Publié par Jacques Arnol-Stephan

Why-management suits Y generation

Sure you’ve heard of the Y generation, and even of the Z generation. But maybe you are not so familiar with the Why-management. Beyond the pun, let’s take a little time, first to describe what Why-management is and where it comes from, then to discuss why this style of management / leadership perfectly suits the Y generation, and lastly to sketch how you can adopt this style of management for your company.

Liberate your company, a French concept, applicable worldwide

I have written a few articles on this new trend in French recent management: liberating one’s company. The expression became famous after Isaac Getz published his so-named book, and spent some time on TV or Web. And actually, it is an expression that remarkably fits the French managerial culture. Richard Lewis states that the dominant management style in France is “autocratic”, while it is “casual leadership” in the UK. Of course, that does not mean that every French business manager, director or business owner is an autocrat! But the model is here, and there are reasons for that. Among them is probably the way in which French economic elite is selected. The “voie royale” is the so-called “Grandes Ecoles”. To become one of the few who are admitted in such a Grande Ecole, you have to spend two or three years in the so-called preparatory classes: hard-work, day-to-day competition, individual work only, high mathematical level and scarcely any “humanities”, ending in a very hard contest.

The majority of the top-managers of large companies come from this mould. Of course, this is not the case for the majority of SME director or owners, who often have a much more pragmatic approach. Nevertheless, the “model“ cannot be harmless… It brings with it a motto, that could probably be said by most French business directors: “I am the boss because I deserve it through my capacity to do things better than the others”. With such a motto, a huge trend in top management, even in SME, is to explain to the employees, in details and with very little space for discussion, how they have to do their own work. That sounds like a prison, doesn’t it? Thus, it is understandable that those managers who are really convinced that collective intelligence is more then the arithmetical sum of individual intelligences, and that collective intelligence needs space to grow, those managers want to “liberate their company”.

Why-companies and How-companies

But can we say that the trend to overspecify the post sheet of employees is a pure French specificity? Probably not. In the English translation of his book, Isaac Getz talks of Why-companies versus How-companies. A Why-company is a company in which every one knows WHY he works, because the stress is put on the “whys” all along the management chain. A How-company, on the contrary, states the more accurately as possible how the different jobs have to be done. Clearly, the vast majority of companies, large or small, all over the world, are How-companies, whichever the management style is — autocratic or casual or friendly or else. Because it is usually easier to tell someone what he has to do and how he is supposed to work, rather than to share and discuss the “whys”, namely the core purpose of each job within the group. That is what “why management” means: rather than trying to have your employees or co-workers do their job just in the way you think it has to be done, tell them why their job is necessary, the purpose to which it contributes, and let them choose the best “how”…for them.

Y generation or Why generation?

Let’s come now to the Y generation. You know that the Y is a pun for “Why”, because young people born between 1980 and 2000 are supposed to ask a lot of “whys”. My purpose isn’t here to discuss whether there is really a Y generation, whether the common traits of these young people overcome the differences. All I know is that lot of my clients encounter difficulties managing those young people, because their requirements are very high. They want their working life to have sense. They question the relevance of the models shown by they elders — isn’t it understandable? They want their job to fulfil at least the four first steps of Maslow pyramid (from basic needs to self-esteem), and not only their physiological needs. Is it then a surprise that they resist any form of management telling them: do what I order you, the way I order you? Their resistance is usually passive — “you can always order, I will do it in my own way” —, which is consistent with their individualism, but it is nevertheless resistance. The problem is that all the time you spend trying to have them follow your path is wasted, and could be spent much more usefully discussing the purpose of their job or their task. No guarantee it will work perfectly, but it is worth trying. Since on the other hand, you can guarantee that the others ways… won’t work!

Switch from how management to why management now!

So, why don’t every manager immediately switch to why-management? Maybe because it would need going out of one’s comfort zone. We are not used to discuss the “whys”. It could take longer, at the beginning, than just giving orders. There are a lot of — bad — reasons not to try a new management style.

But actually, it is not so difficult. Most managers have already been confronted with much higher challenges. They have already learned much more difficult skills — and not only in the French Grandes Ecoles! I have successfully experimented different complementary ways to help my clients stop short of overspecifying what they expect from their co-workers or employees. Here is a non-exhaustive list of useful steps:  get used to taking a short stop before issuing a demand — asking oneself why it is so important to do that and that; organize specific actions to build a common understanding of the core purpose and the core values of their companies; organize training sessions, for themselves and/or their employees, about relational skills — interpersonal communication, win-win negotiation, collective decision making, …

And even if it is not so easy, consider how rewarding it is! Practicing why-management really eases the constraints, not only on those who are “managed”, but also on the managers themselves. And it really allows collective intelligence to grow, because it gives room to imagination, to new approaches, to self-motivation.

If you need some concrete examples of what can be done, read Brian M. Carney and Isaac Getz’s Freedom, Inc. It is full of real-life illustrations of what can be done in such a way. Even if you do not feel the need to “liberate your company”, you surely could benefit of switching from how-management to why-management.

If you feel it could be a little bit difficult, or even risky, don’t do it alone. But do it nevertheless, since, as Emmanuelle Duez says, Y and Z generations have already won the mach: they constitute the huge majority of people you are bound to hire in the near future…

A last-minute addition: I showed the first version of the above article to one of my clients and friend, who is head-manager in an IT SME on its way towards its “liberation”. Her comment is worth quoting! “I think that my generation (X? Yuppies?) is also very much aware of this new trend. Mid-life crisis helping (or not), a lot of us are questioning themselves on the sense of their investment in work. We were educated to be hard-worker and career-oriented. Nevertheless, quite a few of us are being fired, despite their investment in their professional life… We too are wanting sense in our working life, and are looking for alternative ways. I believe we can find a new dynamics by opening ourselves to these new management modes, towards which younger generations are pushing us, and not just stay there enduring them”. 

And you, what is your opinion?

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