3 Tips on Leadership and Change Management from "The Year Without Pants"

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As part of a series on must-read books for HR leaders, we're taking a look into lessons learned from the book, "The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work" by Scott Berkun. The management of Automattic, Inc., the business profiled in the book, offers an innovative take on the role of the manager. They see the position as a support role to the organization's creatives.

Leadership and change management are a significant part of every business manager's agenda. Here are three things HR leaders can learn about effective leadership and change management.

1. View Management as a Support Role

The role of manager, as described in "The Year Without Pants," starts with putting creators — such as programmers — at the center of an ecosystem that's designed to enable them. Functions like administration, legal and HR are designed to help creators get more done and generate more value for the business. However, readers may be surprised to learn that Automattic, Inc. also views management as a support function. HR leaders should consider these questions:

  • If managers viewed their role as support to the teams they oversee, how would that change their behavior?
  • How can leaders take into account direct input and feedback from their teams?
  • Do your managers focus a percentage of their time on enabling their team's success and eliminating roadblocks?

2. Observe Employee Reactions to Implement Change

Change management is a complex science. As Fast Company notes, there are often gaps between how management and employees think about change management. Yet Berkun offers a simpler approach — "set a fire" to identify weaknesses, see where power structures really lie and better understand what needs change. When something goes wrong, people jump into action to solve the problem. If you map that action, you'll get real insights into who is accomplishing what within your organization.

It's a novel way to see what things are working well in your business and determine how to best close the gaps. While it's not always practical, many leaders are able to achieve a similar kind of insight by running drills of different breakdown scenarios and seeing what they can learn through observation. From there, you can design and test new response patterns, and then use that information as the basis for continuous process improvement.

3. Give Employees Room to Grow

"The Year Without Pants" highlights that Automattic, Inc.'s philosophy is really anchored around the idea that creators are the heart of the organization. Managers are there to support these roles and help them get more done. Beyond that, it's important to get out of the employee's way. This can be a significant mindset shift from the idea that a manager is a team's most important asset, setting the vision and ensuring that everyone follows the guidance.

Instead, they argue, the manager's job is to get out of the way. Once everything's working and the team has everything they need to do a phenomenal job, don't create unnecessary roadblocks. Onerous communications frameworks, wasted meetings, arbitrary project schedules and forced work hours are all on the chopping block.

When the traditional tools of management fall away, many managers are surprised to learn that they get to know their teams as people and find out how to better interact with and motivate them. Everything circles back to the idea that your team is your most valuable asset — and this style of management can open up new avenues of collaboration and support at the individual and team levels.

Leadership and change management are issues that business executives and HR leaders grapple with every day. How to motivate, inspire and drive the business forward are the essential questions that managers face. "The Year Without Pants" argues that managers should instead be asking how they can provide their teams with what they need and ultimately how to get out of the way to let the self-sufficient, passionate people you've hired do what they are best at.

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Other articles in this series:

3 Lessons From "The Year Without Pants"

3 Tips on Company Culture From "The Year Without Pants"

4 Interview Techniques from "The Year Without Pants"