Self-management means that a manager sets the overall direction of a project or task, and employees implement the details with minimal oversight. The manager’s contact with reports generally consists of meetings for project updates, issues, and resource requests. Otherwise, employees complete their own tasks, run their own projects, and try to solve their own problems.
In a self-managed workplace, you maintain an open door policy, and employees keep you informed of issues they encounter. But other than ensuring employees have what they need to complete a task such as tools and training, you are free to focus on higher-level responsibilities, such as growing the business and raising money.
Sounds great, right? It is, but first you have to get to the point of having a self managed workplace. This guide will show you how.
How to Create a Self Managed Workplace in 5 Steps
In order to foster self management within your team, you need to do five very important things, which we’ll cover throughout the rest of this article:
Step 1: Hire People with Self Management Skills & Experience
You can’t succeed in having a self-managed workforce if you don’t have people with basic self management skills. So you need to hire the right people first. Consider using Indeed to find people with the skills described below, and get $50 to sponsor your first job post.
Here are the main self-management skills you should look for in your hires:
Goal Setting Skills
Individuals who are natural goal setters — who not only can see the potential outcome of their problem solving or concept creation, but also have the passion and drive to see it through — are typically great at self management. They have found a way to identify what’s most important and they’re able to deliver required products/services with little need for oversight. You can often uncover a person’s ability to set and execute goals by using a behavioral interview as part of your hiring process.
Time Management Skills
Individuals with excellent time management skills are often great at self management, as they plan each day to make it count, focusing on the highest priority, highest value work efforts first. These people have learned to say no to minutiae, like constantly checking email, or making personal phone calls and texts throughout the day. Individuals with excellent time management skills typically block out large chunks of ‘undisturbed work time’ on their schedule during their most productive time of the day. They maximize work within existing time constraints.
Decision Making Skills
Self managed individuals have the confidence to make tough decisions. They prioritize their work based on your company priorities, and choose to do those things that bring the most value. Often they will adopt the use of tools, such as project management software to lay out the big picture, and then focus on the ‘must do’ items each day to accomplish their goals.
Those good at self management are aware they need peer and leadership input, as well as resources and tools, and feedback on their work. They don’t shy away from asking for help and resources to get the job done. Solid interview questions can help you suss out those who are good at interpersonal communication.
The final skill needed by employees if you want a self managed work team are those who have learning agility. They’ll often describe themselves as lifelong learners. These people are open to change, like to learn new things, and are aware of their skill gaps. They eagerly seek to improve their own knowledge where it’s lacking. For example, if your team is responsible for doing marketing wraps on vehicles, or installing new heat-pump systems, self managed employees with learning agility will seek out experts via social media or look for YouTube training videos to learn as much as possible so they can master the service or task at hand.
Self Management Experience
Next, consider the kinds of experience needed in the employees that you hire. You want people who can self manage in your business. It’s difficult to create a self managed workplace if your employees are all new to the workforce (first-job), new to their industry, uneducated, close-minded, or easily confused by complexity.
When hiring, look for people with solid experience in the following areas:
Employees with Solid Skills & Education
Look for people with education and/or industry experience who have proven they can manage a complex workload. (Most folks wouldn’t have made it through college without excellent self-management skills.) Consider hiring successful college grads, accustomed to getting things done with little input, and then train them on your business, vision, processes and needs, and let them take it from there.
Employees with Robust Industry Experience
If you’re in an industry that requires licensing, then hire professionals who have proven they have what it takes to get certified. Then, once you set the guidelines for your business, a doctor, lawyer, insurance agent, plumber, construction manager or website developer can probably be left alone to figure out how to get a job done — they likely already know what resources are required, what approval processes are expected, how to manage within budget, and how to negotiate with clients.
Employees Who Have Worked on Large Scale Projects
Find employees who have worked as project team members, because those are often self managed groups with a central project manager to keep track of timeframes and deliverables. They’re already used to working with metrics, delivery dates and peer reporting structures, so you won’t have to spend time teaching them to self manage.
Step 2: Onboard & Train for Self Management
Just like when you hire any new employee, provide onboarding and training to ensure they get off to a good start. But there are a few things you may want to do differently when focused on self management:
- Continue training regularly so that your new employee understands your vision, and the culture of trust and accountability you’re trying to create.
- Consider assigning a peer-coach (more experienced team member) as a go-to person to answer the new hire’s questions.
- Schedule daily one-on-one meetings with the new hire, as well as weekly team meetings for their first 30-90 days so that the self managed employee really understands where their boundaries are, i.e., what kind of decisions they can make on their own vs. what kinds of decisions need their project lead or manager’s approval.
- You’ll also see that team building, which we’ll cover below in Step 4, is much more important in a self managed environment, and should be added to new hire training.
In a way, your job is to help the entire team build skills that help them work together and keep conflicts to a minimum by adopting effective interpersonal problem resolution processes, so no one need to run off to the boss (you!) with their concerns. Read what this experienced business owner says:
Ed Brzychcy, President, Blue Cord Management, LLC
“Employees should self-manage, and leadership’s responsibilities are to train and facilitate this. Employees’ ownership of their task provides a greater sense of motivation in getting work completed while also being responsible for task completion. The leader’s role in this is to ensure that the employee is adequately trained and has all the necessary tools and assets required to accomplish their task.”
Step 3: Create a Culture of Trust & Independence
Rather than a top-down approach to managing clients, projects, and deliverables, you as the leader need to create a culture of trust and independence. Yes, you will identify what the business priorities are, but then you turn it over to the teams. Self management only works in an environment where leadership values the contribution, skills, knowledge and abilities of staff.
Even the best employees will sit back and wait for direction in an environment with bureaucratic business practices, micro-management and constant criticism. So to create a culture where self managed employees thrive, you must first identify how you yourself are influencing the overall work environment. You want to create a culture of accountability, trust, and self-sufficiency. Consider this insight from an experienced consultant:
Terrence Sweeney, CEO, Terrence Sweeney Consulting
“I have watched one particular business unit shift from being very badly managed to becoming very effectively self managed. They self manage individually, but they are supported by the team. They do this by having a strong culture of “accountability” and “responsibility”. The only structures the team has to support self-management are 1.) clear objectives and 2.) scheduled reporting – in which people report specific measurable results to their peers.”
Below are two ways management is different in a self managed environment:
1. Facilitate, Don’t Supervise
In order for employees to self manage they need you to serve as their facilitator, not just their boss. What this looks like is having you serve as the setter of the vision and direction, the communicator of the values and focus. You don’t really want to be the day-to-day ‘this is how you do your job’ supervisor.
In many self-directed work environments, managers and leaders typically gather staff for periodic updates, daily or weekly meetings, where they ask for input and feedback from their staff. For example, if you’re working on hosting a major event, daily updates or ‘morning huddles’ may be needed to ensure each person has the resources required to get the job done. Your leadership role is as a facilitator – listening and considering employee suggestions, removing organizational barriers, and providing tools and resources so your employees can get work done.
2. Create Learning Opportunities, Not Discipline
Most self-managed work environments thrive when employees can obtain needed information at their fingertips. Whether you provide an Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS), a knowledge database repository, content management system, a peer forum, employee blog, a business coach, or ready access to seasoned ‘experts’, your culture needs to convey the idea that you’re always learning.
Even mistakes are seen as learning opportunities and shared in work updates for the improvement of all. Discipline is rare, because your focus is not on punishing errors, but on learning from and fixing them with performance improvement plans, and coaching others to avoid them in the future. Once employees recognize they can take risks, learn and yes, make mistakes as they do so, they’re much more likely to stay motivated, do it right the next time and help others avoid similar mishaps.
Step 4: Provide Tools to Help Employees & Teams Manage Themselves
In a perfect world, every employee would have all the self-management skills they need, but in the real world each person has strengths, and may need the help of others to shore up their weaknesses. Fortunately, the market is rich with tools that can help such as:
- Performance management tools – A performance management tool allows you to set employee goals and metrics and helps the employee keep track of work accomplishments. With self management, performance feedback needs to be more frequent — likely focused on monthly or quarterly goals rather than annual reviews.
- Time management tools – This helps employees monitor tasks, and focus on the highest priorities. You can also help employees prioritize individual or team work priorities with a 4-box prioritization grid, focusing on urgency vs. importance.
- Training tools – Self-managed employees are most successful when they have resources to find needed work/technical/process information themselves through some sort of knowledge or content management system. Training courses may already be available if you work with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) or have HR software.
- Communication tools – Self-managed work teams, especially those that are remote, need tools to stay in touch such as video conferencing tools.
- Self assessment tools – These tools identify where your employees have strengths, so that you and the team can benefit by leveraging the complementary skills of each individual.
- Project management software – Project management software ensures projects have clear start and end dates, and resources are lined up to provide deliverables on time, within budget and to customer standards. Providing these tools to your teams helps them stay on track, as individuals are aware of predecessor and successor tasks and dependencies.
- Innovation software – Innovation software like BrightIdea, IdeaScale and Spigit allows your organization to harness ideas and contributions from all employees, customers and even the general population (if you use crowdsourcing) to identify what’s most important for your organization to focus on next.
- Team building tools – You may want to invest in team building as each person brings different communication, decision making and work-styles to the team. Most teams benefit by early and frequent team building opportunities that help them get to know one another, build alliances, create friendships, and leverage each individual’s strengths.
Step 5: Recognize Individual & Team Performance to Support Employee Self Management
Did you know that a recent Gallup study showed that fewer than 1 in 3 employees reported receiving positive feedback or recognition last week? If you want to encourage employee self management, you need to reward and recognize employees. This means providing regular informal feedback and performance reviews so employees know exactly where they stand.
We at Fit Small Business have lots of ideas on recognizing performance — read our article on Employee Recognition.
Consider team based incentives to focus the team on succeeding together. One way to do this is by thinking of compensation as a two-part structure – 1) base pay based on skills/responsibilities, and 2) incentive pay or pay for performance based on the project outcomes/deliverables.
Some companies also find that profit sharing helps incentivize teams. These compensation options help teams focus on the end game, and are typically based on metrics like sales volume, time to completion, quality and budget. In other words, successful projects pay more.
Bottom Line on Employee Self-Management
To create an environment of employee self management you need to hire individuals who have good self-awareness, self discipline and motivation. But it takes a culture of trust and delegation to ensure these individuals will thrive in your organization. The natural extension of employee self management is team self management, creating an environment where you, the leader, serve as visionary facilitator, seeking input and advice from the expert employees in your company. Your job then is to hire, onboard, and lead.
This doesn’t mean should should not provide tools and resources — as they say ‘trust but verify’. So in addition to project, productivity and time management tools, you’ll use your HR recognition and solid leadership skills to support your self managed workforce. You might even consider an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that lets employees get free counseling to manage home issues so they don’t impact work.
We hope this article helps provide you with ideas and suggestions to move your organization from a typical top-down management structure to one in which the strength of your team members contributes to your business growth, and leaves you with time to set the organization’s direction, instead of managing individual work performance.