Let People Choose Their Managers

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Henry and Nicky from Happy Ltd.

Henry Stewart

DH guest blogger Henry Stewart is Chief Executive of the London-based Happy Ltd., a training company which has earned numerous awards including rankings in the World's Most Democratic Workplaces and the UK's Best Workplaces, and the Institute of IT Training's Gold medal for Training Company of the Year. Download Henry's book, The Happy Manifesto, for free, read his blog, or check him out on Twitter @happyhenry.

Imagine one of your most valued members of staff comes to you and says, ‘I love my job. I love the people I work with. I am even happy with what I am being paid. But I can’t stand my manager.’ If the conflict can’t be resolved the most common outcome is that they will leave.

A study by CMI (Chartered Management Institute) in the UK found that 47% of respondents left their last role because they were badly managed and that 49% would be prepared to take a pay cut to be able to work with a different manager.

At Happy Ltd., we can solve it in about five minutes. We simply ask who they would like instead as their manager. This may not be common but Happy Ltd. is not alone in this approach. At WL Gore, the multi-billion company behind Goretex, they also let people choose their managers, arguing that “if you want to be a leader, you’d better find some followers.”

The results are interesting. Some people do change their managers because they don’t get on with them. But others have changed because they’ve become too close. And some feel the need for a new guide for the next stage of their development. And if you do find everybody deserts a certain manager it probably tells you something important about their strengths and weaknesses and where they need to develop.

Professor Julian Birkinshaw of London Business School asks “What would management be like if it was decided by those who are managed?” Probably both different and more effective, I would say. And being able to choose who manages you would make simple sense.

We do have a slightly different structure to the norm, with the person who manages/coaches you often separated from the person who you deliver work to. But that isn’t so unusual nowadays. Many people work on projects where the Project Leader is not their line manager.

So think about it. Would you hold onto more employees?  Would they grow new skills? Would you create a happier workplace if you let people choose their managers?


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Henry Stewart


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