# Management at White Rabbit
Excellence in management is at the core of every great company, but managers can’t do it alone. At White Rabbit we view management as a collective activity. Management isn’t just what managers do; it’s what we all do. Management is all pervasive and extends across all functions, all processes, and all people.
Employees join companies but leave managers. A Gallup poll of more 1 million employed U.S. workers concluded that the No. 1 reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor. 75% of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their bosses and not the position itself. In spite of how good a job may be, people will quit if the reporting relationship is not healthy. People leave managers not companies.
Some companies have tried to solve this problem by getting rid of all the managers and running a completely flat organization. But we disagree with pretending that a top-down hierarchy doesn’t exist or that the organization’s people must transcend its leadership. Instead, we focus on designing the organization to give employees a great amount of freedom and responsibility to exhibit self-managed behaviors. Specifically, we attempt to manage by context, not control.
Leaders at White Rabbit rarely pull out their authority card to create a self-managed environment: if leaders appear to take too much control, then the organization will stop behaving in a self-managed manner. Rather than relying on authority, our leaders almost exclusively depend on feedback, communication, relationships, and influence.
The move-by-move control that seemed natural to military operations proved less effective than nurturing the organization — its structure, processes, and culture — to enable the subordinate components to function with ‘smart autonomy.’
—General McChrystal, Team of Teams
# General Principles and Practices
- Set requirements and expectations upfront and give people the responsibility to meet them.
- Avoid creating too much process. If responsibilities are clear, the process will emerge from the interactions of the collaborators.
- Teach everyone how to contribute to the single-source of truth, no exceptions. Require regular contributions from everyone.
- Always iterate on your processes, but avoid 'meta work' (overhead and people management) as much as possible.
- Reviewing (micro-managing) work in progress both directly, and indirectly through meetings is a waste of time. Instead team members are encouraged to seek feedback early when there are doubts about the feasibility, functionality, scope, or outline of this deliverable.
# Investing in Context
We believe high performance people will do better work when they understand the context. In pursuing their objectives, managers at White Rabbit are encouraged to use communication and influence, over command and control. This is why we do new employee onboarding, why we are transparent about decision-making, and why we are so open internally about strategies and results.
# Context over Control
By creating an environment of transparency around decision-making and providing as much relevant context as possible, managers empower their direct reports with tremendous authority to make their own decisions and to design their own processes to get the job done.
|Control (avoid)||Context (embrace)|
|Planning and process valued more than results||Objectives|
|Knowledge of the stakes|
|Transparency around decision-making|
A manager shouldn’t blame her staff when they do something dumb. Instead, she should ask herself, what context did I fail to set? When a manager feels tempted to control a direct report, she should instead ask herself, what context could I set instead? Could I be more articulate and inspiring about goals and strategies?
# Good context
- Links to company and functional goals - What are we trying to do? Why are we doing this?
- Establishes relative priority - How important? How time sensitive?
- Critical (needs to happen now); or,
- Nice to have (when you can get to it)
- Specifies level of precision & refinement
- No errors (credit cards handling, etc...); or, Pretty good/can correct errors (website); or, Rough (experimental)
- Identifies key stakeholders Defines key metrics and success
# Exceptions to “Context, not Control”
- During an emergency - Control can be important in an emergency when there isn’t enough time to take a long-term, capacity-building view.
- During a transition - Control can be important when someone is still learning their area. It takes times to pick up the necessary context for a new job role.
# Consider Task-Relevant Maturity
- When someone’s skills for a task are LOW —temporarily, no doubt—give structured, task-oriented instructions. Tell them when, what, and how.
- When someone’s skills for a task are MEDIUM, emphasize discussion, provide relevant context, and give feedback and support. Focus on the individual and any needs they have.
- When someone’s skills for a task are HIGH, be hands off. Establish objectives and monitor as needed.
Managers: Don’t confuse people’s task-relevant maturity with their general competence. Just because someone was great at one task does not mean they’re well-prepared for another.
# Freedom and Responsibility
Freedom and responsibility are at the heart of our approach to management. We aim to give teams and individuals great autonomy in making decisions about their work—from how it’s done to where and when it’s done. However, this style of management only works well when employees, like you, take great responsibility for organizational success. A responsible person honors commitments: we do what we promise each other, our customers, and our partners. A responsible person fixes problems when they are still small, before they blow up into a massive issue.
# The Responsible Person
- Acts like a leader
- Doesn’t wait to be told what to do
- Picks up the trash lying on the floor
White Rabbit is yours to steer—toward opportunities and away from risks. You have the power to figure out for yourself what our customers want, and then give it to them.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, that sounds like a lot of responsibility,” you’re right. And that’s why hiring is the single most important thing you will ever do at White Rabbit. Any time you interview a potential hire, you need to ask yourself not only if they’re talented or collaborative but also if they’re capable of literally running this company—because they will be.
# Managing Others
Being a manager is a complex, multi-facueted set of activities we can’t cover in-depth in this handbook. But we find that great managers have the following talents:
- They motivate every single employee to take action and engage employees with a compelling mission and vision.
- They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
- They create a culture of clear accountability.
- They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
- They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.