A Social Contract For Modern Managers

For a few years now, I have been quite mindful about finding ways to ensure that I’m not indispensable, and therefore a risk for the company I work for. In my last job, having been the only full-time manager dedicated to people’s development in my department, I made sure my teams were as autonomous as they could be. When I announced that I was leaving for new exciting endeavors, my former boss and I agreed that I could come up with a social contract for people who would end up with some of the responsibilities I had.

Our definition of social contract: An agreement representing what we believe in, and whose signatories would have to respect.

This social contract is a way to let people manage in the way they want, but by keeping the spirit of the department in mind. I thought it was definitely worth sharing here. Those who know me will not be surprised that it is a people-oriented social contract. Here it goes.

1. We are working for our people

We understand that as managers and servant-leaders, we are working for the success of our people, and not the other way around.

2. It’s not and will never be about us

We understand that nothing we do is about us, our job, position in the hierarchy or our authority. Nothing we do would be possible without our hard-working people. They could do well without us, but we couldn’t do anything without them.

3. People are not cogs in a machine

We understand that people are not cogs in a machine and that they are not resources that can be replaced by someone identical. We understand that everyone has a unique set of soft and hard skills, unique interests and aspirations. And we treat them as such.

4. We are responsible for showing people where we are going

We understand that we are not here to give orders and tell people how to work. They are experts and are paid to know how to work. Our job is to clarify the expected results and make them understand why those results are important. Their job, then, is to figure a way to get those expected results.

5. We are responsible for people, not results

We understand that we are not responsible for the results, we are responsible for the people who are responsible for results. We are here to ensure an environment where our people can do whatever is in their power to reach their goal. Incidentally, we pledge not to take credit for our people’s successes.

6. We contribute to people’s growth and fulfilment 

We understand that someone happy is preferable to someone unhappy or miserable, no matter their employer. We pledge to do whatever is in our power to help people grow and be fulfiled in their work. We are aware that it might mean supporting them to find a job elsewhere if their aspirations are not compatible with those of the company.

7. We aim for increased ownership

We understand that people who are the closest to a problem are better equipped to fix the said problem. We understand that a lower center of gravity for the decision-making process is preferable to making decisions despite our people.

We understand that those who are going to live with the impact of a decision should at best take the decision, or at least be included in the decision.

8. We are open-minded and curious about our people’s needs

We understand that being fair doesn’t mean treating everybody the same way. We understand that people have different backgrounds, stories, families, contexts and we pledge to invest the same amount of curiosity and empathy towards our people’s story and needs. We understand that doing due diligence and adapting to our people’s needs is more important than enforcing a rigid framework, to a certain extent. We understand that we must also consider the impact it might have on other colleagues or teams.

9. Being leaders doesn’t mean treating people like followers

We understand that treating people like followers or doers optimizes the environment for them to act as such. We understand that treating people like fellow leaders creates an environment where they can develop their leadership skills, and create more leaders in time.

10. We aim for becoming useless

We understand that if we need to be there at all times for things to happen, we represent a risk for our teams, our department and our organization. While being 100% useless is certainly not attainable, it is a state that we are aiming for. We understand that developing the autonomy of our people, teams, and department is something we need to work on every day.


Olivier Fortier
Olivier Fortier
OLIVIER Fortier is first and foremost a believer in human beings. Owner of the blog Primos Populi -- which is Latin for People First -- his focus is to find innovative ways to bring back (and keep) people at the core of businesses, and ensure they can thrive. A manager, agilist, servant leader, facilitator, and former Scrum Master, all of these interesting titles and roles represent only the means to achieve what he truly believes in: cultivating people's awesomeness. His favorite things to reflect on are leader-leader relationships, psychological safety and the right to fail, career and personal development, humanity in recruitment, and how to lower the center of gravity of decision-making processes. Considering that businesses wouldn't exist without people, can one imagine how powerful it would be if all employees wholeheartedly wanted to be in their organizations, and wanted to do what they do? This is the work world Olivier wants to live in, and the goal he set for himself.

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  1. Bright intuition.
    Unfortunately, a contract of this kind, absolutely acceptable according to my point of view on what should mean for a manager the employment relationship, would be questioned in those countries, such as Italy, where the Unions are against any agreement interpersonal or that does not respect the collective bargaining that, however, in my opinion, makes the working relationship asphyxiated !!.