Freedom, Inc: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: November 9th, 2012 by bobmorris

Freedom, Inc.: Free Your Employees and Let Them Lead Your Business to Higher Productivity, Profits, and Growth
Brian Carney and Isaac Getz
Crown Business (2009)

Note: I read this book when it was first published several years ago and recently re-read it, finding it even more valuable now than it was then. For serious executives, it’s a “must read.”

If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give them the room they need.” William L. McKnight, CEO of 3M (1924)

What we have in this volume is a brilliant analysis by Carney and Getz of how specific business leaders recognized and then responded to an ever-increasing “demand for freedom” among workers who felt “stifled, constrained, hemmed in, and tied down by bureaucracy and rules that have nothing to do with allowing them to do the best they can in their jobs. These constraints leave people feeling out of control of their work lives, which, in turn, leads to stress, fatigue, and disengagement from work. Especially during a period such as now when the global economy is so turbulent and disruptive, business executives must be even more effective as leaders and managers.

At one point in their narrative, Carney and Getz identify and then discuss four initiatives that CEOs take during the “liberation campaign” they led: First, stop telling and start listening, showing respect for others as partners, not as subordinates; next, compellingly describe and enthusiastically share your vision of the company with them so that they will “own” it…but don’t do this until after Step 1; and stop trying to motivate people and, instead, create an environment that allows people to grow and self-direct; finally, “stay alert” with “eternal vigilance,” serving as the “culture keeper.” At Southwest Airlines, there is a Culture Committee whose membership consists of C-level executives and baggage handlers, mechanics and flight attendants, accountants and gatekeepers. As former CEO Herb Kelleher explains, “Before people knew how to make fire, there was a fire watcher. Cave dwellers may have found a tree hit by lightning and brought fire back to the cave. Somebody had to make sure it kept going because if it went out, everyone would be in great danger so the fire watcher was the most important person in the tribe. I said to our culture committee, ‘You are our fire watchers, who make sure the fire does not go out. I think you are the most important committee at Southwest Airlines.’”

Carney and Getz are to be commended on the wealth of valuable information they provide in this book, and especially for the pragmatic idealism that guides and informs their suggestions as to how to derive the greatest value from this information. Almost all of their observations are relevant to any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. Moreover, almost every initiative they recommend can be acted upon immediately. That said, they hasten to add – and I fully agree – that planning, launching, and then sustaining a “liberation campaign” is immensely complicated and requires effective leadership, of course, but whose success ultimately depends on inspiring rather than “motivating” workers to become self-directed, supporting their efforts during a sometimes difficult journey of discovery.

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