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Manage Stuff. Lead People.

The end of management.

Management is good. Managers are bad. There is no room for them in a Participation Age business. People don’t need to be managed; they need to be led. The difference is not semantic, it is gigantic.

The Industrialists did their dead level best to re-make people into simple extensions of machines. When people are extensions of machines, they are “stuff” to be managed. But if they are fully human, they require leadership, not management.

In our business, we only manage stuff; processes, systems, delivery of goods and services, accounting, marketing, sales, etc. These are all “things” to be managed. Everyone in the business manages stuff of some sort or another. But none of us needs someone with the title of “manager” to hover over us to ensure the stuff will get managed.

Manage Stuff
Stuff definitely needs to be managed. Unlike people, stuff is inherently stupid and lazy. It needs to be told what to do; it doesn’t have a brain of its own or any motivation to assemble itself. The packaging material and the product just sit on the counter until someone picks both of them up and puts them in the box. Someone who is smarter and more motivated than the stuff needs to manage that process, but the smart and motivated person doing the packing does not need managing – they need to be led.

Accounting numbers are also stupid and lazy. They just sit on spreadsheets until a smart and motivated person comes along to update, organize and report on them. That process needs to be managed, but not the person doing the accounting – they need to be led.

Every process, system, product, and service in a business is inherently stupid and lazy and needs to be managed. Unfortunately, managers don’t see much difference between the people, and the stuff or processes in the business. To a manager, people are extensions of machines or processes, and both of them need the hovering involvement of a third party to force them to work. That other person, called “manager”, doesn’t actually pack the box.

The manager assumes the person is as inert as the packing materials, and must be “managed” to ensure they will actually pick up the packing materials and put them in the box. The manager exists to ensure the person doesn’t just sit there like the packing materials. It’s a waste of two good lives; the life of the manager who does nothing, and the packer, who is treated like a nine-year old incapable of being responsible.

Lead People
A leader will do it quite differently. They will not hover over or manage the adult Stakeholders. They will impart vision and guidance, including why we do what we do, metrics for success and metrics for exceeding the objective. A leader will train and provide the necessary infrastructure, and they will create a process that requires the packing person or the process itself to proactively report to the leader regularly how things are going.

Then the leader will do something extraordinary that the manager would rarely do – they will GO AWAY AND BE PRODUCTIVE, TOO. Instead of hovering over the children in the day care center, they will go somewhere and do something themselves that adds to the bottom line. Or they might just be one of the packers or one of the accountants, and join right in being productive; leading and motivating by example, not by threat, persuasion, cajoling or hovering.

A manager justifies their existence by making other people productive more than by being productive themselves. Managers “feel” productive – they have tons of monitoring on their plate. But a leader will lead by example, get in the trenches and be one of the productive people.

Leaders can afford to do this because they hire Stakeholders, not employees, and don’t need to live in a day care center where they are watched like nine year olds. Most of the work of the manager disappears or gets dispersed among all the adult Stakeholders.

Everyone is a Leader
Stakeholders are adult leaders, too, and understand that if they have all the training and equipment they need, and clearly understand the objective required, they will gladly take the bull by the horns and “own” their tasks, job, process and result. Why? Because they also know they own part of the compensation (profit-sharing) that will come from that level of ownership. Taking on the former tasks of the manager is one more way for them to Make Meaning, not just money.

Adults Without Managers – An Old Idea
The idea of managing stuff but leading people is not a new concept. A store owner prior to the Industrial Age hired someone else to stock shelves, trained them and gave them the tools they needed to do it. Then that leader went back to being productive themselves. If the stocker wasn’t productive, they were let go and the leader got someone who could self-manage. After training the new person, the leader went back to being productive again. Managers hang on to employees who need to be managed because it justifies their existence. A leader fires them and finds a Stakeholder.

In a great modern business, as before the Industrial Age, everyone produces something, whether it is maintenance, accounting, packing, new product development, or vision and leadership. No one stagnates around watching other people do the work. Stakeholders are all leaders, and all of the manage stuff.

Fire All The Managers – All of Them (Including Yourself)
You can replace five or ten managers with one leader, easily. It’s a great money saver and you’ll find out real fast who are the chidren (employees) who need to be moved along, and who are your adult Stakeholders who will take over the very few things the manager was doing that were of any value.

Keep Only The Stakeholders
Are you managing employees/children? If you are, my guess is you’re really tired of it. Stop it. Tell the nine-year olds it’s time to grow up and be adult Stakeholders. Show them the stuff that needs to be managed, then tell them everyone is responsible to lead in their area of expertise. Then go get a job and be productive yourself. If you have employees who don’t want to grow up and at least lead themselves, find someone who will. There are plenty of Stakeholders out there.

Managers – A Business Disease of the Industrial Age
Managing people (not stuff) is a disease of the Industrial Age. It’s a recently invented construct and is a dead end process that maintains people at the nine year old level. And it dehumanizes them as if they were an extension of a stupid and lazy machine.

Leaders – What People Have Always Needed
Leading has been around since the dawn of man. It was not invented, and is the time proven method for motivating people. Everyone in your business should do it in their area of expertise. It’s rewarding and humanizing.

Get out of the Industrial Age into the Participation Age. Manage stuff. Lead people.

The Three S’s Of The Industrial Age

Safety, Security, and Stability

My mother, who was born in 1921, grew up in the Great Depression and entered the workforce in 1943 after nurse’s training, taught me to pursue three things in life, the three S’s of the Industrial Age:

1) Safety – live in the suburbs, don’t live downtown with the icky people.

2) Security – have a big wad of cash in the bank.

3) Stability – every day should look the same, no surprises. Get a job with a giant corporation; they are the best prepared to give you a life with no surprises.

The Ozzie and Harriet Dream
Just about every mother of that generation was teaching their kids the same things. So it’s no surprise that at the height of the Industrial Age after World War II, the suburbs exploded with cookie cutter Cap Cods, white picket fences, men who all left for work in unison with their white shirts, ties, suits and briefcases at 7:30am and got home at 6pm, working for Giant Corporation, Inc., and living as predictable a life as possible. That cohort is called The Silent Generation.

Their manic pursuit of safety, security and stability made them the best extensions of machines in the history of the Industrial Age. It also dehumanized them to the point of silencing their voices, their creativity, and their legacy (remember, no Presidents and no Supreme Court justices came from this generation; the only generation without a number of them.) But where are these three S’s on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? They are at or nearer the bottom.

The Bottom Looks Pretty Good When It’s Above You
Why did my mother teach me to chase these things that were at or near the bottom of what we as humans need in life? Because having gone through the Great Depression and World War II, she was looking up at the bottom. She didn’t have any of the three, and a life with all three would have been Nirvana for her.

Straight the Fourth S
But Millennials who only grew up in the shadow of the Industrial Age do not understand the language of Safety, Security and Stability. They are one of the first generations in history, at least in the west, to be born with all three of those things provided for them at birth. They aren’t looking up at the bottom, and are instead reaching for the fourth S of the Participation Age, Significance. Making money is no longer enough. Being an extension of a machine to do so is not attractive, and the idea that every day should look the same and that life should be predictable and without surprises is not challenging to them. They want more.

It’s Simple, and Maybe Hard
And as the cultural influence of the Industrial Age and the Factory System fades behind us, we are all waking up to the need to re-humanize the workplace, reintegrate it back into our lives, and build lives to Make Meaning, not just money. To do so we must eliminate the arcane business practices that we dragged out of the Industrial Age into the Participation Age that turned men into machines and silenced our drive for significance. Addressing the business diseases of the Industrial Age is not complex; it’s simple. But for those who have built businesses and lives around the inherited constructs of a bygone era, it will be both simple and hard.

The Will To Chase Significance
If we recognize that we have inherited some of the business diseases of the Industrial Age, all we need is the will to change. But it needs to be a strong and determined will, because our past is a strong magnet and will pull us back in if we lack vigilance.

We should be grateful that the Industrial Age provided us with the first three S’s, Safety, Security, and Stability, on which to build the fourth S, Significance. But we must also recognize that the practices that brought us those three will not bring us the fourth. We have a choice to make. Stay with what we know and slowly atrophy as the world moves on without us, or join the Participation Age and start sharing together in building companies that Make Meaning, not just money.

Which do you choose?

The Participation Age

Are you?

We’re out of the Information Age and well into the Participation Age. It’s your time – are you participating?

In 2006 two of us were flown out to Silicon Valley to accept an award by Sun Microsystems for branding, messaging and design work. At this conference some Sun leaders and outside consultants were talking about the new “Age”, called the Participation Age. Quite a few other leaders and publications have used it as well, and I found it to be a compelling description for the new Age in which we find ourselves. The hallmark of the Participation Age is “sharing.”

You First. No, I Insist, You First.
The Participation Age has seen the organic and viral growth of a dizzying array of sharing systems; from weekend software projects tackled by people all over the world who don’t know each other, to co-creation of products and services by companies interacting directly with their customers, to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a myriad of other sharing platforms.

Linux, an open-source software operating system, owned by no one, runs the fastest computers in the world and tens of millions of cell phones. The development of Web 2.0 was based on sharing of information, services, products, knowledge and opinions to the point that companies don’t own their brand anymore; those who participate in sharing about it on the internet are the owners.

Small Is Now Big
United Airlines discovered this painfully when Dave Carroll wrote a song called “United Breaks Guitars” (they broke his) and posted it on the internet. Within a four days of the posting, it had received millions of hits and United’s stock value plunged $180 million. Before the Participation Age, companies like United regularly wrote off one badly treated customer at a time, knowing they had a limited reach. But now, one person’s shared view of the world has a power that it never had before. The Participation Age has made your small voice more powerful than any time in history.

We’ve also seen sharing create massed responses to a single person’s plight from all over the world, and the proliferation of crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding companies that help people in ways they could have never imagined.

Participating Through Work
The Participation Age has changed the way people relate to each other, but most importantly it is changing the way we relate to work, allowing us to go back to a more natural relationship to work that was dominant for thousands of years before the strange and interruptive blip in history we call the Industrial Age.

Past generations that grew up in the intimidating shadow of the Industrial Age were taught to react, respond and at times even to contribute, but not to participate and share. Participation demands that we be proactive and creative, which is our basic human nature. The Industrial Age did not want us being proactive and creative; it wanted us to be extensions of machines and loyal and almost indentured servants to the company (via the golden handcuffs of in-house retirement plans).

I Double-Dog Dare You
At our core, we are not made to be extensions of machines. We are made to Make Meaning, not just money, and the Participation Age, more than any time in human history is daring each and everyone of us to find our voice, be uniquely you or me, and encourage the world to participate in what each of us is building. Get after it; create, innovate, bring something unique to the world around you; share it and let others participate in making you and it better. How much fun is the Participation Age? It kicks the Industrial Age’s ass, for sure.

My next book will share a lot about our move to the Participation Age, and how too many companies are still stuck in the Industrial Age.

Share with us – what are you building?

Abundance and Significance – Making More Money in the Participation Age.

For almost 200 years we were in the Industrial Age, followed by four “Ages” in less than 40 years: The Post-Industrial/Service Age. The Technology Age, the very short 5-10 year Information Age, and what some including me are now calling the Participation Age.

The hallmark of the Participation Age is “Sharing”. Shared technologies, shared information, shared resources, and shared participation in developing new products. But most of all the Participation Age is identified by the re-development of the concept of community – people living and working together toward a common goal.

Linux, Druple communities, interactive media, blogs, and social media such as Twitter and Facebook are all examples of shared community. Independent programmers are meeting for a weekend and developing an application in just a few hours together.

The results? A big one is that we are now in the age of Two-Way Marketing. You can no longer afford to have a one-way “push” message. You must be listening as much or more than talking, asking more questions than you answer, and participating with your community in the development of your brand, not telling people what your brand is.

The Age of Participation – Social Entrepreneurship

An even bigger result is that the best companies will be focused on creating abundance and significance for the owner, the employees and the world around them. They will be returning to what we were taught in kindergarten, to re-learn how to share and participate with others in building a better world.

Besides two-way marketing, alert companies will understand that they can no longer afford to be interesting, but that they now must be interested – finding ways to promote the interests of their customers and their community to increase their profits.

It’s not a foo-foo idea anymore; it is becoming a staple of business. Social entrepreneurship is not a fad. It’s a result of living in the age of participation and the information sharing that is possible as a result. And those companies that put the interests of their customers and community first will make more money.

Selling a product or service doesn’t cut it anymore. Last year Wired Magazine ran a cover story on the need for people to reconnect with the concept of “meaning”. In the eighties the bumper sticker was “He who dies with the most toys wins” and in the nineties we got to try it and found it wanting. In the last ten years we have begun to reconnect with the idea that it’s not “He who dies with the most toys wins”, but “He who lives with the most significant goals wins.”

Great companies in the 21st century will move from Survival, through Success to Significance. And they will do so by changing the business mindset from one of scarcity – “I need to get mine first because there is only so much to go around”; to a mindset of abundance – “I will get mine as I help others get theirs.”

Use your business to do more than make money; you’ll make more money if you do. All the best businesses are growing as they give back. It creates the right leadership mindset for a business to grow.

You either live in a world of abundance or a world of scarcity. Whichever one you choose effects every decision you make.

Have a great finish to 2009 and an abundant and significant start to 2010!

You Don’t Own Your Brand Anymore

Guess Who Does

If you’re spending a lot of money to develop your brand through advertising or a nifty website, you might want to rethink that. You don’t control your brand anymore, so trying to create or enhance it with slick images and thought-provoking tag lines could just be a waste of valuable time and money resources.

A couple years ago, Sun Microsystems theorized that we are no longer in the technology or information ages, but that we are now in the Participation Age, and that the hallmark of the Participation Age is Sharing.

Nobody likes to be told what to do, so their narrative hasn’t spread widely, but I’ve sure jumped on board – I believe there is no question we’re in the Participation Age, and that the central driving force in our economy is Sharing of ideas, resources, schools of thought, and commingling of those into new products, services, and conversations.

There is nowhere to hide anymore. Information is one of those things that is too easy to share now for anyone to try to keep it to themselves or pretend that one thing is actually another. That’s where the brand problem comes in. If the brand you’re putting in that slick brochure isn’t the same brand the admin, dock worker and VP have in your office, you’re in trouble. The Participation Age will expose you because your customers and employees will be sharing openly and freely about your real brand, the one they experience, not the one you put in that brochure.

So I guess I’m being a little coy in saying you’ve lost control of it; what has really happened is that you’ve lost control of pretending what it is. We can no longer market “family friendly” hot dogs and treat our employees like indentured servants, Who we SAY we are and who we REALLY are had better match up, because if they don’t, the conversation our clients and employees are having on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and a dozen other places is going to make the difference glaringly obvious.

Participation comes from Sharing, and Sharing comes from Community. People have more access to information sharing communities than ever before. Iran thought they could control their brand, but Twitter made it impossible – the real brand came out through their “customers” and “employees”.

The best we can do is to influence our brand by 1) creating a community for our clients to talk with others, and us, and 2) being an active part of that conversation. We cannot afford to say “Pay no attention to the man behind the green curtain” as in the Wizard of Oz. Who we are has to match what we do.

We should be actively involved with our customers, letting them know all the great things we do for them and influencing our brand by ensuring they know we’re listening and are working on their behalf. It’s easy to throw stones at the unknown or those at a distance. Companies that know this have come down off their high horse and have joined the Sharing party to actively engage with their customers on a level playing field. And surprise, surprise, these are the companies that are most in touch with what their customers really want from them.

Everyone knows the story of Zappos shoes working themselves into the conversation on Twitter. They didn’t do it just because it was intriguing, but they understand that when people see that the brand they talk about is the same brand they live in their offices, it creates community and connection that is stronger than any slick brochure Zappos could ever put on the street.

What are you doing to make sure you’re in the conversation with your customers and your employees about your brand? They’re already out there sharing it – you might want to get involved and influence what they share.

Start with this question – “What are you buying from me that you don’t even think I know I’m selling?” You’ll make more money in less time with questions like that. And you’ll actually have an impact on the brand that you no longer control.