices of bosses in the Web site of >Knowledge@Wharton (August 1). Incidentally, based on my close to two decades of prowling the Web, I have found the Wharton School of Management stirring up heady intellectual debates, unlike the Harvard Business School which prefers to remain in the rut of hackneyed themes such as leadership, success formulas or whatever.

We have all been hearing of paperless offices for some time and of experimentation with lean and flat offices which are not weighed down by hierarchies and command-and-control systems. Hence, it is not surprising that thinking should inevitably turn towards ‘bossless offices’.

It is possible to have a boss and still have a bossless office. For instance, in the days of the Indian Civil Service, the degree of prestige and awe it commanded was such that strict norms of efficiency and discipline were maintained by the staff even when the bosses were out most of the time enjoying themselves.

Or, an Idi Amin-like boss might have struck such terror in the minds of the employees that even without his physical presence in the office, he got the work done. The old style of cracking the whip will not do in these days when equality and fraternity are the ruling maxims.

The Wharton article mentions a survey conducted earlier this year of 32,000 employees at mid- to large-size companies about such issues as workplace stress, work/life balance and the value of bosses. It revealed that less than 50 per cent of employees had confidence in their senior managers, and only 44 per cent believed their managers care about their well-being. In addition, managers were seen as untrustworthy, incapable of providing adequate guidance and uninspiring as leaders.

INGENIOUS CONCEPT

It is these trends in the opinion of subordinates that has led to the questioning of the age-old mantra of “The buck stops here”, and the demand that all those working in an office should be equal partners in decision-making.

Strangely the ingenious concept of members of an organisation, all holding themselves on an equal footing and managing themselves and working for its goals seems to have escaped the great management guru Peter Drucker himself. However, there have been other scholars who had been sporadically toying with the idea without, however, delving deep into it and working out its ramifications. Actually, several variants of the tempting proposition have been in the field. The first is, of course, empowering the lowest grade employee, particularly in distant offices or customer counters, to take decisions on the spot on his own to tackle situations or solve unforeseen problems.

In recent years, team-oriented approach to decision-making has been gaining ground in the place of the boss handing down his prescription from on high.

The rationale for exploring new avenues for raising the levels of comfort and motivation on the part of the employees is to preserve the self-esteem of human beings in organisations.

ALLURING PROSPECT

No one likes to be driven like herds of cattle, nor being micro-managed. Everyone wants to be regarded as having the native intelligence to understand the nature of the job he is entrusted with and his capacity to carry it out so long as the necessary means and resources are placed at his disposal. As a professor quoted in the article points out, in a bossless office, “Everyone takes part in the decisions, so it’s not being directed from above. The idea is that the people doing the actual work probably have a better sense of how to get it done than their bosses do. It's a matter of distributing the expertise to where the expertise actually lies …When employees have a degree of self-management, and therefore a greater sense of accountability, it means their motivation is based not on their standing with the manager or boss, but because they identify with the work.”

Leaving aside the practicality of it, the prospect of bossless offices is certainly alluring.

However, they are still some distance away. Meanwhile, it is best that bosses learn to function as helpers, facilitators and associates, and shed the notion of their being demi-gods. The zeitgeist is against absolutism of any kind, and diktats from above are strictly no-no.

Keywords: Workplace, Management strategies, workplace and boss

Published on September 06, 2012

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