JASON Smith founded his own physio company out of his garage at the age of 24.
Today, the Back In Motion Health Group is a thriving $50 million business with 100 locations and a 600-strong team. But Mr Smith says that phenomenal growth really came down to his decision to ban one simple thing — forever. Back in 2013, the Melbourne father-of-four noticed something worrying about the business he had built up from scratch. Staff were being “drained of creativity”, and were too worried about speaking out of turn to flag important problems they noticed during their working day. Mr Smith realised it was happening because workers were being “pigeonholed” by their job titles, and felt too restricted to speak out about issues outside their usual responsibilities. So he banned them — overnight.
The next day, staff arrived to find a workplace free from bosses, managers and even a CEO.
“We gave people who were meeting patients every day permission to rattle the cage,” he said.
“When you give people a title like ‘cleaner’ or ‘manager’, people on both sides of the relationship have an expectation of what you’re supposed to do — if you step outside your title, you’re told off.
“A cleaner might see that practices are not being left tidy and hygienic, but their job is just to clean up the mess. But I wanted that cleaner to be able to walk up to the boardroom and say, ‘This is affecting our patients’ experience; it’s not who we are, we can do better than this.’”
Mr Smith said his goal was to rid the company of a “that’s not my job” mentality.
He said initially, the change caused some anxiety for people who “relied on titles to tell people what to do” — but that the “bottom half” of the organisation was finally free to have a say which their pay grade normally wouldn’t have allowed.
And the radical plan paid off.
Just three years after ditching job titles and descriptions for good, the company had doubled in both size and turnover.
“There’s no way we would have done that on the trajectory we were on if we had stayed safe with formal managers — we needed some provocateurs (to) kick us in the guts and change the way we thought,” Mr Smith said.
So how does a world without titles and job descriptions actually work?
According to Mr Smith, new positions are advertised by listing the sorts of skills that would normally be needed to fill a particular role.
However, during the recruitment process, the applicant is told about the company’s unique structure, and that they will be required to work in a fluid role if successful.
Once a new staff member joins the team and learns the ropes, the role then changes “in real time”, with the individual able to “build their own job” by identifying passion projects and taking advantage of their particular strengths and interests — even if it’s in a totally different area than where they were originally employed to fill.
Workers in similar positions also collaborate to decide a salary cap for that line of work.
Mr Smith, who describes his radical approach in his new book, Outside-In Downside-Up Leadership, said the model worked because senior staff members now “overlead and undermanage” staff — directly opposite to the way traditional companies operate.
Here is a link to my published article on news.com.au