Corporate liberation helps unleash your team's greatest potential

From flexible work schedules to self-management strategies, companies have been looking at different ways to mobilize and energize their teams for improved productivity, greater retention, and higher overall engagement. In his best-selling book, Freedom, Inc., Isaac Gertz offers leaders an alternative to traditional top-down management practices that provides teams with the freedom and confidence they need to do their best work. Gertz refers to this alternative as corporate liberation and the movement is already gaining traction among large companies throughout Europe.

What does corporate liberation in action look like?

In many ways, corporate liberation is a spark from a slow-burning fire that has been smoking out archaic control-based management methods for years now. Instead of one or more managers wielding control in terms of goals, standards, methods, and strategy, corporate liberation gives greater autonomy and responsibility to the people at the frontlines of the business itself.

“A liberated company allows employees complete freedom and responsibility to take actions that they—not their managers—decide are best for their company’s vision,” says Gertz. This is not to say that these companies are operating “unmanaged.” Rather, managers take on a coach-like role and help work through any barriers preventing team members from enacting the solution or plan they want to implement.

Asking team members to devise their own plan to address business challenges or opportunities “accomplishes two vital things… [the manager] places herself in the service of her team, rather than above them as a supervisor, and this in turn has a direct impact on the behaviour of her team: It starts to liberate them to act on their own initiative, rather than passively awaiting direction from above,” Gertz explains.

Benefits of liberating your team

The rationale behind corporate liberation is rooted in universal psychological needs—the need to be treated as intrinsically equal, the need for personal growth, and to exercise self-direction—that Gertz argues are inherently stifled by traditional control-based hierarchies. When these needs are satisfied, the result is an extremely high level of engagement and intrinsic motivation among team members.

According to a 2017 Gallup Employee Engagement survey, more than 70% of employees working in freedom-based companies report feeling engaged at work, compared to 33% of all U.S. employees surveyed. A growing list of research studies suggests engagement is directly correlated to productivity, safety, retention, sales, and profits.

Companies that have joined the liberation movement

A number of well-known businesses have adopted the corporate liberation model including Decathlon, a sports equipment retailer with 80,000 employees who, after launching their workplace transformation in 2013, increased revenue by $3.68 billion as of 2017 and was ranked the #1 Great Place to Work in France in both 2017 and 2018.

At Michelin, a global leader in tire manufacturing, teams in a German plant self-direct activities, schedules, vacation, and also design and monitor their own performance indicators. The company also boasts impressive growth since implementing the changes and was ranked the #1 America’s Best Large Employer in 2018.

Leadership tips: Steps you can take to promote a culture of freedom and autonomy

Relinquish control . This might seem obvious when we’re talking about a freedom-based, control-free model, but its importance cannot be overstated. Gertz points out, “Your employees won’t believe you trust their intelligence if you are always the one with the ‘best solution.’”

A shared vision is a must . A meaningful, well-communicated company vision is the north star by which your teams will guide their important decisions. Set them free, but don’t forget to give them a compass.

Create a culture of respect . Gertz refers to this as “the respect tide—the climate in which most manager-leaders show through their actions that they respect and trust employees.”

Remove obstacles . There is one question managers should be asking their team regularly: What is standing in your way? Help eliminate obstacles by regularly asking employees to evaluate organizational processes and identify the structural elements that no longer serve growth. Then ask them to redesign those processes.

Serve more, manage less . As teams assume more responsibility and decision-making, managers will find they now have more time to take on the rewarding task of nurturing their liberated teams and supporting autonomy rather than enforcing authority.

When encouraged and empowered to take charge of the business’ success, all indications suggest that teams flourish and thrive. So, what’s standing in your way of becoming a liberating leader?


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