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Think of the ideal manager. Do you picture someone who is a coach and mentor, someone who removes roadblocks for their team, someone who is there to bounce ideas off of, and someone who communicates the greater needs of the company’s strategic vision back to their team? Of course, that sounds like a dream, but it doesn’t have to be.

When managers control hiring, firing, promotions, salaries, and bonuses, that is a lot of power for one person to have. Yes, the majority of those decisions have to go through the proper channels but how many of these issues are decided because of the weight given to the manager’s opinion. This is not to say that management is corrupt or that they abuse their power but it does allow for personal biases to shade the decisions made and creates an imbalance that tilts the manager-employee relationship.

It reduces the ability to have an open dialogue between a manager and their team. Many people will not speak up when they have a better idea. They will do whatever it takes to impress their manager. The desire to impress can lead to negative and toxic behaviours, such as backstabbing and politicking.

It also stifles the best ideas from rising to the top – and this includes who to hire and promote. The weight of the manager’s opinion creates a situation closer to an autocracy than a democracy or meritocracy.

Some might wonder what does the title even mean if you don’t have that decision-making power to choose and financially reward your team. How can you get people to do what you want if you don’t have that power? Others might wonder how would those decisions get made?

Those decisions can be made by committee. For hiring, have the candidate meet with peers, their manager, their subordinates, and another employee for a different department who has no stake in the decision. They all get to meet with the candidate, and review the application and interview material. After providing their ranking of each candidate, the candidate with the highest combine ranking is offered the position.

By using committees for promotion and financial bonuses, it shifts the focus from being a good subordinate to their manager to being a good teammate. Since their peers would be involved in these decisions, employees are rewarded for being kind, considerate, and empathetic of their teammates. This reinforces positive behaviours that are the backbone of a great corporate culture. And that ideal manager I mentioned, it becomes a reality.

Implementing this takes an empathetic change management plan to deal with the perceived loss of power that management might feel. A 1-2 day LEGO® Serious Play® workshop focusing on how the team should work together would be a huge benefit in creating that empathetic plan. If there is already a toxic environment on a team, it will take a firm stance by the executive team that this new model isn’t going away. Once employees and managers realize that everyone in the company could have a say in their future, they will either amend their toxic behaviours to be a good team player or they will leave. Either is a win in this situation.

A small, easy change that Laszlo Bock mentions in his book Work Rules! is to split the annual review into two separate conversations: performance and finance. When learning and improvement is tied to finances, employees focus on the money and will argue that their assessment was unfair and that they are not getting what they deserved. Any learnings or value from the feedback given is lost. If you want your employees to develop and grow, these need to be two separate conversations.

How does your company define the role of manager? Are there opportunities to shift your organization towards the ideal?