Stop Managing People

Most managers spend too much time and energy managing people’s behaviors, activities, and attitudes. Instead, try to support people in making agreements for the things they will produce and deliver. Help them to promise results and outcomes. The “people issues” don’t always come first. Here are some thoughts to help you shift gears from People-Management to Managing Agreements.

  1. Most people think an organization looks like this:Big Cheese HiearchySo they communicate along those “Lines of authority and reporting” and try to manage what’s going on inside those Boxes.  What’s in the Boxes? People doing stuff. Managing the Boxes means managing people, behaviors, and sometimes attitudes too. Diving deep into those Boxes is usually called “micro-managing”.

But the way an organization really works is that people inside the Boxes send and receive things like products, services, and communications (i.e., “deliverables”) to people, sometimes to people in their own Box, and sometimes to people in Other Boxes. Putting your management-attention on those deliverables has people be Senders and Receivers (not attitudes and behaviors). You can manage the agreements people make for what will be sent and received between them, instead of managing the people themselves. That means an organization working toward reaching a goal actually looks something like this:

Big Cheese HotwireThe Arrows in that diagram are not “Lines of authority”. They represent agreements that are created in a dialogue between Senders and Receivers. The dialogue includes making clear requests and promises.

2. Request + Promise = Agreement

These agreements define the What, When, and Why of each product, service, and communication to go between each Sender and Receiver.

Managing people’s agreements for what they will produce and deliver means you work with them to: (a) Define what goes on the Arrows they are responsible to make connections and deliveries, and (b) Develop agreements with their Senders and Receivers about What to deliver, When to deliver it, and Why it matters.

No more relying on authority or micro-management: your goal-team meetings can support people to create the agreements and track and report the progress of those agreements. Believe this: it actually empowers people (and makes them more productive) when they are given responsibility rather than being “supervised”.

Another place where managers can shift attention out of the Boxes and onto the “network of agreements” is Project Management. Projects are usually managed like this:










A Gantt chart is useful to manage “People Doing Work”, but that has a manager focusing only on tasks and timelines. Nothing wrong with that. But when you see your project as a network of agreements, you force everyone on the team to consider all the “outside groups” who are invested in your project in some way. These are people your project team needs to create agreements with – and it has the added benefit of defining your project to include all necessary deliveries of critical products, services, or communications. No more worries about dropping out someone who needed to be in the loop.

A simplistic 20,000-foot view of a sample project gives you the general idea:











This hub-and-spoke diagram is a network that will nudge you into identifying all your key “agreement partners” for the project. It doesn’t mean you won’t manage timelines – time will always be a key element in the agreements you make for deliveries that need to go back and forth in order to meet project goals. But no more relying on “expectations” – now you create agreements and put them in writing, track progress, and follow up on status changes.

Managing agreements is usually a pretty neat and tidy way to do business. Plus, it lets your people be more grown up and creative. Not to mention it gets you out of having to micromanage everybody and everything that’s happening.


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