[The Pull Principle] Don’t Impose Commands, Offer Choices!

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Autonomy at Work: The Pull Principle

Offer choices!

Talking about the pull principle means to talk about not having authorities and hierarchies, but talking about responsibility and commitment. The pull principle means to have the freedom and autonomy to be responsible and committed. And vice versa people who like practicing pull and having their freedom don’t like authorities:

“Says [Marissa] Meyer: ‘They [, Larry Page and Sergey Brin,] don’t like authority and they don’t like being told what to do. […] To Google’s engineers, ‘Question Authority’ is not an anarchist’s bumper sticker, it’s an innovator’s imperative.” — Gary Hamel in The Future of Management

The freedom of the pull principle not only encourages people to do great things, to be the inventors of tomorrow, but it is absolutely necessary to have committed and responsible people:

“Authoritarians cannot impose commitments, only commands.” — Bill Gore, founder of W. L. Gore & Associates

You can’t command commitment and responsibility to people. Commanding “Be responsible!” isn’t gonna work. Actually, turns out commanding at all isn’t gonna work. Bill Gore says so literally:

“At Gore, tasks can’t be assigned, they can only be accepted; but since associates are measured and rewarded on the basis of their contribution to team success, they have an incentive to commit to more rather than less. […] [Engineer:] ‘If you tell anybody what to do here, they’ll never work for you again.'” — Gary Hamel in The Future of Management

This is the pure and fully fledged pull principle: no commands, just offers; no assignments, just acceptances; not “Do this!”, just “Here’s something you might be interested in!”.

Why isn’t the world, why aren’t all the organizations working with pull rather than push? Isn’t it obvious that pull has huge advantages over push? If it was that simple, I wouldn’t have to write all these words about pull.

“To a large extent, employees need managers for the same reason 13-year-olds need parents: they are incapable of self-regulation. Adolescents, with their hormone-addled brains and limited life experience, lack the discernment to make consistently wise choices. That’s why smart parents set boundaries on adolescent freedoms. Employees, on the other hand, aren’t short of wisdom and experience, but they do lack information and context – since they are so often disconnected from customers, associates, end products, owners, and the big financial picture. Deprived of the ability to exercice control from within, employees must accept control from above. The result: disaffection. It turns out that employees enjoy being treated like 13-year-olds even less than 13-years-olds.” — Gary Hamel in The Future of Management

Don’t treat people like children, treat them like adults! Don’t impose commands, offer choices! Don’t use push systems, use pull systems!

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint Exupéry

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About Bernd Schiffer

Bernd Schiffer is consultant, trainer and coach for Agile Software Development in Melbourne, Australia. Learn more about him on his personal homepage, have a look at his company Bold Mover, or contact him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, XING or LinkedIn.

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