Why it's time to get rid of your managers

They're the main obstacle to your company's success

(Editor's note: This is the first of two parts.)

Companies without managers are the present and future of work. In the emerging work world of the Participation Age, the most successful ones will do away with managers completely. That's right – completely.

Managers are the core problem in business

People don't leave companies. They leave managers–it's their number one reason to leave. The U.S. Department of Labor says the average tenure of an employee is now only 1.5 years. Salary.com says 75 percent of the reasons workers give for leaving a company have to do with their manager. Eliminate managers and you do away with almost all of the reasons why people leave. Zappos is just one company that has figured that out.

Managers were invented

There's a good reason why people are so manager-averse. We're not built to be managed. For thousands of years, 80 to 90 percent of all adults in the world owned their own businesses. Managers were invented for the Industrial Age factory system. They were a bad idea then and a worse one today.

One man, Frederick Winslow Taylor, had more to do with the invention of managers than any other. Peter Drucker says Taylor had as much impact on the 20th century as Darwin, Freud, and Marx. Taylor proposed a fatally flawed definition of the modern employee that Industrialists found very convenient. In his paper Scientific Management, published in 1911, Taylor defined employees as 1) stupid and 2) lazy.

So if people were, for the first time in history, all of a sudden widely stupid and lazy, how did you solve that? Taylor made it easy. You simply find the very few smart and motivated people and place them "over" the stupid and lazy ones to make them productive. In this way management was born.

Modern business structures are built on a fundamental system of mistrust, division, and antagonism I call LCD management–managing to the lowest common denominator. Taylor's definition required that companies ask, "What's the stupidest and laziest thing a person could do here, and how do I create a system where they can't act that stupid and lazy?"

Of course, no modern manager would say the people who work "under" them are stupid and lazy. But the fact is managers exist because they are assumed to somehow be smarter and more motivated–better at creating solutions, leading, motivating, monitoring processes, communicating, etc.

If they can do it, so can you

Yet all of these assumptions have been proved wrong time and again by companies of all sizes, in every industry, that have operated without managers for decades, including our own, Crankset Group. Huge tomato processors like the Morning Star Company, medical device companies like Davita, manufacturers like Semco, GE Aviation, and W. L. Gore, service companies like Buurtzorg and Precision Nutrition, and scores of newer and technology-oriented companies like Zappos, Menlo Innovations, Valve Software, and Appster–all of them are highly profitable with lower turnover because they have self-managed people who don't report to managers.

Coming up: How to build a company without managers

Categories: Management & Leadership, Web Exclusives