Management Detox and the Power of Trust
I will never forget my first day at work at Atlanta Tech Village a little over a year ago. When I arrived, David Cummings showed me around and filled me in a bit on his big plans to turn the 1980s corporate office building into the largest entrepreneurial center in the Southeast. Then I met my awesome teammates and got to work. About halfway through the day, something happened that dramatically changed the way I viewed myself and my work. I sent David a quick question on how he’d like me to handle guests coming into the Atlanta Ventures office and this was his reply:
“I’d like you to be as autonomous as possible so that you feel empowered.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have been quite that shocked. But I was. Like many (arguably, most) people who work in any type of traditional corporate structure, I was very used to having someone always looking over my shoulder. Here are some symptoms of micromanagement that I was suffering from:
- A learned, constant need for direction (because of how often I had been redirected and told I was going about something the wrong way).
- A persistent need for affirmation. This is partly due to my personality (I thrive on affirming words), but was exacerbated by an imbalanced environment where it was natural to assume that no feedback meant my boss was displeased with my work.
- A fear-based compulsion to prove the value of my work that at times distracted me from focusing on the greater good of the company.
- Lack of efficiency when working on projects because I was so preoccupied with what my superior would think, rather than focusing on producing the best results I could.
- Belief in the myth that the amount of time spent on a project (or at the office) was just as important as the quality of the result.
I was pretty embarrassed as I started to become aware of these issues and how they interfered with my ability to be a great employee. For the first part of my professional life, a micromanaged environment was all I knew. But at Atlanta Tech Village, I was suddenly surrounded by a ton of entrepreneurs who had no desire to micromanage their employees – they preferred to create a positive corporate culture that draws in top talent, making their companies more successful. I was honored and excited to be a part of that type of community, but diving in headfirst made my inaugural months at Atlanta Tech Village like something of a management detox.
The leaders at Atlanta Tech Village are big believers in ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) and non-traditional management structures. As I’ve experienced it, ROWE succeeds at the intersection of empowerment and responsibility. While it’s not a flawless approach to management, I think the benefits for both employee and company outweigh the downsides. Here are some of the aspects of this different type of work environment that changed me the most during those first few months of management detox:
- Titles don’t matter (at least internally). The people that matter judge me based on the quality of the results I produce through my work, not what my business card says.
- My time is my own, and I am trusted to use it wisely. I don’t have set hours and we don’t have a vacation policy, so I have a lot of flexibility to use my time in whatever ways help me produce the best results.
- Growth happens organically, which allows the organization to grow more quickly. If the projects on my plate become too much for me to handle alone, I have the ability to work with my teammates to find a solution. The solution could be changing the nature of the project, changing the way projects are distributed among the team, or looking into bringing on a new team member. We are trusted to work together to find the best solution for the company as a whole.
- The people I work with trust me to make wise decisions in my area. The initial decisions I was entrusted with at the Village were small ones like how to handle reception. These days, I am trusted with larger concerns, like how to run our accelerator program. The simple fact that the people I work for trust me to make good decisions on behalf of the company, regardless of the task, empowers me to be a better employee.
I dare say that trust is the most powerful side effect of autonomy in a healthy work environment. Trust is what helped me feel empowered to produce the great work I know I’m capable of once I had sufficiently detoxed from my years under micromanagement.
The team at Atlanta Tech Village is full of talented, hardworking individuals who are a further testament to the power of trust. Our team dynamic isn’t perfect. Most of us had to go through management detox and there are days when we still are trying to adjust to our non-traditional structure. We have our fair share of internal conflict and there are always areas to improve. But overall, I think it’s working. The combination of autonomy and trust we’ve been given is empowering us to build an amazing community, one that I believe is helping to make Atlanta great.