8 Lessons from Decolonizing Management - Part 1

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As many of you know, we recently hit the halfway mark in our management training course, Decolonizing Management, and there are so many gems nestled into this curriculum for anti-capitalist leaders. In class we often reiterate that our managerial style and code of professional ethics is rooted in our personal values. From alternative hierarchies to ethical hiring and firing, to taking advantage of conflict, here are eight important take-aways from the syllabus so far.

  1. There are countless alternatives to the hierarchies we are most familiar with
    The way we organize in traditional work environments—a pyramidal hierarchy—is only one of the ways that we can work together. There are so many different problems in the world that need to be solved professionally, and there are some structures that are more effective in certain environments than in others. Being able to know that those exist and which ones work best is crucial to our success as managers. Some alternative management structures include: Reverse Pyramid, Mutual Aid, Circles of Accountability, Horizontal, and False Front.

  2. Your style as a manager is rooted in your values
    Each of us has a personal management style. There’s no perfect or right way to manage other people or projects. Not only are we dealing with the contexts that we’re in, but also who we are as individuals. Therefore, our personal values are going to influence the choices we make as a manager, and how we go about solving the challenges we come across.

  3. Understand what ethical hiring is and what it isn’t
    How we bring people into our organization says a lot about how we’ll manage them and what we’ll expect from them. That means approaching hiring as a 360-degree experience where the person we’re interviewing is also interviewing us back. We’re not the magnanimous employer granting this poor wretched person employment or an opportunity, or whatever bullshit is going on. We are an organization that needs a certain kind of labor to reach certain operational goals. In order to have a healthy relationship with the people who we hire to do this labor, we need to have open and clear communication from the start.

  4. Understand what ethical firing is and what it isn’t
    Just like how we bring people into our org is important, how people leave our org is also important. We don’t have an obligation to employ someone who isn’t a good fit for the organization, but we do have an obligation to treat people with respect, and communicate our expectations to our employees before it comes down to termination. No one ever wants to fire or lay off a person, but if we’re going to be in leadership, chances are we’ll have to do it at some point. We owe it to ourselves, our org, and our employees to learn how to do this in the least harmful way possible. That means being really clear about what will get people fired, having multiple interventions before firing, paying severance, never firing someone out of anger or joking about firing someone, and being as transparent as possible with the rest of the staff when one of their coworkers is fired.

  5. Mid-course evaluation
    We get to decide what we want to stop, start, or continue doing. Halfway through the course, every participant gets a chance to evaluate themselves and make changes to how things go in the rest of the course. This helps everybody get the learning experience they need, and it also showcases in real time how we can collaborate and execute changes mid-project.

  6. Project management techniques that work in the real world
    Project management is both an art and a science. When we pretend that there’s a perfect project plan, we disrespect the reality that we live in, and put unnecessary stress on ourselves and our team. Functional project planning means planning for unexpected obstacles by having a back-up plan or two. By leaving room for the unexpected and keeping our plans flexible, we can reach our goals, even in very chaotic times.

  7. Identify to whom we are accountable
    As managers, we almost always have more in common with our workers than we do with our bosses. We’ve been taught to hyper focus on the people who own the companies we work for, and the people who make high-level decisions in those organizations. But the people who make the company run, who create the product, are not the people who own the company. This applies to government work, micro enterprises, and nonprofit work as well. At the end of the day, the act of solidarity isn’t just a survival tactic, it’s also one of the few ways we get things done.

  8. Build skills that will help us take advantage of conflict
    Who benefits when we avoid conflict at all costs? It’s not our workers and it’s not us as managers and business owners. The right kind of conflict can and will make us better at what we do. But it’s important to be able to distinguish healthy and necessary conflict from unnecessary conflict or abuse.

The spring course runs through June, so stay tuned for Part 2 covering the lessons learned during the second half of class. If you’re interested in the full course, the fall cohort of Decolonizing Management starts in August, so sign up today to learn in community with a diverse group of nonprofit professionals committed to changing the way that we do business.

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