11. June 2024

Why is everyone talking about… ‘unbossed cultures'?

Personio Pulse: This Week in HR - 3

Welcome to Personio Pulse: This Week in HR, where each week we take a look at the latest trends in the world of work, what you need to know about them and what they mean for you as an HR professional. 

This week we’re talking about the idea of ‘unbossed cultures’ and what it might mean for your HR team, managers and employees.

What you need to know

We’ve written about it before, but it’s a difficult time to be a middle manager. In fact, the latest data from Live Data Technologies has found that middle managers account for approximately 30% of job cuts across industries. But is this more a question of style over substance? 

What we’re also seeing is the rise of what’s being called ‘unbossed’ culture. This is an older leadership methodology gaining prominence, which prioritises more self-directed teams, flatter organisations and managers who ‘lead’ rather than ‘supervise’ larger cohorts of direct reports. 

This idea squares with a lot of current employee expectations. Especially in younger groups like Gen Z workers, employees don’t want to be monitored or told exactly what they to do. Instead, they are looking to leadership for inspiration, top-level guidance and career development.  

What others are saying about it 

One company at the forefront of the discussion is Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company that is taking the lead on how to be ‘unbossed’. Their plan is to “develop inclusive leaders who are self-aware and able to adapt to an increasingly complex world.” 

This emphasis on leadership over management, and turning managers into mentors, is critical to unbossed culture. It’s not simply about removing layers or eliminating managers, but making them more important in the process of employee development. 

In conversation with WorkLife, Joe Galvin, Chief Research Officer at Vistage, suggests that employees in unbossed environments can “operate with much more independence in certain situations, but it also puts pressure on them to be accountable for their results and performance.”

What that means for you

The difference between being a ‘boss’ and being a ‘leader’ has never been more pronounced or more important. Therefore, your HR team should think about ways to establish and support leaders — without having employees feel ‘bossed’. 

That can be accomplished by embracing the following: 

  • Invest in leadership: Think about the training programmes you currently run for managers. Consider if they’re developing skills that are in demand for both your organisation and your employees. 

  • Revisit reporting lines: Your organisational structure may need a rethink if you desire a more unbossed culture. Think about how you currently draw your reporting lines, consider if they are too prescriptive and if employees feel more monitored than motivated.

  • Focus on development: Employees want their managers and leaders to take a keen interest in their development. You should ensure that your organisation has clear career progression and development plans in place to satisfy this demand.  

Unbossed culture is not simply about removing managers. Instead, HR teams should think about how they are empowering employees to do their work without supervision. They should also consider how managers can play a role in that dynamic. 

What else should I read? 

That's all for this week's edition of Personio Pulse: This Week in HR. Check back next week as we continue to dissect the latest trends impacting the ways we work. 

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About Max Specht

About Max Specht

Max Specht is a Content Marketing Manager at Personio, where he writes about a host of topics critical to the HR industry: recruiting, onboarding, development, and more. As a journalist, his goal is to help experts in the field of HR share their insights in a digestible, actionable way.

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