Nicky and Henry, Happy staff

Let People Choose Their Managers

Imagine one of your most valued members of staff comes to you and says, ‘I love my job. I love the people I work with. I am even happy with what I am being paid. But I can’t stand my manager.’

If the conflict can’t be resolved the most common outcome is that they will leave.

A study by the Chartered Management Institute UK found that 47% of respondents in the UK left their last role because they were badly managed and that 49% would be prepared to take a pay cut to be able to work with a different manager.

At Happy, we can solve it in about five minutes. We simply ask who they would like instead as their manager.

This may not be common but Happy is not alone in this approach. At WL Gore, the multi-billion company behind Goretex, they also let people choose their managers, arguing that “if you want to be a leader, you’d better find some followers.”

The results are interesting. Some people do change their managers because they don’t get on with them. Others have changed because they’ve become too close, while some feel the need for a new guide for the next stage of their development. If you do find everybody deserts a certain manager it probably tells you something important about their strengths and weaknesses and where they need to develop.

Professor Julian Birkinshaw of London Business School asks, “what would management be like if it was decided by those who are managed?” Probably both different and more effective, I would say. And being able to choose who manages you would make simple sense.

We do have a slightly different structure to the norm, with the person who manages and coaches you often separated from the person who you deliver work to. But that isn’t so unusual nowadays. Many people work on projects where the Project Leader is not their line manager.

So think about it. Would you hold onto more employees? Would they grow new skills? Would you create a happier workplace if you let people choose their managers?

This blog was originally a guest post on the Delivering Happiness website.

1 response to “Let People Choose Their Managers”

  1. Henry,

    Thank you so much for this advice. Since reading the Happy Manifesto I have used this approach twice. 

    I prefer to promote internally but sometime it is impossible so I have had to recruit a Revenue Manager and an Operations Manager from outside. In both cases all my heads of departments interviewed all the applicants. The rules are that we employee the person they agree on, no matter if I agree or don’t. (it has coursed some painful hours of waiting).

    The result of the new approach is that both new colleagues “hit the floor running” and were able to add value and gain trust, respect and fit into our culture so quickly that people outside our property think that they have been working here for ages.

    We have since extended the approach to the entire “company”. All new colleagues are interview or do work trails before they are employed.


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