Stories from a Middle Manager: Creating self-management change from within

Learn how Wade Okinaka - a Certified Semco Style Expert - implemented selfmanagement in his team as a Middle Manager. Inspired by the word of Ricardo Semler and the drive to make his employees happier and have fun at work, Wade innovated the work culture of his team (the only manager to do so in the whole organization).

Wade Okinaka·June 30, 2022·6 min read

Creating self-management change from within

Article by Wade Okinaka, a Certified Semco Style Expert

Many times we believe that we need to be in high-level positions to create a positive impact on our organization.

From personal experience, I assure you that wherever you are, you can make a change. This doesn’t mean everyone will understand, accept and embrace it, but it might just be the trigger the people around you need to change the way they work.

I would like to start by sharing with you the notable outcomes and results of when I decided to help my team become self-managed:

- A strong culture resulted in an overall 70 NPS score (company average 45-50);

- Top Operations team 3 out of 4 years;

- Top revenue $$ in the company;

- Rated as the cleanest gym and the best team in the company;

- Lowest employee turnover.

How did we achieve this? Keep reading.

From command and control to corporate democracy

I worked as an operations manager for a couple of large global gym companies for almost 20 years.

They were very strong command and control, pyramid-type organizations.

For most of my career, I was trained in ‘traditional’ management type methods (accountability through discipline, manager roles, hierarchy, etc.), and I gained a reputation for being very good at these practices, particularly with my knowledge and execution of policies and procedures.

My teams were very organized, disciplined, knowledgeable, and consistently met or exceeded company revenue goals.

However, with all of this ‘success’, I found that my teams were never considered fun or happy. So when I came across Ricardo Semler’s Ted Talk “How to run a company with (almost) no rules“, I connected immediately with it.

Asking 3 whys in a row became my new method of approaching how I looked at things, and I began to reevaluate the way I was managing and leading.

Inspired to find better ways of doing things, I knew it started with me, and I needed to change.

The change team

One of the first steps was forming a 10-12 person lead team, or ‘change team’.

I wanted to explain my vision of how things could be, changes in the way we operated, and really try to ensure I could get us all aligned on the same goals.

We were going to be built on a culture of ‘how can I help’ and that started with building trust amongst my team.

I started to treat adults as adults, and the first question I posed to my team was ‘Why do you do your job’?

The most common response was ‘So I don’t get in trouble'.

That prompted me to ask myself these questions: ‘why do they feel that way? And why do I need to discipline with write-ups’?

I decided then to no longer do disciplinary write-ups with my team, and instead approached situations with coaching and reinforcement that I trusted them to do the right thing.

A new form of hiring

I also looked at our hiring process, and how we selected our employees.

Like most standard processes, we looked at resumes, references, and prior work experience. We had all those common interview questions printed out to ask the candidate.

In the end, I had one hiring guideline for my leadership team, ‘Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill’.

I believed that it was most important for the team to find people that fit our culture.

Operations consisted of 4 areas: Front desk, Juice bar, Kid’s area, and Facilities/Janitorial.

With all our new hires as well as all our existing employees, we adopted a sort of ‘lost in space’ concept: employees were allowed to work in multiple areas and not restricted to just working in the one area they were hired for.

This was extremely successful for us, as employees enjoyed the different atmospheres and activities. This reinforced our ‘how can I help’ culture as employees would then support other areas as needed.

People help the people

Operations positions were all minimum wage positions with the potential to earn a commission equal to 10% of their retail sales each month once they sold a minimum of $1000.

The company would recognize the top employees each month based on their total sales.

Because our culture of helping each other was so strong, instead of seeking the personal glory of being the top employee in the company each month, my team would set their own goal of trying to get as many teammates as possible above the $1000 minimum so that more people could qualify and get commissions.

On black Friday, my team, in their own mind, would keep a post-it up at the register of all their team members working that day, and rotate sales between everyone so that they could all get credited.

This teamwork resulted in our location consistently having the highest operations revenue each month, and the most employees qualifying for commissions.

A self-managed, happy team that paid back

Each year, gym locations in the company would celebrate their anniversary by shutting down on a Friday night for a team dinner, having a cleaning service come in to clean the facility, and reopening the next morning to an anniversary event.

When it was time for our location’s anniversary, we were given a budget to hire an outside cleaning service.

My team decided that we could save money by doing the work ourselves and so we communicated out to our team and asked for volunteers who would want to help that night. After the shutdown and team dinner, I had about 75% of my operations team (about 40+ people) show up to help with the cleaning.

I was asked if I had forced them to come in and explained that everyone there had volunteered.

It was an amazing and inspiring experience, which prompted employees from our sales and fitness departments to stay and help as well, and everyone was smiling and enjoying themselves.

No complaining by anyone, and in fact I had to force people out at the end of the night, as they wanted to keep on working. Incidentally, we ended up saving about 30% of what was budgeted originally had we gone with an outside cleaning service.

Could I have ever predicted that by making such slight changes we would have reached such great results?

That was my hope and the reason why I decided to do it. But more importantly, being more human-centric and truly meeting the needs and wants of my team was the ultimate goal.

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Like Ricardo Semler, there are other pioneers and rebels who decided to leave the conventional route and try different approaches to leadership and organizational culture.

And if I found a way to do it successfully, so can you.

Learn more about how Semco Style Institute USA can help you develop your leadership skills and improve your team's engagement, autonomy, and happiness by reaching out to us.

To receive the same training as Wade and become a Semco Style Expert, please click on this link to obtain further information.


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