Google self-management and you find an endless list of posts extolling the virtues of the same. That’s complete bullocks! I’m here to tell you, in very uncertain terms, wink-wink*, that self-management (or self-direction or self-organization or self-whatever) is absolutely not what it’s cracked up to be.
- In a self-managed organization, you don’t have a job description. There’s no way to know what does and does not fall within “your” scope. You need to figure that out yourself; you need to figure out what you can do that others value, and then go do that. And if that doesn’t work, you need to do something else or leave. That’s a whole lot of stress that you don’t want!
- In self-managed organizations, there are no titles. No one can tell you what to do (good), but you can’t tell anyone else what to do either (not so good). If you want anyone to follow your lead, you’ll need to convince them you’re right — each and every time. In self-managed organizations, “authority” is earned, and that takes more time and energy than you have!
- In self-managed organizations, it’s no one’s job to help you figure things out. Sure, you can ask a teammate, etc., but if you don’t want to do that or they’re busy, etc, then you’re on your own. Even if it’s the first time you do something, you still have to sort it out by yourself! How fair is that?! And if you want to get promoted etc., no one is going to tell you how.
- In self-managed organizations, there are no managers to ask for help or lodge complaints to. If you have a problem you’ll need to deal with it yourself. Unclear direction? That’s on you. Difficult client? That’s on you as well. Having problems with a co-worker? Guess what, that’s on you as well. When there is no “chain of command” you’ll have to sort yourself out. And honestly, they don’t pay you enough for that!
- Speaking of which: in some self-managed organizations, you might have to set your own salary! And because most everything is transparent, other people will know how much you make. Think negotiating with a manager is stressful? Try negotiating with a group of co-workers who do the same or similar work as you. Now that’s hard! The only way they’ll agree to pay you more is that you show each day and prove you’re worth it!
- Last but not least, in self-managed organizations you’ll need to trust everyone — and I mean everyone — to do what’s right. No one is monitoring work hours. No one is tracking vacation days. And no one makes sure people do what they are supposed to do. That’s bonkers! I mean, you can handle your own time and your own vacations, etc. But to expect other people to do that?! Clearly, that’s a recipe for disaster! Most people need a least some structure, right?
That’s why you don’t want self-management. And so next time someone tells you self-management (or self-direction or self-organization or self-whatever) is the bee’s knees, either tell them off or, better yet, run the other way. The person is clearly insane; there’s no telling what they’ll say next!
Alternatively, if after reading the above you still think self-management might be for you, please consider subscribing to WorkMatters — a weekly newsletter and Medium pub on organizational design, business agility, and better ways of working. Self-management is a topic frequently covered.
*That’s not a typo. Hint, hint. This post is written in jest. I’m very much a proponent of decentralization, empowerment, and self-management.