In these times, can you afford to continue stifling the vast majority of your people instead of giving them a chance to help your business? —Freedom Inc.
If you liked the book Reinventing Organizations (2014) then you will like Freedom Inc. written in 2009. If you have not read Frédéric Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations, read Freedom Inc. instead. Freedom Inc. has many case studies from the same companies that are in Reinventing Organizations but the former are more comprehensive. Carney & Getz definitely have done their homework as they delve into what creates a liberating company. They are much less prescriptive than Laloux in what they learn about corporate liberation and instead focus on finding core principles. They understand that in complex human systems all contexts are different. They offer insights from a wide variety of companies and industries.
- FAVI: castings
- SOL: cleaning services
- W.L. Gore: materials science
- Chaparral: steel
- Harley-Davidson: motorcycles
- IDEO: design
- Quad/Graphics: commercial printing
- USAA: insurance
So what makes a liberated company?
First of all, these companies focus on the “why” and not the “how” of work. Once people understand why the company is in business, they can figure how to the work by themselves. Those closest to the situation are those who understand it best. Executives and managers have to understand this and remove any barriers to getting work done or coming up with innovative ideas. These types of companies have many fewer rules and most are built on the assumption that people want to do a good job. They are also largely egalitarian, with limited hierarchy.
The problem of “how to soothe relations between managers and subordinates to reduce “stress” becomes “how to transform the hierarchical relationship into one between equals in order to eliminate stress.” —Freedom Inc.
Workers often get to choose what work they want to do. Compliance with the work culture is exercised through peers, not management. In addition, most of the organizations have transparent information flows for all to see. CEOs of liberated corporations become the keepers of the culture, much as Laloux recommends them to be holders of the space.
Liberated companies are like democracies — works in progress — and “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom”. Jean-François Zobrist, ex-CEO of FAVI, likened his company to a flock of birds.
A cloud of starlings can be composed of hundreds of thousands of individuals. But when a hawk is near, the whole flock reacts instantly, as if one bird! A complicated system, with a boss, information relays, [and] even with decisions delegated close to the field, would not be able to react so swiftly. Indeed, two simple rules guide [the] cloud’s functioning: (1) every bird constantly watches out to never collide with her immediate neighbors; (2) when the danger is near, the threatened birds dive into the cloud’s center, provoking immediate movement of the whole flock.
Zobrist cautioned, “But if one of the two rules is not respected the system collapses into chaos.” He concluded: “Chaos is characteristic of systems incapable of establishing complicated rules, or of respecting simple ones.” —Freedom Inc.
I reflected on my own principle of network management and compared it to the conclusions of Freedom Inc.
Combined with the organizing principle of temporary, negotiated hierarchies, this fairly well describes a liberated company.
I would highly recommend this book. The personal perspectives and stories from CEOs show that while the concepts are relatively simple, implementation is a lot of work. But it is work that has been done before and has been shown to work.
Why be liberated?
The authors of Freedom Inc. discuss the common phenomenon of periodic mass restructuring which is publicly reported as a method of adapting to changing market conditions. Liberated companies have restructuring built-in so that workers can adapt as needed without direction from above, much like the starlings can. They misattribute a well-known quote (below) to the ancient Roman, Petronius Arbiter, so let me set the record straight here. Their conclusion holds though: formal reorganization is an elaborate illusion. Reorganization has to be part of an organization, not something done to it.
We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganised. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organising, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization. —Charlton Ogburn: Merrill’s Marauders (Harper’s Magazine – 1957)