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  • Writer's pictureJody Glynn Patrick

Employees = Nested CEOs inside your company


I’m challenging you today to think of each of your employees as a Russian nesting doll, a discrete and complete unit that is also part of a larger system. On a micro-level, every employee fits into a specific role necessary to the overall nesting quality, yet each is a unique size and holds a singular place in the organization.

Another way to say it is that I envision each staff member as a company inside a company.

Let’s use publishing a magazine as an example, since I’m on solid ground there. That paradigm is easy with editorial staff, where every writer has his or her own “beat.” It’s easy to apply to sales staff, where each media specialist has a specific list of accounts. It’s easy with art; there is a creative director and he or she “subs” some work out to graphic artists, who already have a freelance mentality. Does this logic extend to every employee at the publishing house? Yes, but only if everyone is encouraged and authorized to reset presets and function as true entrepreneurs with clearly identified customers who hold them accountable.

The Sue Company

Here’s a concrete example of what I mean. Sue was just promoted into an administrative support position as a new manager, with three people now reporting to her. I asked what challenges she anticipated in her new position. She mentioned she’d prefer job-sharing for awhile to better understand her subordinates' job responsibilities, and she wanted to improve scheduling conflicts, since the other workers spent 10 hours a week telecommuting. Was that permissable?

I suggested that Sue see herself as the CEO of her own firm. Her customer (me) was hiring The Sue Company. I don't care who does what work or even how -- as long as the assigned work gets done on time to the highest standards.

Sue asked a great question: Were her subordinates viewed as her partners or her employees? “It’s the Carol Company,” I replied. “You tell me.” Okay, she decided that one employee, Victoria, is now her partner. Sue wanted to know if Victoria should get a raise, too. "You have a set budget -- that's the 'revenue' you have to work with. You decide where and how the money is spent as CEO. Does she get a raise? Can you find the money in your budget without affecting your product quality? I'm not the CEO of the Sue Company, you are."

Next challenge for The Sue Company: Only one person could input data at a time into a main database, so how could she and Victoria really share workflow? Sue decided to make an Excel spreadsheet with duplicate fields and she did training on how to upload their inputs at staggered times, but meanwhile both could be working simultaneously. As CEO, Sue was inspired to reset a former procedural preset. She didn't have to bring it to higher management level and seek permissions, make a case, etc. She only had to be certain that what she did had no impact on the bigger company than improving workflow in her company.

We ticked off other troublesome presets one by one: Her “partner” telecommuted on bank deposit days (change the bank pickup schedule to days they both were there to allow for vacation coverage); people were accustomed to giving her partner assignments --redirect to Sue, who (as managing partner) would make daily assignments, etc. Sue needed the authority to reset the presets, and she was off and running as a new manager.

The Victoria Company

Now, let’s see things from Victoria's perspective. She remains on the formal organizational chart as Sue's direct report. But we now see her as CEO of The Victoria Company. Sue is her customer or managing partner, depending strictly on Victoria's mindset. Victoria telecommutes and has the trust of our organization (and her customer/managing partner, Sue) to be held accountable for results, so long as the work is completed on time and to standard. She’s trained, told what is expected of her, and encouraged to do it her best way, and to speak loudly and clearly if a conflicting  policy or preset could be improved.

No one employee is less important than another. Yes, some have specific professional talents or knowledge, while others bring more generalized support experience to the workplace, but each one represents a company of one, two, or maybe even five people -- depending on how they envision their company -- inside a larger company, inside another, and so on, enfolded to give your company the stability and structure it needs.

Your best managers understand (or could be trained to understand) that they manage expectations, resources and outcomes. No manager has the time (though too many have the desire) to micromanage people.

Something to consider.

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