Learn From Best For The World Honoree Ian Martin Group on How to Adopt ‘A Massive Change-Management Project’
Through its recruiting and hiring services for engineering, technology and other industries , Ian Martin Group has a mission to connect people in meaningful work and to help companies “hire better.” As a 2019 Best For The World: Workers honoree, the Certified B Corporation based in Oakville, Ontario, stands out for encouraging employees to act as stewards—of their applicants’ careers, their clients’ projects, their communities, and their surrounding environment.
Tim Masson, Chief Steward and CEO of Ian Martin Group, says the company’s commitment to the pursuit of meaningful work goes beyond just the services it provides for clients.
“It starts by looking at ourselves in the mirror,” he says. “Before we can fully impact the careers of our candidates and clients, each and every individual at the company needs to experience work as both meaningful and motivating.”
To achieve that goal, Masson and others at Ian Martin Group have focused on putting into practice the latest science on human behavior and motivation.
“In his 2009 book Drive,” says Masson, “Dan Pink’s research showed that in order for people to experience ‘meaningful work,’ they need three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. We asked: How could we maximize that at the Ian Martin Group? How do we shift from extrinsic motivation—the ‘carrots and sticks’—to where people are passionate about the work they do?”
They found the answer within each individual worker: The B Corp took the idea of practicing autonomy, mastery, and purpose to a new level by starting a shift toward a self-management organizational structure back in 2015, and Masson says the move is paying off.
Envisioning the Possibilities of Self-Management
From his early volunteer experience leading teams during summer break from university, Masson saw firsthand the power of intrinsic motivation.
“Even though we weren’t getting paid, we had an awesome team, a common purpose, and the work was fun—even when it was hard,” he says. “We worked our butts off because it was meaningful, challenging, and we were given the freedom to try innovative stuff—even though sometimes our ideas fell flat.”
During that volunteer gig, Masson noticed how the organization’s operating principles created a strong, inclusive culture where he and his colleagues took care of their tasks without a lot of top-down direction.
“I was able to see how a commitment to an inspiring purpose can infuse a culture and make it so people don’t need hierarchy or control mechanisms to get stuff done,” he says. “I felt sure that the principles I learned as a volunteer could work just as well in a business environment—and I started asking myself how we could translate them into the workplace and build an awesome place for people to work.”
When an opportunity to lead the Ian Martin Group arose, Masson carried that possibility with him and has used it as a guiding force. In Masson’s 10-plus years at Ian Martin Group, the B Corp has seen success—growing from 110 to 450 workers, launching startups including the B Work platform, and building its revenues.
He credits that in part to how the Ian Martin Group empowers its employees by encouraging them to have a sense of purpose—what Masson calls “connecting people in meaningful work.”
“‘In’ speaks to the inner journey of each individual as they seek to find meaning in their work. ‘In’ also speaks to how we work together in teams—pursuing ‘wholeness at work’ by offering both unconditional acceptance of one another and, at the same time, holding each other accountable to become the best we can be,” he says. “We’ve pushed much farther into true self-management than what most people think is possible, and it has led to tremendous personal and professional growth for those who have fully embraced the journey.”
Time, Teaching and Training for Self-Management
When the B Corp decided to shift to self-management about four years ago, Masson used the books The Decision Maker by Dennis Bakke and Reinventing Organizations by Fredrick Laloux as a key resources. These days, Masson says, the 2019 book Brave New Work by Aaron Dignan is the most easy-to-follow guide to making the shift.
Without supervisors, he says, a self-management system enables workers to reshape their roles over time to better achieve their goals and the goals of the business.
“When you don’t have bosses anymore, you need to replace them with self-management practices that enable people to do ‘boss-like’ things such as define their own roles. We’ve developed a practice that gives people guidance on how to do this. It begins with self-reflection and includes getting feedback and input from others on what the business needs,” Masson says. “The results of giving employees this freedom are amazing. People begin to take responsibility for increasing both their motivation and their ROI.”
Self-management also involves plenty of trial and error along the way as workers adapt to a new way of doing business and interacting with colleagues, he says—and that leads to personal change and growth.
“If interpersonal problems occur, you don’t have a manager anymore to turn to. Instead, you have to take responsibility for your own problems,” Masson says. “Through that process people learn how to give effective feedback and to work through their conflicts.”
While the transition has been challenging at times, he says keeping the overall goal in mind—to feel a sense of care and connection for your coworkers and your contributions—helps guide workers as they make decisions and prioritize tasks.
“There is a tension between freedom and responsibility,” Masson says. “Freedom does not mean you can just do anything you want, but instead, that you can take the initiative to pursue anything you see as a problem or opportunity. Responsibility means that what you are doing needs to have a positive impact on your colleagues and the business—and if not, it’s your job to fix it.”
‘A Massive Change-Management Project’
Masson says the benefits of operating with a self-management organizational system are evident at Ian Martin Group.
“Results, learning, growing, and accelerating careers—all that occurs much faster than on self-managing teams,” he says. “Over time this will produce much better business results. We’re seeing that as adoption takes root throughout the company.”
For other B Corp leaders considering the move to self-management, he has a few suggestions beyond the books mentioned earlier. For starters, there are some great consultants such as Pete Dignan, Brent Lowe, and Tim Arnold who can help guide the way. And for daily operations, Masson recommends keeping an open mind amid the everyday challenges with the long-term vision in mind.
“It’s a massive change-management project, but as a leader or leadership team, it’s one that you can’t handle the same way as you have in the past,” he says. “If you want people to start taking ownership, you can’t give orders or micro-manage the outcomes. You need to learn to steward, to guide, and support people as they get used to managing themselves at work.”
The bottom-line ROI takes time to develop, he says, but the overall business benefits are worth the wait.
“To stick with the change-curve, I think you have to care about people experiencing more meaningful work for its own sake,” Masson says. “That will get you through the challenges. Yes, it’s a multiyear project that’s never fully done, but it’s the best way I’ve found to help your employees feel deeply motivated and connected to their work—and that is worth investing in.”