A recent article about Zappos going flat and getting rid of managers caused me all sorts of conflicting feelings. So let’s break it down.
What I love:
- The concept of leaders over managers. The article points out “its not leaderless”.
- The concept of taking on various roles and removing titles
- The concept of people taking personal accountability for their work
- The acknowledgement of a strong existing culture already at Zappos
- The acknowledgement that this can be difficult for both management and employees
What I get frustrated by with articles like this is the oversimplification:
- Just be flat and everything will be perfect. Ok, you could argue that I should know that there is no one magical answer to anything but people read these things and jump to the “just fire all managers” Dilbert bandwagon. I don’t think this is helpful for our customers/industry. I believe Zappos will make this successful. For this reason: they have an excellent base culture already focused on customer satisfaction, accountability, and empowerment. They laid the groundwork for people to trust others to do various roles. They laid the groundwork for people to be uncomfortable and try new things. They laid the groundwork for managers to learn servant leadership over management. If companies without this foundation, went to this model. They might get to a great place but they are going to struggle and struggle hard. Whereas, this probably feels like a very natural next step in Zappos.
- It’s not that people holding manager titles are going to be fired. They get to lose the title and focus on being a leader. That’s pretty awesome! Unfortunately, that’s not what people walk away with from the article.
- “It frees us from the often toxic labor-versus-management dynamic, in which neither party truly understands what it’s like to be on the other side.” I do believe this will take a step in that direction but to say it frees them completely is short-sighted or to associate this with a different company’s step. There is research highlighting “Us vs Them” is always going to exist but the trick is making it healthy. People will find a new Us vs Them even without titles. That said, without knowing more about their “circles” concept, they may be addressing this. However, is there an executive team? Will this exist then just at the highest level?
- But what I really wish they had expanded on is this “Fried explained that rotating management duties on a weekly basis helped to minimize conflict because it made employees “more empathetic toward one another.” I love this in theory. I have seen the benefits from other roles that rotated. I would love to try this at the management level and wish they had elaborated more on this. However, it wouldn’t have aligned with the “get rid of managers” flashy aspect.
Now maybe I should just get over it. It gets ideas out there and at the end of the day, I love that Zappos’ continues to challenge itself. I just wish that was the story not “getting rid of managers”.
I’m also uncomfortable with the brevity of the article. Ryan Carson of Treehouse wrote a 4 part series on their removal of managers that was much more comprehensive.
He’s also written a post on the negatives at: http://ryancarson.com/post/73639971628/the-negative-side-of-nomanager-companies
Points 1-3 aren’t surprising, but I honestly hadn’t given much thought to the CEO side of this transition. I can think of a couple of CEOs who would struggle with “I can’t make people do things.” As for it being harder to hire people, I give them a lot of credit for extending their no manager policy that far.
I was not familiar with this series of posts. This is great! Thank you for sharing!
Awesome weblog you have here but I was wondering in case you knew of any forums that cover exactly the same topics talked about here? I’d really like to be a part of group exactly where I can get suggestions from other experienced people that share exactly the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Bless you!
You might want to check out Agile Meet-ups in your area. I know that there is a Agile Leadership specific meet-up in my area and it would be focused on these types of conversations.