Lead by letting go

Management professor Terri Griffith argues that managers need to let go of old ways that limit a company’s agility.

In today’s economy, corporations and their leaders have something in common: they both must be agile—ready to respond to change driven by global trends, shifts in corporate direction, and new technology.

For both, staying in one place—physically or psychically—is a recipe for obsolescence or failure.

Achieving the many levels of management agility you need requires what I call “leading by letting go.” Some things managers should let go of:

Traditional job reviews. Instead of the momentous annual sit down, provide 24/7 performance feedback as needed. Colorful former Yahoo CEO, Carol Bartz, once fired a manager with no notice after the manager fought so hard for her idea—ultimately successfully—that she alienated the colleagues she’d need to enact it.

Salesforce.com’s Work.com makes feedback as easy as checking in on Facebook. Younger workers want more feedback and transparency in their work—embrace that, as great ideas can come from unexpected places in the organization.

Education requirements of old. Google is hiring more people without college degrees—if they can do the work. Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, hires into its global workforce by having candidates take on a project as a contractor first. Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, edX, and many others provide online—often free—ways to keep up the skills needed in the modern workforce.

If you do want a degree, realize that you’ll eventually need another one or two to stay on top of the changing needs of the workforce.

Stay-in-one-place work rules. Marissa Mayer may have had her reasons for cancelling telecommuting at Yahoo, but if you have the right systems, technology, and people in place, flexible workplace strategies are an important part of most organizations. You get access to a global workforce and the work environment can better match the task.

Traditional mentoring roles. Mentoring is a two-way street. Younger workers can share rapid-fire communication strategies and more senior colleagues can share wisdom around how to value the fire hose of information. And like jobs, mentoring relationships can be more fluid with online matching services.

There are many other ways in which being prepared to let go of traditional management will position you for advancement as a leader. Certainly, employment contracts are shifting as traditional employees are let go and work is done by online freelancers or robots.

Leaders who create the best mix of workers and learn to motivate across the mix while holding onto personal and organizational values will get the most out of available resources. Let go of boundaries that limit your agility. If you can’t “let go,” at least lead with a lighter touch, while you plan how to take advantage of the pace, information, and flexibility of the global market.

Terri L. Griffith is chair of the management department at Santa Clara University and author of The Plugged-In Manager: Get In Touch with Your People, Technology, and Organization to Thrive.

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