Can liberty principles be applied to the management practices of day-to-day business?
By Renato Diniz
In 2018, while I worked in a political campaign, I’ve learned with my employees one of the biggest lessons I ever could about management. During that time, I coordinated a division of nearly twenty people, and one of our core activities was to implement the fundraising strategy for the campaign, assessing opportunities for partnership, volunteering, and small donations by making contact with hundreds of people daily.
The goals were challenging, and the average employee would take the whole week to achieve them by Friday. But not Alana (name changed due to privacy reasons). Alana was one of my best employees and would reach the weekly goal of intended support by Wednesday. She would then continue to work her ass off to expand upon the original goal, creating even more connections and helping with the overall team goal. But then came a week where something was off with her. She wouldn’t be as receptive to her colleagues as she usually was, neither she would concentrate on the job and create as many new connections as she usually did.
By Wednesday afternoon, I sensed that I should verify what was up with her. I call her out of the office to take a walk around downtown. And then, as I never expected, I would listen to the story about how her ex recently made contact, and how that aroused feelings of anxiety in her. Turns out, her ex dumped her because she got pregnant and wouldn’t abort their child. Sadly, after dumped she would suffer a miscarriage, leaving her without her child and her longtime boyfriend. Another ingredient to that sad mix of events was that her family was extremely conservative, making it hard for her to share this sequence of events with them, preferring to keep for herself all the conflicting emotions that were inside her head.
After hearing all this, I counseled her to go home and take the rest of the week off if necessary, so she would recover herself, and not worry about the weekly goals. I would not force her to stay in the office while going through all this. What I didn’t expect was to see her again the next morning, that time focused as usual on making contacts and establishing new relationships with possible voters. I didn’t comment on it first, but by Friday afternoon when she had reached the weekly goal, I called her to my office to congratulate her on the persistence and to understand how she was. She then told me “I wouldn’t let the ball drop (her goal), because that would mean the squad would not reach the target goal, and that in turn would create trouble for you. And I wouldn’t want to see you get in trouble. I returned to work not because I have to, but because I care about you.”
Liberty principles are not complimentary support to manage people with some interesting positive outcomes. They are at the core of a consistent management system, based on strong values and on how people achieve their maximum productivity and produce results. To achieve and sustain personal freedom, one needs a true sense of self-accountability for one’s results. Without being accountable to our objectives, we end up projecting our responsibilities into other people or institutions and we end up losing part of our freedom in the process. Take for example the situation where an employee needs to leave the office early due to some contingency. During my experience, an employee wanted to leave the office a little early two times a week to attend a Spanish language course he wanted to take. The basis of my decision would reside in how accountable the worker was with their performance.
If one would be accountable, there would be no problem and I would let the employee have some flexibility or even trust a day out of office due to sickness without medical evidence. Been accountable isn’t necessarily hit all the goals of performance, but demonstrate that one is.
But, if the employee would start to not be accountable for his performance and be irresponsible with their results, he would diminish my trust and would lose the flexibility I would provide at first. I would call in the office the “freedom with responsibility” principle. Those who believe that the purpose of freedom is to escape from responsibilities could not be more roundly mistaken. Employees who enjoy freedom in their workspace are not subservient, but neither are they completely exempt from responsibility. Taking control of one’s performance requires an attitude of both freedom and responsibility.
Those two values are so connected that they cannot survive apart. Freedom is inseparably connected to responsibility. Managers should not tightly control employees precisely because they can be responsible for their attitudes, because they can make choices and because they can exercise self-control. Legacy management systems are based on guaranteeing consistent results by diminishing workers from their freedom because managers shouldn’t trust their actions. It didn’t work that well and led to poor job performance, lower creativity environments, and overall unhappiness with the work-life. Meanwhile, what liberty ideas have taught us is that humans perform at their best when they feel free to act and be creative to solve challenges that are presented to them.
A second value that I believe is essential to a consistent management system is the value of minimal control from authority. Leaders are responsible to guide and help employees to reach their goals. Employees perform best not when there is someone constantly looking after what they are doing, but when they are focused on their tasks. A manager’s goal is to remove obstacles that jeopardize employee’s performance, not to dictate every aspect of their work to get it done. A manager’s main job is to serve their employees. It a servant leadership mindset, which is the belief that employees know best what to do, and it’s up to the manager to provide guidance and direction, help them feel confident and capable to perform at their best.
The result of building a company culture around strong values of self-accountability and minimal control from authority is that it changes the perspective around job responsibilities. Commonly, workers limit themselves to what they have been assigned to by their job description, without recognizing that their activities often overlap with those of colleagues. Not surprisingly, whenever a failure is observed, attempts are made to attribute it to someone or some department, identified as "responsible" for the bad results, living the others off the hook. Attributing singular responsibility may comfort most, but the fact remains that organizational results come from the collective, not an individual activity. Thus, when an organization fails to perform, it is a shared failure. In my current job, we were in the planning phase of a training program, and during the conception of the marketing strategy, I’ve noticed that the marketing manager was missing the point on how complex was the product, selling it as a common education program instead of taking it to account how the classes would be accompanied by the execution of a large project. I took time to revise the plan and make suggestions that would, later on, be of instrumental importance in guaranteeing the successful launch of the program, although it was not my direct responsibility to take part in the design of the marketing planning strategy.
In an environment where self-accountability is valued and managers take priority on the growth of their employees, shared accountability is nourished and everyone realizes that most problems extend beyond their job descriptions and require solutions that often require large-scale involvement. As Hayek would put in The Constitution of Liberty: “Liberty not only means that the individual has both the opportunity and the burden of choice; it also means that he must bear the consequences of his actions and will receive praise or blame for them. Liberty and responsibility are inseparable”. Only when employees feel free to perform and managers support their actions, they can use their whole potential to perform and bring results to their organizations. We shouldn’t see it as an obstacle to deal with but as an opportunity to get the best out of each individual.
Renato Diniz: What drives me is the will to help those around me, whether it is teaching what I have learned or performing an activity in the best way I can. I have worked as a regional coordinator for a voluntary institution, as an election campaign coordinator, and as a teacher in leadership courses.
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