– David Burkus
We tracked down David Burkus, the author of the new book Under New Management, and spoke to him about how we can overhaul our understanding of what organizational management should look like. David was interviewed by Todd Greer, the Managing Editor for Nonprofit Performance Magazine. This is part 4 of our interview. Read the final part on Friday.
Todd Greer: There are a couple of things you include that may seem counterintuitive. You talk about getting rid of vacation policies, paying people to quit, and firing managers. What could the outcome of these types of changes look like in nonprofits?
David Burkus: A no-vacation policy does not mean no vacations; it means we are not going to track people’s vacations. That is more vital in the nonprofit sector than in the for-profit because, presumably, the average, equally skilled, equally talented, equally qualified person working in the for-profit is going to get paid higher than in the nonprofit sector. For-profit workers can afford to put up with a little more micro-management and demands on their time.
The nonprofit sector lends itself to an unlimited vacation policy because it is a benefit that doesn’t cost as much as we think it does. On average, people take about the same amount of vacation days as they did before; it is not about days taken or not taken, but it is about trust. We are saying that we are not tracking your actions 8-5 Monday-Friday when you are working, so why are we tracking days that you are not working? We will trust you to do what is in our best interest and in your best interest in getting a break. Trust is free, in general. If you put your trust in the wrong person, it does cost you from time to time, but you handle that on a case-by-case basis, instead of not trusting anybody. So unlimited vacation: definitely.
Paying people to quit is expensive, but people take the deal. You have to offer them a bonus to quit when you find out they are not a cultural fit. Paying people to quit pays off the most when people decide to stay, because they have worked in the culture for a while and they have decided that a month’s salary is not worth losing out on this opportunity.
Nonprofits have a chance that for-profits don’t have: instead of paying people to quit, hire your volunteers. Make it a requirement for getting the job that you have already volunteered for our organization or one that serves a similar focus. You can prove the same dedication to the cause through the actions of your volunteers. In a for-profit, if people are volunteering to work for you, you are probably breaking labor laws. But in a nonprofit, it’s fine, and it stays in line with the idea of sample the culture, work with us, find out if it is a good fit for you, and then we will hire you.
In a smaller nonprofit with smaller reach, it is harder to say that we will only hire people who have already volunteered for our company. But a faith-based nonprofit, no matter how big or small, probably won’t have that problem. Out of a pool of people who have already worked with similar industries, you know people will be a fit for the cause, even if they haven’t worked for your organization. That is still a safer bet than hiring just anybody.
Firing the managers is a structure that different companies handle differently. It begins with the idea of a knowledge-work organization. Nonprofits were probably knowledge-work organizations before for-profits were.
In a service-based organization, firing the managers does not mean having no management. It means we are turning management over to the teams or individuals who usually know more about their jobs than do their managers. We live in a really interesting time where an individual contributor, in order to be fully qualified for their job, will likely know more about their job than the person who supervises them. If that is not true at the time of hiring, it will eventually be true because the nature and tasks of the work demand it. A manager has to pay attention to a lot of different things, and an individual contributor to one big thing.
The idea is that the people who are doing the work should be given more autonomy and some responsibility for managing their job. We see a lot of benefits with this. You can do it by turning it over to team-based management or by managing a variety of different individual relationships.
Morningstar Farms has workers sign a Letter of Agreement with everybody they would interact with in doing their job. You and the ten or eleven people you work with have clearly-stated expectations of each other, and you rate each other on how well those expectations are met. All of those things are designed to give autonomy over to people.
I am okay with however you create more autonomy in organizations. That could be total management elimination or turning it over to teams. If there are parts of your organization where individual contributors have more expertise on how to do their jobs than the managers, then we are probably asking the managers to do things that the individual is better suited to. It doesn’t mean having no management. It just means changing who is responsible for that management.
David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity, LDRLB, and Under New Management, writes for The Creativity Post and 99U. His passion is leadership, innovation, strategy, and the transfer of good ideas. Find him at http://davidburkus.com, Twitter @davidburkus, or Facebook/drdavidburkus
This article is reprinted from Vol. 3, No. 2, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today.
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