The Founding Fathers of the US had something other than a pyramid in mind when it came to organizational structure. They understood that such a structure promotes and encourages a top-down, micro-managed, controlling and persecution culture – something from which they were trying to escape. As the antithesis of that mindset, they instead spoke of rights for the people that could never be transferred or taken away. They spoke of protecting the needs of the common man and doing right by them. They declared their independence in terms of human rights.
Following the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers drafted a constitution that was 180 degrees from the pyramid mentality, which they had despised. What they created in its place was a “Leaderless, No One’s in Charge” society. It was a brilliantly designed system of checks and balances that separated the powers of government.
One thing is for certain, this did not occur by happenstance. The intention was to prevent and deny any one part of the federal government from having too much power at the expense of the other parts, and especially of the people the government was to be serving.
Like an unstable Stealth Bomber inflight, the system of government the Founding Fathers created would forever require tweaking to keep it functioning. It was purposefully designed to create a continuous condition of give and take between the parts of the federal government as well as between the states and the federal government. No one part of what they proposed was ever to win all the power. Their mantra was “sovereignty for the people” and the system they created was unprecedented.
According to Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to a friend in 1820, he wrote, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.”
Sovereignty, according to Webster is “supreme authority, complete independence and self-government.”
In other words, our Founding Fathers built a government whose purpose was not to control the people, but one that the people controlled. They created an anti-pyramid structure in which no one person, entity or party was in charge, while giving the ultimate authority to the people, making each person partially in charge.
In Alfred Sloan’s book, My Years with General Motors he talks at length of how he, as part of the anti-pyramid, anti-centralization, anti-top-down management philosophy, went through great pains to decentralize and create an entirely new culture throughout GM.
The problem Sloan and the rest of American Management ran into, was that de-centralization proved to be merely another aspect of centralization. In spite of Sloan’s efforts, his decentralization philosophy remained a top down culture. The primary difference between the two was that instead of being told what to do and how to do it, his people were still told what to do, but permitted to figure out how to do it on their own.
Perhaps the opposite of centralization is not decentralization but anti-centralization, which is a far cry closer to where the Founding Fathers were headed. Unlike decentralization, anti-centralization is more of a leaderless, “no-one-in-charge” system. According to the Founding Fathers, the intent of government was not to control the people, but to exercise and carry out their sovereign authority. The trick to making a “leaderless, no one in charge” system work, is to create a system that minimizes and clearly defines what everyone must agree on. To do that, the Founding Fathers understood that they would have to create common norms and standards.
An example of their brilliance can be realized at every street corner. Let’s say you are one of some thirty pedestrians standing at a busy intersection with another thirty or so also waiting to cross when the light changes. The walk light goes on. Do you and 59 other pedestrians collide into one another or do you instinctively avoid bumping into each other? It works because the people involved in the process are cooperating enough to make certain it works. According to political scientist Charles Lindblom, this phenomenon is called mutual adjustment. “In a generally understood environment of moral rules, norms, conventions and mores, very large numbers of people watch each other, then modify their own behavior just enough to accommodate the differing purposes of others, but not so much that the mutual adjusters lose sight of where they themselves want to go.”
Simply stated, rules work when nearly all those who need to abide by the rules do so because the rules make sense to them. Take a look at our driving rules. The light is red so you stop. The light is green and you proceed. You are expected to drive on the right hand side of the road and most cars are built with left side steering to encourage you to do so. Should you not agree with either the traffic signal or driving on the right hand side of the road rule, you can try to drive through a red light and drive on the left-hand side of the road. Chances are you are likely to kill someone or be killed in the process. Therefore, as a matter of common sense and safety, you choose to obey the rules.
Consider this. There are not enough police in the world to enforce these two driving laws. It would be impossible. Therefore, when you get right down to it, enforcement of these laws is the prevailing sentiment of the people who all share the roads.
Therefore, anti-centralization cannot happen unless there is mutual agreement regarding the standards on whatever is central to the system. It is a system whereby no one is in charge, yet everyone is in charge. The Internet is another prime example of anti-centralization. No one is in charge, yet everyone is in charge. There is worldwide, mutual agreement on the standards central to the system.
The primary reason why anti-centralization can work better today than ever before lies in the abundance and accessibility of data and information. With the advent of the computer and the world-wide web it is everywhere. It moves and spreads like a Montana wildfire. Like dust or sand in the wind, it’s difficult, if not impossible to contain. No one can own it. You can only choose to deliver it or not deliver it. And even when you choose not to, you can bet it will somehow make its way somewhere else, whether you want it to or not.
To understand the difference between data and information, let’s take a restaurant menu. Data is a restaurant menu when you are not hungry. Information is that same restaurant menu when you are. With information people can make intelligent decisions. Without it, they can’t. Therefore, from data comes information. But it does not end there. From information comes knowledge and from knowledge comes wisdom.
What then is the successful formula for making a “no one’s in charge” system work? It’s what the Founding Fathers understood when they created The Constitution. It’s having a mix of informed, knowledgeable, wise and aware people,
To implement an anti-centralized, no one’s in charge system in your business:
1. Accept the fact that everyone in your company is partly in charge and no one person, including yourself is completely in charge. When you are in control you are actually out of control. And when you are out of control, you are really in control. Trying to control everything and micro-manage is like trying to teach a pig to sing. You’ll only frustrate yourself and exacerbate the pig.
2. Understand that most of what each of us does every day does not happen because someone told us to do it.
3. Accept the premise that how big a part any one person within the company plays depends upon how responsible they feel for the general outcome of the collective effort.
4. People only support what they have helped create. Involve as many of your people as possible. The more people affected by a decision feel that they were consulted about it, rather than told about it, the more likely it is that the you will get their buy-in and increase its chances for success.
5. Make certain your people understand your company’s values and that the company truly lives by the values it has established.
6. Keep your policies, procedures, standards, practices and protocols simple and un-complicated. The fewer and less constringent your company rules are, the better. The tighter the rules the greater the frustration level and the less likely you are to either involve or inspire your people. The more room there is for individual discretion, insight and initiative the better.
7. Grow your people. The more educated, aware and knowledgeable your people are, the better off your business becomes. Encourage them to read, grow, experiment and further their education. Encourage them to learn, share and expand their horizons. Think in terms of being a boundaryless organization accepting ideas and input from all corners.
8. Do not plan in isolation. To be effective, planning requires involvement and input from the many. Involve your people in the planning process. One, they will have a much better understanding of what they need to do once they understand the plan. Two, they will have a much better understanding of the plan if they contributed to its creation in the first place.
9. Eliminate secrets. One way or another you can count on information being shared throughout the company. Information, whether accurate or inaccurate, usually gets created by way of the grapevine. To circumvent and/or eliminate the grapevine, it is best that all, or at least as much accurate information as possible is shared in the first place.
By adopting and implementing our Founding Father’s original, “no one’s in charge” approach, you can actually create a horizontally integrated, interdependent, teamwork-minded, completely aligned infrastructure, with all of your employees pulling on the same rope in the same direction.
If you found this article of interest, kindly pass it on to your suppliers’ management. Should you wish to learn more about strategically aligning your own company’s objectives, the benefits of strategic planning, and how to get your employees pulling on the same rope in the same direction, visit www.altfeldinc.com or contact Jim Altfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 1-800-397-0010.