The Future of HR: Managerless Companies?

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Jacob Morgan, in his book The Future of Work, talks about the changes that may be coming as the Millennials become the dominate cadre in the workforce and the overall future of HR. One of the trends he talks about is already starting to occur and that is companies without managers. For many people that sounds like an invitation to chaos, but there are some companies that are successfully pulling this off. I am certainly open to the concept, but I am still somewhat skeptical about how this may work. Let’s explore this a bit.

Companies that are managerless

Morgan, in Chapter 7 in his book, names several companies that are currently run in a managerless manner. These include W.L. Gore, the largest of the companies with 10,000 employees; Sun Hydraulics; Valve; Medium; Supercell and Morning Star. W.L. Gore has been what they call a “team-based, flat latticed organization that fosters person initiative” since 1958. And that is a common thread through all of these managerless organizations, they are team based. What is worked on, how it is worked on and by who are all decided by teams of associates (nobody likes the term “employee”). Whether someone continues to work at the company is even decided by a team. Morgan addresses what happens when something goes wrong and says that things are even decided by teams there as well. But he made short order of that section, and as an HR professional with experience in compliance I have a few more questions about this arena.

What do you do when something goes wrong?

Morgan says that in these companies people first try to hammer out their differences by themselves, and that is indeed the ideal situation. This does not always work and Morgan says that associates then appeal to committees or even to a mediator. That sounds good, but when you start probing further I see where this may breakdown.

Those of you who have any experience in HR know there are some very specific laws and issues that have to be dealt with in the field of HR. For example:

  • Are sexual harassment claims investigated by committees?
  • How about discrimination claims?
  • Do committees handle FMLA requests?
  • Who deals with ADA accommodation requests?
  • What about other privacy issues?
  • Who is insuring that laws like the FLSA and OSHA are being complied with?

Morgan mentions that many of these managerless companies are smaller, with Gore the exception. My experience has been that in smaller companies one person ends up with the HR responsibility. I wonder if this is the same for managerless companies.

Morgan says in his chapter that many companies have tried the process, including the giant that starts with the letter G and rhymes with “oogle”, and abandoned it. Many employees are not prepared for it and take a while to adjust. He suggests it is best done by companies from the outset as opposed to trying to convert to it, and I can see that. Companies that practice open-book management have also been through such a struggle. Apparently however, if you can make it work it does wonders for the company’s bottom line.

Answers desired

I have posed the questions above and would genuinely like answers. If you work for a managerless organization, or have worked for one, how are some of the sensitive areas of HR handled in a company that makes decisions by committees? Please respond below and help the rest of us understand.

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