Everyone Holds Everyone Responsible.

In traditional, pyramid-like structures, the people at the top hold the underlings responsible for their actions. In our more egalitarian model, it's a two-way street.

This is possible only when a company's philosophy is designed with the buy-in of the associates. This philosophy, in the form of its mission, vision, values, methods of operation and specific financial goals, must be published and reviewed regularly.

When this happens, everyone knows and has ownership in the guidelines that naturally flow from the commonly held philosophy.

Here are some examples of this mutual accountability.

The CEO is not always right.
As the CEO of The Phelps Group, I am usually involved in selecting and pursuing new accounts. As a company, we have committed to having only "deserving clients" on our roster. (Those whose products enrich the lives of those who buy them and those clients who treat their agency fairly.)

I'm sometimes tempted, for one reason or another, to take on a client who doesn't meet these requirements. Yet, because of our published and often reviewed covenants, our associates know our true, long-term plan, and feel free to "hold up the mirror" and voice disappointment that we're pursuing a particular client. Thank goodness they feel confident enough to be assertive. Otherwise, I would have led us down the wrong road more than once.

Bust the leaders.
All we really have to sell is the time we spend working for our clients. We've learned how expensive it is to waste time in unproductive meetings. And no one has the right to waste others' time. So we've committed to holding the people who call meetings to be accountable for the productivity of the meeting. This means, among other things:

  • Preparing an agenda for the meeting (preferably sending it in advance so people can come prepared)
  • Inviting only the people whose time is required in the meeting
  • Dismissing and inviting people on an as-needed basis
  • Encouraging the less assertive to contribute
  • Confirming that actionable items are recorded
  • Confirming that someone commits to delivering the next step by a specific date

As a group, we have agreed that anyone can “bust the leader” by challenging her/his judgment in calling a meeting that doesn't adhere to the guidelines mentioned above.

It's irrelevant as to who is doing the busting. The other people in the meeting are encouraged to support this person for caring enough and being assertive enough to help "train" us in good meeting management. It's of benefit to us all.

In other words, it's the value of the idea or assertion. It's not about rank.

The logic behind the spirit of this agreement is that once an organization has agreed on philosophies then we can let peer pressure take over. It's no longer about top=down mandates and control.

Let the less experienced present.

The more often someone presents to a group, the more comfortable they become with public speaking.

Before people present to a group they prepare more thoroughly – and consequently learn more.

The combination of our associates being more comfortable in speaking to a group, with the knowledge acquired in the process, makes them more valuable to us and our clients.

Like trees, organizations are healthier when they grow from the bottom up.

This is only one point of the logic that justifies allowing the less experienced to take the lead.

Additional advantages are that more fresh ideas will present themselves. In general, younger people suffer less from rigidity of opinion. They're more often open to new ideas. They bring something surprising and often creative to a problem-solving or educational session.

It's human nature to want to take the lead and show the way to those with less experience. But almost invariably, when we give the baton to these people, they rise to the occasion and pleasantly surprise us.

It's worth mentioning that when someone is listening, they can reflect and think more expansively than when they're talking. So it makes sense to have the less experienced speak first. Their knowledge gaps will show up and can be addressed. (Or others will learn from their fresh approach.) The meeting leader, can sum up the thinking – if needed – and add whatever may be needed to complete the picture.

Top-down, command-and-control organizations crush the spirit and decrease the effectiveness of the front-line people.

A self-directed, cross-functional, client-based team consists of whatever specialists are needed to develop and execute a program for their client.

An Office Self-directed teams are supported by administration and discipline coaches, who educate, advise and inspire, but who do not take responsibility for the work of those they coach. The responsibility resides with the team.

Multiple Offices The development of the structure is becoming obvious. The geometry of the parts is repeated in the whole.

Holding Company This illustrates the scalability of how the concept would work for a holding company owning multiple agencies.