Most advice fell into one of three categories: fuzzy, like ‘you’re a servant leader now,’ incomplete, like ‘your job is to remove impediments,’ or just plain wrong, like ‘empowered organizations don’t have a role for managers anymore.’
In organizations where teams and individuals are empowered to own and direct their own work, what do managers do? Is there even a role for a manager in an empowered org? In this episode, Richard and Peter introduce the Humanizing Work Three Jobs of Management model, showing how skillful managers can add significant value in their role.
Download the Assessment PDF mentioned in the episode here.
Welcome to the Humanizing Work Show.
In today’s episode, we’re going to share what for us has been a breakthrough way to think about the role of management. Peter and I both have a deep background in Agile software development, which is only one of several movements that emphasize the importance of empowering the teams and individuals doing the work to make important decisions related to that work.
As we both began practicing and then teaching those approach, managers began asking really sincere questions about their role. In fact, I distinctly remember a conversation I had sometime around 2008 with Chris Prosser, who was the engineering manager on the Adobe After Effects team, and he’s among the many smart, well intentioned managers I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years. After a few days of training, Chris pulled me aside on a break and asked something like “I love the idea of this approach; I think it’s going to be great for our teams. But if we are really empowering teams to make all the decisions, what’s my role?” What I remember the most about that conversation is how uncomfortable I felt to not have a good answer to that question. This episode, in many ways, is the long-awaited answer for Chris and everyone else who has had a similar question.
My experience was very similar, and as Peter and I both searched far and wide for answers to that question, of “What do managers do now, with these empowered teams?” we found pretty unsatisfying answers. Most advice fell into one of three categories: Some was fuzzy, like “Now you are a servant leader.” Some was incomplete, like “Your job is to remove impediments,” or just plain wrong, like “Empowered organizations don’t have a role for managers anymore.”
By the way, before we get to what we think is a much more useful answer to “What do managers do now?” a quick aside… We think you’ll find some really useful information in this episode, and hope you’ll want to share it with others. We appreciate anything you can do to help spread the ideas from the Humanizing Work Show more broadly. If you’re watching on YouTube, please consider subscribing to the channel, liking this episode, and sharing it with others. If you’re listening to the podcast version, please rate and review the show. This helps increase the impact of the show for as many people as possible, and we appreciate your help!
As we’ve worked with hundreds of managers over the years to try to clarify their role in empowered organizations, we’ve discovered that there are really three jobs that managers do. Each job helps teams and individuals make better decisions and deliver work that adds more value faster.
The first job is to create clarity. If people are making decisions, we need to align on goals and outcomes. Creating clarity includes aligning on purpose, vision and strategy. Each of the three jobs includes an objective lens, like a more traditional business focus version of that lens, but also a human side. For creating clarity, this includes HOW we accomplish our business goals. What values are important? What kind of culture do we want to create?
The second job is to increase capability. On the objective side, this includes things like growing technical skills, how we hire and staff, and how we secure funding either through revenue or other investments. On the human side, it’s about personal and leadership development, how we create the conditions for teams to collaborate effectively, and how we partner across teams and with other partners outside and in the community.
The third job is to Improve the system. On the objective side, this includes focusing on workflows, processes, and how we use information. On the human side, it is about the systems we use for career development, improving safety, both physical and psychological, and how we share power and authority.
These three jobs describe the things managers shift towards. What managers shift away from is doing the work themselves or directing the work of others. This is a big hurdle, since many organizations reward managers who are willing to get into the weeds to achieve a goal, or who control outcomes by directing the people on their teams. Not to mention, most people get promoted into management positions because they were good at doing the job—their value seems to be in their expertise at the details of the job. But in order to get good outcomes, managers need to move away from doing the work and directing the work, and they need to move towards creating clarity, increasing capability, and improving the system.
Then, as managers focus on these three new jobs, they often need to learn new skills that help them do those jobs better: Skills like effective facilitation. Like coaching. Like influencing through story telling. And they need to do all of this with increased self-awareness for situations that are likely to have them fall back into old habits of “doing” or “telling.”
If you’re a manager, we invite you to do a quick exercise we use when introducing this model in our workshops. Review your calendar for the last week and make a note of how you spent your time. How much time did you spend on creating clarity, both the human and the objective sides? How about increasing capability, again through both of these lenses? What did you do last week to improve the system on the human and objective sides? Now, make a note of anything you did that might be perceived by your people as doing the work yourself, or telling them how to do it. To make this easier, we’ve dropped a link in the episode page to a Three Jobs Model Assessment with the full illustration of the model including a variety of focus areas within each of the three jobs. Next to the model, you’ll see some boxes to note where you have done the work or directed the work.
As you go through this, pay attention to where you notice you’re spending most of your time. How might your people benefit from you focusing on any of the areas in the Three Jobs model? What would need to change to get the items in “doing the work” and “directing the work” off of your plate so you can focus on something else?
To Chris Prosser and every other manager who’s wondering what their role is in a highly empowered organization, we’re really grateful that we’ve finally got a tested model to share. We hope it creates some clarity for you personally, that it increases your capability to do your job really well, and that you’ll find ways to start putting it to work to create teams and organizations that really empower their people. We’ve seen the Three Jobs model enable positive cultural changes with many businesses, and in each of those organizations, we also saw it lead to the dual benefits of higher engagement and better bottom line results. We think you can too.
Thanks for watching. We look forward to hearing how you use the model.