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HR on TV: Ban the Boss

3rd Aug 2010
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As if Undercover Boss on Channel 4 wasn't enough, BBC Wales has brought us an amazing two-part programme which really addresses management issues - by, errr, removing them.

It's called Ban the Boss and it follows Dr Paul Thomas from Glamorgan University. He believes that employees would be better off without management and would be better off taking more responsibility for their work themselves.

The first episode was on last night (in Wales only sadly, but fear not, that's what iPlayer is for - you can see it here) and Paul visited some workplaces with really dire morale and atmospheres so tense you'd be forgiven for thinking the floor was made of eggshell.

Turns out these places are in Blaenau Gwent. Paul visited refuse collectors and mechanics working for the council. I feel sorry for the poor mechanics, working in silence due to a radio ban; meanwhile, the refuse collectors are surly and defensive. Paul faces challenges in getting his message across. However, he stands his ground: the second part, being shown tonight, will reveal how well he does.

Will the binmen ban their boss? Will the mechanics allow their management back? What will they learn about each other, and can we learn from it in turn?

I urge you to catch up on it on iPlayer - it's well worth a watch. Not as formulated as Undercover or FairyJobMother, it makes for real, honest viewing.

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By alisonrbcm
03rd Aug 2010 17:06

Its channel 972 on sky - although will still need iplayer for last night.

Alison 

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By BizDoc
03rd Aug 2010 20:43

 Hello HRZone, 

Thank you Charlie for the programme mention and introduction. I'm the 'Business Doctor' (a BBC title) who's ideas were captured in this documentary over the past year. I hope everyone enjoys the programme as its about 5 months of my life and I have to say (without spoiling the ending) worthwhile for lots of reasons and will reveal more, tomorrow after part B showing this evening. 

The programme, shot over the 3 months of the 5 months process captures only an hour of the change in the Environmental Department of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, the key issues and outcomes so there is a lot missing as you would expect. 

Its started about 2 years ago with Senior Managers in the council, then Councillors, then middle managers, then down into a Department who volunteered (the Refuse, Recycling Crews). However, I only started in October 2009 finished in March 2010. I still call in, but mainly to chat, gather research and drink tea. I am also currently about to start in other organisations/councils and have completed 26 companies over the past 7 years. 

Its based in Complexity Theory, Post Structural Thinking and past managerial experience. I started this simply when I was challenged by a 'manager' at conference who asked "all very well in theory, how does it work in practice all this empowerment, trust, ownership stuff"... so I started putting my theory into practice.

Oh yes, it worth stating here, that I did all the 26 companies and the Council free of charge, just in case people think I'm worth a small fortune. Why? It allowed me not to be a 'consultant', do what I want rather than what I was being paid for in company. It allowed for open, honest, and transparent exchange, which is exactly what was needed at the beginning of this 'quest' if I were to question the traditional fundamentals of management, organisation and people. 

I welcome any questions, worries, concerns or academic thoughts.

Thanks again and hope everyone enjoys, 

Regards

Paul

 

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By alisonrbcm
04th Aug 2010 09:19

WOW – congratulations. Although that just doesn't convey what I felt as I watched the programme. Scary at times, doubtful and inspirational. What you demonstrated for me Paul is what I talk about in my blog today and that's passion for what you do and even more importantly the will to follow through on the passion. It's so easy to listen to the dissenters that something won’t work, and certainly easy to cave in when the resistance kicks in. Yet you demonstrated so well how an idea that makes sense, self belief and will power can bring new ideas to business. WELL DONE. 

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By BizDoc
04th Aug 2010 11:23

Thank you Alison, I could not agree more. Its all about passion.

Passion is energy, and its that energy which drives the organisation. Most of the time I find passion in normal (traditional thinking) organisations in the few. Usually one or two managers, then one or two staff. Why well they haven't been worn down by rules, procedures, regulations or the 'we don't do that' mindset. 

In my world, in my organisations passion is core. We don't for example have 10 managers, managing 100 staff, we have 110 managers, all helping, being part of the decision making process. The results like passionate people let loose on a project is quite amazing. I call it democracy! Its quite simple, we believe in democracy in all parts of our life except the workplace! This has to change. 

Lets rid the world of this notion that we buy peoples time in work not their talent. Lets stop clocking in and out, measuring outputs not outcomes, and remove the notion that we are all machines. We are not perfect, no organisation is therefor by de-facto not perfect, yet we desperately try to control the people trying to make them perfect. Its madness...

Lets make the world of organisations, human, passionate, trusting, people not systems driven and happy places. Its quite easy!

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By mark347
06th Aug 2010 04:38

Hi Charlie, Alison and Paul,

Great posts, thanks. I'm from the UK but live and work in Australia (and the UK occasionally) and through my work I've been trying to drive this message home to organisations for a long time (not that they should ban the boss as such but to take 100% responsibility for their continuous learning, performance and value they provide - and not to let the systems and processes they work within limit this, which is exactly what they're doing). I haven't seen the program but wish I could (can't access iPlayer out of the UK).

So my question is, where can I find your work online Paul, and what can I point towards when I talk to people in Australia to provoke discussion?

My approach is to teach people how to self-direct their learning and performance effectively (and why it's in both employer and employee interest - can save everyone, including HR/L&D a huge headache if approached in the right way - it does require that they somehow believe in the work they're doing (and that of their organisation) and that they know how to learn effectively first. Because the bottom line is, people want to enjoy doing their work well).

I'm teaching people (mostly graduates) to approach their career like it's their own small business, become flexible problem-solvers, thinkers, to stop acting like cogs in the machine and instead challenge and improve upon the systems and processes they've been accepting and blindly following for too long. The idea is to continously create more value for their employer, colleagues and customers, and to enjoy doing this. Because their smaller more 'self-driven' competitors are tending to do this, and generally seem to be getting ahead and enjoying their work a whole lot more. I work with large companies and SME's, and it's interesting seeing the general differences in attitude between the people. I think much of this comes down to their level of perceived (or taken) responsibility.

There are loads of simple tweaks anyone can make to approach their work in this way, Paul, you're right, it's not difficult. I think people see it as a mountain to climb because they're looking at the wrong thing. They're looking at the mountain in the other direction! And then trying to climb it. It starts with questioning what's always been accepted (something cogs aren't in the habit of doing - I think school taught us to follow instructions, it's what most of us are ultimately well trained in, and that used to work but now it's caused major problems when the instructions are flawed or out of date). To make such changes is more productive for everyone and rewarding too (think about attracting employees, engagement, retention, innovation, leadership etc). Shepherding employees on to 'training courses' (including e-courses) isn't working effectively enough and hasn't for a long time. Works for some, not for others. Treating employees like string puppets might appear to work while you're holding the strings, but what about when you let go? (Flop.)

Personally, I think HR/L&D need to help their employees become strong self-directed learners by challenging them, inspiring them and sharing the know-how to make it happen, and then supporting them in accessing learning resources that work for the unique individual (that's not difficult these days), then helping them measure application and ROI etc Of course, to do that, HR and L&D need to question this themselves first. Ask themselves how they like to learn best and increase their own value on the job for a better win:win. Everyone needs to ask themselves that.

To try to take too much control on an individual's learning and performance, I think, is creating some of HR's biggest challenges today. I think inspire them, give them the know-how, support and by all means help guide them, but largely give them some space to work their magic and learn from it!

I kind of feel like I'm shouting about this on my own out here. Anyone want to shout with me? At me?

Any support or ideas or challenging ideas much appreciated, I'm all ears. Well, eyes.

Mark

P.S. If you're interested, my site is http://www.self-directed-learning.com and my blog (with my recent rants on this)

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By BizDoc
06th Aug 2010 13:26

 Mark, Great post and so here's my shout alongside yours......Let me begin with more of a historical perspective of this ‘quest’, and hopefully this will highlight similarities in our work, and I am sure many others. 

This idea started 10 years ago for me, when at the LSE I met a guy called Ricardo Selmer. He owned a company of 4000 staff, made everything from ship pumps to Insurances, all without a single manager in sight (I will explain what I mean by manager & management in a moment). It was remarkable. No plans, strategies, KPI's or anything like that. He offered an alternative from the ‘machine’ idea of an organisation with people as cogs and not humans. He did it intuitively, not as a result of theory or with a management consultant, no pre-conception or ‘plan’ just a need to have a fun, happy place to work and to be 'human'. Soon after meeting and learning about Ricardo I discovered and studied ‘Complexity Theory’ or Human Systems thinking, which in simple terms explores how we ‘operate’ as people, in our systems, life and how this particular organisation stayed together and worked. Organisations are about people; people are messy, subjective and individual. Leadership is about people, dealing with messy, understanding we don’t see it all ‘one-way’ and if we treat people with respect and difference we get a better place to live and work. Good leaders sell passion and trust others.

Most of my case studies, such as the BBC Radio Wales ‘Business Doctor’ Series are still online and can be listened to still. Here’s the link;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/radiowales/sites/walesatwork/pages/businessdoctor.shtml

It even has company updates on there, so should provide some interesting listening.

I also have an academic website DNAWales.co.uk and all of the stuff on there is free.

There is also a Business Doctor website and blog where I have a rant, without upsetting people.

http://www.thebusinessdoctor.me/index.html

 

There are now no 'managers' left in Environmental Services where the Binmen and Recycling crews ‘live’, only a few leaders, and they change according to experience, responsibility, project and needs of customers and councilors, voted in as and when needed by the staff themselves.  The money saved by this experiment was/is being invested for the most part back into frontline services, decided by the staff themselves. I would add here, that in all other organisations I have dealt with ‘managers’ or as I call them leaders receive less money than frontline staff, after all as one person stated at the beginning, managers do less, have more freedom and after my process less responsibility. (this causes the most debate…..and worry from managers!)

 

It’s also worth noting here that the Binmen and the Garage bosses were the product of the Council system. They have behaved and acted this way, I suppose, simply as that was what the system expected. They are the product of the way the organisation was socially constructed and structured. They were/are not naturally managers, they became managers because the organisation expected them to and indeed the staff wanted it. They saw only one way of organisation. I showed them that there is an alternative. This alternative, whilst similar to ‘co-operatives’ is not.  

I would also note here that as an academic, I never once ‘taught’ the Binmen or Recycling Crews ‘Leadership or Management’ theory. As I think most of the problems of businesses and work today is the historical subjectification of managerialism and performativity that still ruins most organisations in the western world (sorry hope that bit makes sense!), but this supports your quest in changing education and training. In short I moved the 250 staff beyond focusing on targets and measures of effectiveness, away from performance management and instead focus on values and boundaries that really matter for organisational sustainability, which is people focused, more so individually maintained. Values and boundaries that inspire innovativeness, creativity and support natural human-system. The starting point of all this is ‘managers’, ‘CEO’s’ and anyone who will block the removal of power from the top and disperse throughout the organisation.

 

My dislike for ‘management’ is nothing personal bytheway. It is about how we think about what management and managers are, and about how we act and behave in our role as manager, it is not the person. Managers cause so much unhappiness in organisations through a focus on targets and measurement, control, organising others with an absence of critical thinking skills, and not people. This is in part due to the growing standardisation in MBA programs and the trend toward measurement, regulation and command in vain attempts to avoid uncertainty. There are exceptions, but these managers (leaders) are rare and usually eventually ‘conform’ to the world of mechanics, cogs, targets and measurement. This destroys the natural fabric of human creativity, innovativeness, trust, openness, ownership, inspiration and leadership. We are simply different, each one of us are individuals with our own ways of thinking and doing. I attempt to realise this in my work and the development of an organisational architecture that accepts direction is needed in the organisation without causing harm to the people within.

 

The successes are always different in each division, organization, department and these are always stated, as ‘successes’ by the frontline staff themselves, no manager states what s/he wants from the outset. I am not a ‘management consultant’. The job and finish for the binmen and now all the workers still remains. The idea of this is we buy talent and outcomes (note here not output) and not time. If we maintain the same ‘managerial ideals’ systems, thought processes, then yes the increasing burden on the ‘men would result in a decrease of the value in wages, but this doesn’t happen. Why? Well its quite simple in most organisations we throw out all of the systems, processes, rules, regulations (even Health & Safety) and rebuild them from the service/product back up the structure (or in my world down). The Binmen, get released from for example filling in 5 forms before they leave each morning to one simple checklist. You are correct in that senior managers were not replaced, one left and wasn’t replaced right at the beginning, but his salary was used to hire 4 full time letter wardens and the same with others, although I accept a little was used to pay the frontline staff more, but this was to equal out injustices in the pay scales. 

 

The quest of my approach is freedom, fun, trust, happiness and fulfillment of the workers. Allowing the passion of people to come to the fore, result in post-fordism symptoms (increasing productivity) but again, in some it doesn’t, it’s not the purpose. The purpose is simply to show, if we don’t treat people like children in work, telling them what to do, when, how and then watch them like 5 years year olds we get similar results (perhaps) but a dam better place to work. 

Let me know if you cannot see the TV programme on YouTube and I'll forward a copy, 

Regards

Paul

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By BizDoc
06th Aug 2010 13:28

 Sorry.... just realised how long that shout was.......!

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By alisonrbcm
06th Aug 2010 16:47

You're passionate about what you do Paul so we don't even notice :-)

Have a great weekend

Alison

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By Clare Anderson
06th Aug 2010 16:54

I stumbled across the programme by pure chance earlier this week which was my good fortune especially as I met Paul at a CIPD branch event last year when he presented this concept.  You can imagine the complete horror felt by HR professionals when it was suggested people shouldn't have employment contracts (at least only ones with the very essential legal stuff) but thankfully no-one went into hyper-ventilation mode.  :-D  The whole concept feels very strange but it made me think very hard about how we work and what may be good or bad about it.  Mind you, Paul's presentation to my CIPD branch caused a headache which lasted about 3 days ...  However this programme enabled me to see everything in action along with the inevitable reaction to change.  I'm looking forward to seeing more of this!

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By BizDoc
06th Aug 2010 17:23

 Hello Clare, 

Yes I remember that presentation. I was quite reserved that evening as well...haha!

I have to keep saying as I did then at that CIPD presentation - I'm not right, nor is my change theory perfect! All I know is that what we currently do isn't right for the 21st Century, and it needs challenging with alternatives. We need to have more headaches and think hard about what-else....and I am sure there are others out there doing it...

Thanks for the comment

Paul

PS This one is short....lol

 

 

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By mark347
11th Aug 2010 01:51

Thanks Paul - really enjoying your posts and your thinking here.

I'm just about to browse your various sites and resources and I've managed to get hold of a copy of 'Ban the Boss' so I'll watch them as soon as I can. Thanks for offering to send a copy. No doubt I'll have more to say/ask afterwards. Great stuff!

Mark

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By BizDoc
12th Aug 2010 11:21

 Okay Mark, hope you enjoy. 

The programme only provides one hour of a 6 month actual change process, but hopefully you will see the key issues. 

Cheers

Paul

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By Clare Anderson
13th Aug 2010 16:40

I came across this from a May edition of Personnel Today (bit behind on my reading!).  Not entirely relevant but still provides food for thought ...

http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2010/05/21/55671/let-staff-choose-their-own-managers.html

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