Self-management Everest: Who wants to climb to the top?



From a distance, self-management is like a beautiful mountain, standing out of the traditional organizational landscape. Its shining summit in the morning sun, its slopes glowing in the peaceful snow seem the perfect incarnation of harmony. You just want to be at that top, looking at the world around, breathing the pure and feeling “invigorated” by the high altitude air.

But like many mountain treks, getting your company there can be a long and hard journey. A voyage worth taking that you too can take and plan for.

Prepare your ascent: train to become resilient, agile and autonomous

Ensure a good physical and agile condition:

To ensure its success, you need to carefully prepare your company-body for the ascent.

Your company must exercise regularly to stay fit and agile. This includes:

  • Training on some agile principles for project management, such as lean, scrum or Kanban, to see if those transparent and adaptable processes can work for you
  • Training on communication techniques, such as Non Violent Communication, for conflict resolution and sharing information
  • Setting a weekly “get out of your comfort zone” for teams and individuals, to train our "muscles" to dare something new, and see how far it can lead us

Follow an autonomy diet

At all levels of your company-body, get rid of the “responsibility-heavy fat”. Rid yourself of those useless pounds, leading you to a healthier weight. This includes:

  • becoming lighter on your decisions and responsibilities
  • delegating or giving up the useless or low value-added tasks, like non productive meetings, controlling, giving instructions, reviewing your team’s work. Reduce these to a strict minimum.
  • using collaborative dynamics such as Open Space, World Café etc. to invite an experience of shared leadership

Train your mind

To make sure you are in the right mental state to start your ascent, mental training is key. It means:

  • Gain confidence and be inspired: Read about companies and people that are already on the journey. Listen to Doug Kirkpatrick from Morning Star now with NuFocus, a wise Sherpa who has made the self-management climb many times with others. (now teaming with self-management expert Suzanne Daigle). Understand the mechanics and benefits of it.
  • Get rid of your stereotypes and preconceived ideas about people. Seek training on organizational behaviors, psychology, neuroscience etc, to get a better grip around human complexity.
  • As a leader, try exposing yourself to extreme conditions: Get away from your company for holidays and turn off your phone and email for 10 days.

Take safety measures

Choose a guide and sherpa

You can try it alone, but that way is dangerous, and having external guidance might be your best chance of success. Select someone that knows the processes and its pitfalls well, and who can point out dangers or reassure you that you are on the right track. Someone who can guide and support you, offering an external and global perspective, such as an Harmonist.

You also need to ensure you have strong support around you to help you carry the load and key responsibilities of this transformation; that can support you in times of doubt and stress along the way.

Pack a safety bag

Make sure you have as few items as possible, but those must be with you at all times:

  • Financial stability: if your company-body gets sick, your chances of success are low. Make sure you have a minimum of cash stability to start with some serenity and to ease the small pains that will appear along the way.
  • Full freedom of action: you need your legs and arms to move freely. Ensure buy in and total trust from your executive committee. Get as many of them involved in the project. Same with your shareholders if any: they must understand the project, its risks and benefits, especially long term, and trust you. Delegate all key responsibilities and put some projects on hold so you can focus on your only goal: climbing and reaching the top.
  • Allies: you need a bag with lots of support along the way. These weigh nothing and every step of the way, they can lighten your load. Gather support not only from your executive team, but also from employees, and key stakeholders: like hikers seeking sponsors, share your project with clients, with suppliers, with partners… Speak with your heart to get stakeholders excited. And ensure your family and friends are also part of this, ready to support and cheer you on.


Ascent to the top, one step at a time

Go from base camp to base camp

In any major climb or ascent, there are steps you need to follow, else you will be out of breath and energy. Your body must get back its internal stability before you can move higher up in the mountain.

Same with self-management: you need to go through stages, and let your company find back its harmony before moving to the next. If we follow the Reinventing Organizations/ Spiral Dynamics rule, you must first assess where you are starting from in terms of stages. A Harmonist can help you discover where your energy is currently directed.

Start with small steps

No need to rush, aim for an even and sustainable pace in the best way to both walk up a mountain or move your organization forward. There are thousands of different tracks. Take your time to select those that best fit your culture and pace of change.

Examples of tracks you can take to set yourself up for progress and success:

Limited experimentations: Start with small and time-bound experiments, such as pilot teams self-organizing, Open Space events, internal hackathons etc. tied to real issues and opportunities in the business.

Physical change: reorganize office space, with non-assigned (or highly personalizes) desks, maintain closed rooms only for meetings or quiet time, creative rooms

Feedback loops: communicate your project to the entire company, get feedback and ideas from a wide range of people and trust them to implement and test them for 3 months, gather and discuss feedback and start another loop.

Be aware of dangers

Be forewarned, the self-management path is not a walk in the park. Nature, if unprepared, can catch you off guard with many dangers lurking that can stop you in your track:

  • Cliffs of power: the temptation to hang on to power can kill the project. Make sure you are tightly tied to each other so that if you fall, other will firmly bring you back on track.
  • Blizzard of doubt: sometimes you will not see further than your nose. Results will not be tangible, the path will disappear. In those cases trust your guide and keep walking. The sun will come back to show you the distance you covered even in times of doubt.
  • Frozen resistance: there will always be parts of the body that, if not properly covered and heated, will freeze in times of change. Set up a good monitoring system to ensure you constantly check the temperature in all parts of your body so that you can take measures and heat them up with enthusiasm if needed.
  • Stress avalanche: if you did not carefully delegate your responsibilities, you may soon be buried with tasks and worries that might suffocate you with and prevent you from moving forward. Make sure your employees are there to dig you out of the snow of stress before you freeze all changes.

It is all about mindset

Going through all those stages and bringing your company to the top requires mental strength.

You need to be patient, as change does not happen overnight. You need to stumble and fall many time before you know how to walk. Sometimes the weather is not good and you need to stay longer at a base camp. Until harmony is shining back in your company and you are ready to move on.

You need to open your mind, accept that there are many things you cannot control, and many more that you can influence if you are in the right mindset. You will feel relieved. Be authentic. Trust your instinct and listen to your heart.

You need courage. Some slopes will be harder than others. It will be tempting to turn back to your base camp. You will often be on the edge of the next ledge. This is not comfortable. Look up and forward, be brave, and your company-body will keep its balance. Look down at how far you have climbed and use that as fuel to continue.

You made it!

And you can now picture yourself at the top of this mountain. The sun is rising and the sound of silence plays its unique melody. The natural beauty surrounding you fills you with joy and pride. You have made it to the top. This moment of perfect harmony is the first day of a new life for your company.

You take a deep breath, and then dive into the immensity of this new world. It took a leap of faith, lots of preparation and learning along the way and now you know that you are ready to conquer more mountains. You know what it takes, you did it with others. What an incredible future ahead.