Interview with David Burkus: On coming under new management


Vera: Congratulations on your new book ‘’Under new management’’ What are the key tenets of this new management model/concept?

David: Great leaders don’t innovate the product, they innovate the factory. That was true 100 years ago when Fredrick Taylor brought us modern management…which was designed to run a physical factory. But most of us have moved from a physical factory to an “idea factory” – we come up with ideas, make decisions, or solve problems. Unfortunately, we dragged Taylor’s methods with us from the office to the factory and are only now thinking about how we can innovate the work of management.


Vera: One of the radical ideas in your book is the elimination of managers. Why would managers be redundant ‘’Under new management” and in what way would peer to peer arrangement be better?

David: Well management is not going away, but many companies are finding it’s better to turn the tasks that managers traditionally do (measurement, resourcing, etc) over to individuals or self-managed teams. The reason for this is one of autonomy. We know that individuals are more motivated in conditions of autonomy BUT we’re also finding that in much of modern work, individual contributors really do know more about how to do the work than does a traditional manager (who may be years removed from being an individual contributor or in a front line role). So autonomy not only makes for a more motivate workforce, it may make for a better managed one.


Vera: For a really progressive organization ready to get ‘’under new management’’ what would you suggest they do with their crop of managers?

David: That really depends on the organization. A lot of workplaces are finding that many managers are also doing some level of individual contributor work anyway…so ideally their role would change to doing more of that. A word of warning, though, as Zappos recently found out. Not all managers are going to be comfortable with that transition. And so every organization should really proceed with caution and tailor a solution that works best for their organization.


Vera: You also propose that the annual performance review be scrapped- an earth shattering idea for many organizations, I would imagine. What’s the alternative and how will that be more effective?

David: Assuming managers stick around, one of their most important functions is providing feedback on performance and the annual review was created as a means to provide that feedback. But annual (or even every 6 months) is not an effective time cycle to provide feedback that actually increased performance. In addition, we’re finding that “rating” performers turns that review from a feedback discussion into a negotiation over the right label. So many companies are abandoning the time and cost of annual reviews and choosing to reinvest that into training managers on how to have more frequent and informal coaching sessions focus on feedback, expectations, and growth and development. And the return on investment is astounding.


Vera: What are some of the big trends you believe will drive how management evolves in future and how can organizations prepare/keep abreast of these? 

David: I’m currently fascinated by what the long-term implications of the “gig” economy are. I’m skeptical about how large a percentage of the workforce will choose to go 100% into freelancing their skills. However, I think as the percentage does increase, more and more employees will start to see themselves as freelancers even if they’re employed by just one company. The realization is that every employee is really a free agent will have big implications for individual contributors, middle managers, and senior leaders.


Vera: Your previous book focused on innovation. How can an organization enhance its creative ability in a sustainable way?

David: The biggest takeaway from my first book is that many organizations don’t need to enhance the creativity of their people. Their people already posses the ability to generate novel and useful ideas. Instead, they need to examine their organizational culture and systems and determine what elements are holding them back. We don’t need more great ideas…we have plenty…we need to get better at recognizing the great ideas we already have.


Vera: You’re said to practice what you teach. What are some of the most innovative management practices you’ve successfully implemented in your own life and how did you make them stick?

David: The most innovative thing I’ve done recently has been to be less technologically innovative. Mainly, I’ve put boundaries around my email. Back in the day of dial-up modems, we weren’t always on and able to be interrupted by email every minute of the day…and I think we were more productive. So I’ve switched off automatically checking for messages and I try to deliberately hide my phone when I’m working (not to mention hiding my phone and computer when I am not working).


Vera: You’re also considered an effective professor ‘’who inspires your students to be creative thinkers and to discover unconventional perspectives’’ Any approaches you use to achieve this that you can share?

David: I try to lovingly annoy my students. Mainly, as we get into classroom discussions, I tailor my questions toward them to counteract the perspective I think they already have. There’s real value in holding an opinion but being open to the idea that you might be wrong and that others are interpreting the facts differently. As Adam Grant likes to say: “Change your mind as often as you change your facts.”


David’s profile

 David Burkus is a bestselling author, an award winning podcaster and management professor. His latest book, Under New Management, reveals the counterintuitive leadership practices that enhance engagement and drive performance in companies. David is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review and Forbes magazine. His work has been featured in Fast Company, Inc, the Financial Times, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and CBS This Morning. David’s innovative views on leadership have earned him invitations to speak to leaders from a variety of organizations including Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Stryker. He has also spoken at conferences such as SXSW and at TEDx events. David is an Associate professor of management at Oral Roberts University. In 2015, David was named one of the “Top 40 Under 40 Professors Who Inspire.” More info at



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