A Message to Managers: Keep your Hands off but your Eyes on!

In the last 4 posts of this series on comparing three modern management systems, I have tried to lay out the difference between them using 27 different criteria cluster in 4 Categories: Foundations, Leadership, Structure, and Actions. The bad news is: We are only half way through the total list of 54 criteria’s and 10 Categories. But the good news is: We are only half way through this series, so there is a lot more to discover.

So much about Management is easy. Hey, stop it right here! Shouldn’t Management be easy? What about all those numerous articles on the “10 secrets of good Management” or “The three cornerstones of management success” or the whole lot of Management Literature making rather one-dimensional recommendations about “results driven” or “mindful”  Management or those biographies of idolized leaders like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. Simple lists of bullet points are what mainstream literature sells.

Simple Mangement Systems are good – simple minded Managers are not

There is a lot to be said in favor of simplicity. A sound management system must feel simple for everyone who happens to be working in a company. No Management system should ever distract from the work itself.

But there is one group that does not enjoy the luxury of the simplicity of working inside a well-defined System of Management. These are the Managers themselves, as they need to be aware of all the complexity, levers and buttons that are available to define and continuously tune a management model to the evolving environment the business faces. Only then results of an organization will be optimal.

Within complexity science two theorems are supporting this view:

  • Law of Requisite Variety (W. Ross Ashby): If a system is to be stable the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled
  • Good Regulator Theorem (Roger C. Conant and W. Ross Ashy): Every good regulator of a system must be a model of that system.

In other words: You got to know what you are managing. The more complex it is, the more there is to know.

However, this is not to say that everyone who is doing a bit of management needs to know the whole stack of knowledge on management systems. She just needs to know the relevant bits of the part she is responsible for. But at the highest level of management maximum knowledge about the science of management is essential.

Still, high-level managers can get away with limited knowledge if the business environment is sufficiently stable or sub par results are not immediately visible. But:

If the needs of an organization and business environment are not reflected in its System of Management, you have to expect systematical underperformance. In a changing environment, those managers stuck with just one (“their way”) of doing things, will underperform.

Heuristics help Managers – a catalog of Heuristics helps even  more

While fully sentient, all knowledgeable Managers are in short supply, there is no need to worry. If a situation is too complex to fully control, heuristics (i.e., rules of thumbs) do a better job controlling complexity, as Gerd Gigerenzer has shown in his 2014 book “Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions.” 


Still, having a catalog of alternative heuristics and being able to vary them at will is more powerful than just having to rely upon one heuristic to propel a manager through her professional career. In other words: Having specialized tools that can be applied to organizational problems instead of always using the same old hammer, makes a manager so much better.

Ergo: It’s good to build a managerial tool box containing highly specialized tools. So let’s get on with the next 27 criteria that distinguish modern management systems.


The “Good Manager” (aka the “Good Regulator) needs to know what he is managing. So what about if Mangement is a more distributed task and basically all employees are Managers in certain aspects at certain times. Does everyone need to know everything?

Shared Information – Shared consciousness

In such distributed management environments as Holacracy and Liberated Companies are, every employee has the right to know everything. Transparency is what is needed for management systems relying on the distribution of control.  The classical “Need to know” paradigm, i.e. employees just need to know what they need to know to do their assigned jobs, is not enough. Every employee should have the chance to understand the big picture and to know what the co-workers are up to.  As control is delegated to the social community (as in Liberated Companies) or regulated by a constitutional framework (as in Holacracy), informational transparency is a must. The goal is to achieve alignment on actions on specific targets based on a shared consciousness, commanders intent  – however you want to call it.

This shared consciousness is an objective of Management 3.0, too. But Management 3.0 focusses more on the path towards making more and more information available, according to the maturity level of the organization and its people. It highlights the fact that it is not much use overwhelming people with info. It might be more useful to educate people how to identify and process more and more bits of information over time. After all, people need to trust the information provided and need to feel secure in their actual freedom to act. This trust can not be achieved overnight – it must be grown.


Hands-off – Eyes on

Irrespectively of which of the new management systems one looks at, a managers communication styles shifts from the classical “hands on, eyes on” approach to a “hands off, eyes on” approach. It is important for a manager to listen to people and it is equally important to let people try to fulfill their responsibilities in whatever way they choose and not to intervene in the way how things are done.

This is pretty hard. “Hands off” means that managers will from time to time see people fail, while a word of advice could have prevented this failure.  There is a very fine line to walk here, especially if an organization is new to management systems relying on distributed control. The line between “advice” and “order” is a pretty vague one. The tool of choice here is to work with open questions “Why, What, How, When.”  That should allow the employee to reflect without the manager being too suggestive.

By the way: Do not ever try a “hands off – eyes off” communications approach. This would imply that you are either fired or dead.

Reporting & Metrics visible for everyone

Reporting in classical organizations is done via reports or broadcasts up and down the hierarchical line. In modern Management Systems reports are still existing, but they are available to everyone, in real time, irrespective to hierarchies. It’s a part of shared information – shared consciousness.

Open Work Space

The work space is a very powerful enabler of shared information – shared consciousness. To box up employees in cubicles or small offices is counter productive. The physical layout should follow the following principles instead:

  • Open work spaces with few walls
  • A lot of flexibility to rearrange sitting arrangements at will
  • Central service areas and walk ways arranged in a way to facilitate meeting one another across hierarchical levels and departmental lines
  • Spaces for people to retreat to focus on getting work done without interruption
  • Central metrics communicated with large scale print outs or screens that float into view of passers by, and not hidden in some corner


While this list can be extended one thing is not needed: Special amenities such as free food, massage services, gaming areas, etc. These might have their uses in certain situations for certain times, but they quickly become perks that are taken for granted and fail to motivate anyone in the long run. On the contrary: Perks breed a sense of entitlement over time. Once a person does feel a sense of entitlement, the perk is good for nothing except driving up costs.


Conflict in classical organizations is discouraged. A conflict signals that the organizational machine has a defect, there is a part not functioning as it should. Messengers bringing up a conflict are quickly associated with being the source of the conflict and are discouraged to bring a conflict to light. In the long run, experienced employees do not seek to highlight conflicts in classical organizations. Instead, they learn to rely on underhanded, subversive tactics to leave the job to point out conflicts and failure to others. This is just a classical feature of any autocratic structure:


In modern Management Systems conflicts are seen a chance to improve. Conflicts are an essential part of every social fabric. They do not necessarily need to be solved in the shortest possible time frame, as the metaphor of “failure of one part of the machine” dictates in classical organizations. Instead, conflicts are useful even if lingering over time, as they highlight an underlying tension which is better kept in the memory of the social fabric instead of being swept under the rug by the courtiers in hierarchical organizations.

In Liberated Companies, the social fabric will work out conflicts over time through the mechanisms inert to human societies since time immemorial, i.e. persuasion, coalitions and social pressure.

Holacracy is much more specific. A core feature of Holacrcies operating system, its constitution, is dedicated to solving so-called “Tensions” (i.e. Conflicts) through a prescribed agenda that needs to be followed in a “Governance Meeting”:

  1. Check in a round: Everyone says whats most on her mind. No discussion
  2. Administrative Concerns: Brief timing check
  3. Agenda building: Agenda are built on the fly with 2-word maximum by everyone
  4. Process agenda items with the “Integrative Decision Making.”:
    1. Present Proposal (by who raised the agenda item)
    2. Clarify questions: No discussions
    3. Reaction Round one: Everyone except Proposer, no discussions
    4. Amend and clarify (Proposer)
    5. Objection round
    6. Integration: Mainly objector and Proposer
    7. Return to objection round until solved
  5. Closing round: Everyone reflects on the meeting

Management 3.0 does not make specific recommendations who to resolve conflicts. It basically relies on a mixture of social pressure (as in Liberated Companies), participative meeting formats (of which are many, basically all agile practices like Stand-up meetings or post-mortems or classical one on ones). Very situative, rather vague, but in tune with its world view that complex environments do not lend itself to one approach fit all.

That’s it for now. The next posts in this series on comparing three modern management systems will be on Jobs, Motivation and (possibly) Outcomes. I hope you still enjoy the series – let me know what you think and tell your friends!

Last, not least: The updated Comparision Table:




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