(Photo Credit: Eric Gelinas/Flickr)
Treehouse is a site dedicated to bringing affordable tech-based education to everyday people to help them learn how to build websites and apps, write code, and start a business. The company already had an unconventional way of doing things, with their standard four-day work week, but it took it a step further an decided to really take a leap of faith by operating “flat” – or, by removing all managers completely, earlier this year. This was a bold move for a small start-up that had already grown to 60 employees, seven managers, and four executives in its three years in existence, but something had to be done after the company noticed typical corporate drama developing: “rumors, politics, and complaints started appearing."
In his personal blog, Ryan Carson, CEO and founder of Treehouse, explains how he joined forces with his co-founder, Alan Johnson, to devise a solution for how to effectively address and eliminate the issues that were turning their humble start-up into a corporate soap opera. After evaluating the internal workings and structure of Treehouse, Carson and Johnson got the crazy idea to eliminate managers and allow every employee to return to the front line where they all would individually be responsible for their own quotas, performance, and success. As Carson states on his blog, “Good managers act like servants to their team but far too many like the power and let it go to their heads,” so in order to maximize his employees’ talents, he had to grant them the power to become good managers (of themselves).
Carson’s inspiration to eliminate bosses came from Dan Pink’s presentation, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, where Pink touches on scientific research that shows the three key motivators for people and, more importantly, employees (see video).
1. Autonomy – People have a great desire to be self-directed in life. Traditional managerial structures are counterproductive to autonomy because employees aren’t allowed to freely act on or execute their ideas without running it by the higher-ups.
2. Mastery – People have a natural urge to get better at stuff that they consider fun. Employees want to be able to master their professions in order to flourish in their careers, however, conventional businesses models don’t allow for that.
3. Purpose – People want to do purposeful work. Research shows that employees want careers that are meaningful and that make a difference in the world. Pink points out that, “When the profit motive [for companies] gets unmoored from the purpose motive, bad things happen,” like poor customer service, poor products, and unhappy employees.
Nixing managers may not work for larger corporations, or even most companies, but granting employees the freedom to take ownership of their time, efforts, and success is a wildly viable concept when you really consider the facts. Pink suggests that if you pay people enough to justify their work, then their focus turns away from the money and refocuses it on the actual work. In return, professionals are happier, more confident, more productive, and, surprisingly, more responsible. Maybe returning to the “front line,” as Carson calls is, really is the solution to the problem.
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