Avoiding Middle Management

Jason Kottke wrote a post earlier this week on solutions for avoiding middle management, and he made reference to Adaptive Path’s advocacy program. Some folks emailed me directly for more information, so I thought I’d share a bit more about how the program works.

The advocacy system was established by Janice when she was CEO here. We’d tried an org chart and typical reporting structures, but they weren’t working for us. “Reporting” to “management” just didn’t feel very much like Adaptive Path.

In an advocacy program, instead of having managers whom you report to, you instead “report” to your advocate, who can be anyone in the company. An advocate is like a manager, except they don’t tell you what to do. They are there to help you achieve what you want, professionally. Employees choose their own advocates. They simply ask someone if they would be their advocate.

Advocates are responsible for conducting the annual performance review, and work with the advocatee on things like compensation, professional development, setting goals, etc. They do not direct how someone uses their time. The advocacy program works best in environments of highly motivated folks who can structure their own time, because no one else is going to structure it for you.

The advocate program is great in theory, and challenging in practice. It requires a strong framework, and a set of “best practices” to remind advocates how they can best support the advocatees. As we grow, we’re realizing advocacy is probably best along side some form of lightweight management structure, because the one management activity that advocacy doesn’t address well is communication. Hierarchical management came into being in order to communicate efficiently throughout an organization. As we get closer to 40 staff members (and a second office in Austin), we’re realizing that our informal means of communication simply aren’t holding up. We’re looking into how we can bring in some light degree of structure to make sure everyone is connected, without being overbearing.

We want to maintain the advocacy program, because it’s a great opportunity for everyone to have exposure to the roles/responsibilities of management, and it fits well within our philosophy of employee autonomy. It’s still an experiment for us, and one that we’re tinkering with.


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