Insourced Management: Redefining How We “Manage” Our Companies

“Management” is essentially made up of two things: Control and accountability for those which one controls.

Managers have a tough job! They are given control (or at least the appearance of control ) over their group or department or project. They are also accountable for the group’s success.

It’s my opinion — and the opinion of many others I have talked with — that managers are given too much to control to the point that they can’t effectively manage everything they are given. What we expect of them is overwhelming and often times unrealistic.

They are spread out so thin that they barely stay on top of what needs to get done. They go from fire to fire without the time to focus on the cause of the fires. It isn’t long until they are exhausted, overworked, and fall into a funk of mediocrity instead of excellence. I hear it all the time. “If I only didn’t have to focus on this report / employee issues / red tape so much, I could actually get things done!”

Is this description overly dramatic?

No. I’ve spoken with and interviewed countless managers who feel this way.

Even if we don’t take it to this extreme and talk about the regularly successful manager, they still have a ton to do. They are forced to focus on issues and tasks that don’t provide the value a manager should be able to provide. These things take them away from focusing on what is really important.

Can we do anything about it? If we were to take history into account, apparently not. As we can see, not much has changed over many, many years.

Wait. I lie. Managers are now expected to accomplish more than they ever have before. So rather than improving the situation, it is getting worse.

But — hey — what can we do? That’s the way things are and have always been. It’s a part of running a business, right?

This is where I break off from the norm. As a personality trait (or flaw?) I rarely accept the status quo — the current ways of doing things — very well. If you want to set off a mental trigger in my mind, utter the words, “That’s the way it’s always been done,” or, “We can’t do anything about it,” or, “according to policy…” if I hear these terms I shutter, put my fists up and think, “Them is fight’n words!”

So, what can we do?

We can take the control and accountability and give it to the employees. In essence, we change the game.

“Whoa! Wait a second. That’s why we have control in the first place — we don’t want to give that away! It will go out of control if we do that.”

Really? I think you’d be surprised. Why? Because you are the one who is asking for it!

“I am not!”

Actually… Every time you say, “Why can’t my employees be more innovative? Or take more initiative? Or manage themselves? Or take responsibility for what they have been given?” Each of those sentiments is begging to give away control. Why? Because it would make your life so much easier! It isn’t much different when an I.T. org outsources their storage or management of applications. Or when customer service outsources a call center. We outsource all the time; in essence we pay someone else to take some level of control and responsibility. And we happily do it!

Then how do we “outsource” management? We give it to our employees.

This is the essence of what I call

Insourced Management.

Rather than going looking to a group outside the company to give up control, we look inside the organization and “insource” some of the functions of management. We use the talent, expertise and geniusness of the employees who are already there.

To a limited extent, we do this already. We do 360 degree feedback loops that allow the employees to rate each other and their superiors. We set up programs that allow employees to give an “atta boy!” award to their peers. Some even go so far as to allow employees to take time off when they need it without recording it. Doing each of these takes some pressure off of the hierarchical management and transfers control to the employees.

Still, after all of these, we haven’t alleviated the major problems enough. But we can do so much more and so much better. We need to challenge what hasn’t been challenged before. Let’s start asking, the question, “I know we’ve done it that way before, but is there another way to do it?”

Apple did this with the iPhone. AirBNB did this with overnight stays. Uber did this with transportation. And when they did, the change wasn’t incremental — the change was dramatic.

We can do this with management.

In fact, this is what I did with improving culture. Up until now if the culture was going to get better, the accountability and control has been upon those over the organization: The CEO for the company, the Director for the organization; the manager for the team. Most people would say, “Well, ya. Duh. Is there any other way to do it?” You bet.

My goal in building viaPing was to “insource” the management function of culture improvement by giving control and responsibility to the employees. How? It turns out that it is not only simple, but very effective.

For employees (actually, anyone) to make improvements they need to know what to improve and then have the motivation to improve it. Today employees have a hunch at how good or bad the culture is. They talk about it around the water cooler and at lunch breaks. But it rarely goes beyond that. For the most part, talk about culture is an underground, secretive operation. Employees are validated on a micro-scale and rarely at the whole-company scale. And it’s taboo to openly talk about it.

To insource this function they need to know what the culture is like across the company or organization. They need to know that they are not alone in their thoughts. Or, on the other hand, that maybe they are alone. The essence is this: They need information they don’t get today.

And where would this information come from? There’s no better place than the employees themselves. But now we are talking interviews or surveys or small group discussions, right?

Traditionally, yes. But can it be done another way?

It turns out, it can.

The way viaPing both receives information and disseminates information is through a simple two step process. First, all employees (even the executive teams) receive one Ping a day. A Ping is a statement or a question. When they respond they see yesterday’s results. Done.

But don’t be deceived. There is power in this simple formula.

First, the Ping’s response is usually YES/NO. Why? Because it is quick and simple and doesn’t take much time. In fact, it is faster than reading and answering a text (which just about all employees willingly do several times a day). If it is longer, for example a 0–10 scale, the employee will need to sit and really think, “Is it a 6 or a 7? Hmmmm.” As which point they are distracted by something else or think, “I’ll come back to this later,” and it is forgotten.

But because answering a Ping is so simple, in the English language, 70% of viaPing participants respond each day. This is unheard of not only in terms of response rate, but also participation!

At that point the employee can be done. But wait! There’s more! After they respond they have the option to give textual feedback as well, which shines light into their choice.

OK — so that’s receiving information from employees. What about dissemination?

When employees respond and are given the option to give more feedback, they are also presented with yesterday’s results. Again, it sounds simple enough, but think about the ramifications.

If employees want to see the results from yesterday, they need to answer today. There is a bit of a play there, a give and a take, a reward for an action (think natural gamification).

Pretend that yesterday’s Ping was, “I can trust my immediate manager,” and I wanted to see how others felt about it, I would make sure to answer tomorrow’s Ping which might be, “I plan to be working with the company in two years.” Well, this also interests me. I want to see what others are saying about that! So I’ll answer the next day’s Ping. And the cycle continues.

But it doesn’t stop there. These daily Pings become the catalyst for something much greater than itself.

They start the conversation.

“Are you kidding me?! Only 37% of employees have confidence in their own team? What can we do in our team to make sure we don’t fall into that?” “Did you see those results? Only 62% of us think our new product will be successful. We need to do something about that. Now.”

From there, discussions start all over the company. It could be hundreds or thousands of times a day. That prompts ideas, and innovation, and motivation, and the creation of plans and soon, change all over the company.

Pretty soon your employees are no longer just employees, but they are change agents, actively working on creating a better company.

BAM. Mission accomplished: Insourced culture improvement. No longer does a company only rely on cultural indoctrination programs being pushed down from the top, but they have continuous improvement willingly happening all over the company created by the employees themselves. This is great in theory, but does it work that way? Absolutely, and we have the case studies to back it up.

Think about the possibilities!

But the benefits don’t end there. For the purposes of explaining Insource Management, however, I’ll leave the rest for another time.

Now if we can do this with a company’s culture, what else can we do this with? (I started to list them out but realized that many people might think I’m crazy for challenging some of the norms — some of the givens. Instead, I’ll let you come up with your own list.)

The potential for positive change can’t be understated. If you dwell on this for a while I have no doubt you will come up with many more things that can be more effectively insourced.

Notice earlier when I mentioned that the outsourced call center has not only control but responsibility? Take note that I didn’t say accountability, which is the word I was using previously. That is because — contrary to popular usage — accountability and responsibility are not interchangeable. They are very different. In this case, you keep accountability but give responsibility.

It is the same with Insourced Management. You are still accountable overall, but you give someone else or a group (in this case, the employees) the responsibility (and the permission) to take control.

Employees want to be awesome, productive, and insanely great! I firmly believe that as we insource functions of management we will see many of the issues of today decrease in size and scope. We will also see employees unleash the potential they have previously held back.

And when it is unleashed, watch out world!