One of the many surprises from The Year Without Pants is that Automattic, makers of WordPress.com, doesn’t pay employees more when them become a team leader. They consider being a leader a role, not a job. One of the fun experiments this enabled for me while I worked there was to step down as lead and report to someone who used to report to me, something I’ve rarely seen done gracefully before.
If managers don’t get paid more, this dramatically changes several dynamics about management and leadership:
- Money is removed as the motivation for becoming a leader
- Instead only people who purely want to be leaders take the role
- If they’re unhappy in the role, they have no reason to stay
- (Related: list of why managers become assholes)
In many organizations getting promoted into management is the only promotion path. The result is many people ill suited and even uninterested in leading groups take on those roles, with negative consequences across the organization. If you know of managers who clearly don’t like managing, you and they have been victimized by an organization that has misplaced how and why it rewards people.
During my 20 months working at WordPress.com the people in lead roles were mostly stable, and many people had been in a leadership role for two years or more. But the clarity around leadership being a role changed how leads behaved. It made leaders far less territorial, for they knew, much like being a Senator or a representative, that they were part of a larger system. Leadership as a role was one of many cultural attributes at Automattic that are unusual for corporations, and it’s their culture that allowed them do to so many things we’d all love in our own workplaces.
Of course management and leadership are not precisely the same things, and a manager in one organization has differently responsibilities than in others. But the question remains: would changing how managers are rewarded lead to people better suited for the task being interested and better performance in the position?
[Update 1/29/15] The concept of dual ladders is one way to officially support a path for increased rewards without having to become a manager.