Sir (and St.) Richard Branson has done his ritual ‘innovative thing’ again, and the press (is it mainly the Anglo-Saxon press?) have obliged with respectful publicity. His staff will choose how much holidays to take and how many hours to work. Sounds like self-management at its best. Or is it?
You may know that I am a strong advocate of the progression towards self-management, and that I have written in these Daily Thoughts before about how that train has left the station. However, you can look at ‘self-management’ as a fad, as a good thing, as a Pandora’s box, as an opportunity, or as a can of worms. It all depends on how much critical thinking you want to apply. For a start, self-management and ‘free for all’ have nothing to do with each other.
Some companies have been ahead of the game in successfully experimenting with ‘freedom’ for a while. Brazil’s Semco, an engineering conglomerate, under Ricardo Semler, have been ‘self-managed’ for a long time – and there are plenty of books about it. More recently Netflix announced that they had no rules or guidelines about time off or holidays. Maybe Sir Richard has a Netflix subscription. Zappos has people with no titles, with high degree of self-management, and possibly one of the highest employee engagement scores in the world. Valve makes computer games with staff that allocate themselves to projects, also largely self-managed. They even have an employee manual that advises that the best way to navigate in the company is to ‘talk to others’. A little known (in my part of the world) producer of tomatoes in California, Morning Star, has taken self-management so seriously that it has created a Self-Management Institute. And there will be more and more truly innovative successful ‘freedom fighters’.
But Branson’s ‘innovation’ is deceiving. It’s his qualification: that he hopes his staff will take holidays ‘when they are 100% comfortable that they and their team are up to date in every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business or for that matter, their careers’. I’ll say no more.
Also, people may think of Branson’s empire as one of thousands and thousands of people. But Branson controls only a small proportion of the brand-empire. He is also talking here about applying ‘the holiday innovation’ to his HQ with a population of under 200. I admire Saint Richard for his ability to always pull so much interest from such very little substance.
‘Freedom measures’ are easy to dictate and implement. Here is another one. ‘We care about work-life balance. Don’t read or send emails over the week-end.’ (Just make sure when you come back on Monday morning you have not missed that important message from your boss on Friday at 7:45 p.m., and that you will have time to deal with 350 emails in your inbox as soon as you are at your desk on Monday.) Enjoy work-life balance!