Beyond Empowerment · Interviews

Self-Management or Responsible Freedom

The backpacking French Baroudeurs, represented by François Force, interviewed me for an article in the fall of 2017.

Here is the link to their article in French: https://www.frenchbaroudeurs.com/post/doug-kirkpatrick-le-self-management-ou-la-libert%C3%A9-responsable

And here is the English translation:

Doug Kirkpatrick: Self-Management or Responsible Freedom

There are gifts that leave more marks than others, like the one Ken Everett gave us before leaving Sydney: the book of his friend Doug Kirkpatrick. Ken also put us in touch with Doug, who kindly agreed to meet us over a glass of wine in San Francisco.

If Beyond Empowerment is a bestseller translated into many languages, the French language is not one of them. It’s up to us to find an adequate translation. Beyond empowerment: the era of self-managed organizations? Anglicism is tempting since we hear more and more often this term, but what are we talking about? Literally it means “to give power”, our Quebec friends risk to translate it by empowerment or even empowerment. The dictionary would look to him for emancipation.

Many of the companies we visited claim this empowerment: empowering employees, Doug Kirkpatrick wants to go beyond, why? For him, distributing power or granting freedoms always implies an addiction due to the fact that at any moment, those who “give” this power can take it back. But then, where does this conviction come from to go further? From his experience at Morning Star. The name surely does not tell you anything yet you have already tasted their products, tomato sauces, ketchups, purees, the company is the world leader in the production of tomato products. Doug Kirkpatrik was one of the first Morning Star employees when, under the leadership of Chris Rufer, he decided to change his entire organization and adopt self-management.

It is precisely the self-management, its implementation and its principles that Doug decides to describe to his readers. Yet it is not the story of Morning Star that he tells in his book, but that of BerryWay, a fictional company manufacturing products based on berries. Why did you choose fiction instead of telling the reality that he lived? Without being bound to stick to reality, the message could be simplified and clarified. It is also the opportunity to get into the thoughts of Todd, the founder of BerryWay, his questions, his intellectual journey and his motivation while he wants to set up self-management. But make no mistake, Doug did not use fiction to embellish the reality, on the contrary as we admit the author during the interview, the establishment of self-management was much more complex at BerryWay than at Morning Star.

As he develops his business, Todd realizes that human interactions are guided by 2 simple principles: “Everyone should be free and not be imposed on others” and “everyone should honor their commitments to to others “. As a starting point for the self-management process at BerryWay, employees will build together, on these bases, their eight principles of self-management:

1. No use of force and keep commitments

2. No title or function

3. No one has authority over others

4. No dismissal by unilateral decision

5. Employees are all equal “colleagues”

6. A culture of coaching and mentoring

7. An accountability process

8. Freedom

A great freedom implies great responsibility, this is the balance on which self-management rests, the author speaks of responsible freedom. As part of this responsible freedom, all employees must be able to report to their “colleagues”. In fact, all sign a Colleague Accountability Agreement, which sets out the commitments of BerryWay employees. In this way, colleagues commit themselves to work fully to achieve the company’s mission, its vision and its values, to be responsible for all actions within their field of activity, to be the guarantor of resources, objectives of its field of activity. In summary, everyone agrees to consider themselves as the owner of his work, to have all the freedom necessary for its realization but also all the responsibility.

And in case of conflict, disagreement or unfulfilled goal, how to handle the situation when no one has authority over another colleague? If two colleagues encounter a disagreement and are unable to reach an agreement between them, they will have to call on a third party they will have chosen together and who will arbitrate the situation. In the event that this arbitration is not sufficient, they agree to the intervention of a panel of 3 other colleagues who will decide. Similarly, to dismiss someone, the decision must be taken collectively.

Is self-management for everyone? Of course, says the author.

     “After all, we are all self-managers. In our everyday life, no one has to tell us how to take care of our family, what decisions to make? Why once in the company we would not be able to make decisions anymore? “

Yet in the book, Doug chose to highlight the opposition and reluctance of some to this model. But, as he explains to us, from the moment I refuse unilateral authority, I can not force people who do not want it to become self-managers.

By adopting self-management, Morning star and BerryWay have both managed to revolutionize an entire industry without any boss! Thanks to Doug for his teachings and his time.

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