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”.

Tricia Broderick

Tricia Broderick

Tricia Broderick is a leadership and organizational advisor. Her transformational leadership at all levels of an organization, ignites growth of leaders and high performing teams to deliver quality outcomes. Tricia has more than twenty years of experience in the software development industry. She is a highly-rated trainer, coach, facilitator and motivational keynote speaker. Beyond her extensive knowledge and skills, her biggest offering is inspiring people to believe anything is possible.


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