Don’t Want a Boss? Work at Zappos!

Zappos’ offices? Or the dreams I have after drinking too much green tea before bed? Phil Collins often resides in both.

Zappos just decided to get rid of all their bosses and managers.

(OK, that’s a gross oversimplification and a wildly misleading statement. But the important thing to learn here children is that it’s NOT FACTUALLY FALSE. So I have no qualms about writing it, and neither should you!)

A few weeks’ back, Zappos’ executive team disintegrated itself, leaving in its altruistic wake the primordial soup of a brand new corporate management system, exotically titled a Holacracy (not so exotically named after the company that developed it).

In Zappos’ new internal structure, employees hold no titles- there are no managers, no executives, no C-level leadership, and presumably no sandwich chefs. Instead, as WIRED notes, “the idea is to structure the company around the work that needs to be done rather than the people who do it.”

Essentially, everyone is held accountable for their own projects, and no one is held accountable for many of them. The WIRED piece explains the nuts and bolts in more detail if you’re interested, but, as Leo says in “Wolf of Wall Street” when discussing corporate fraud minutiae, you’re probably not.

What my holacracy would look like. And yes, I would be the one getting tossed. Or maybe the guy holding the dollar bill crouching like a monkey towards the left. See him? What a goof! Scorcese was probably like “No- don’t even tell me what your name is or ask me to see your cover photo, because I don’t care and I don’t care about you. I want you to wear the tie like everyone else, and get on the ground and act like a monkey. Monkey boy.” And you know what else? I bet this picture is framed in Monkey Boy’s bedroom right now.

The skeptic in me sees this as a publicity move. Have you heard anything interesting out of Zappos in, like, years? Neither have I. But type their name in to Google now and you will see that damned near every business and technology publication in existence has covered their infant Holacracy. I’m sure that, in trying to drum up attention to recruit the brilliant and quirky talent that resides in Silicon Valley, Zappos now needs something with a little more oomph! than “Hey, we’re part of Amazon! But we don’t get to use their drones.”

Even if it is to purely increase company productivity, as the intellectuals (see: liberal yuppies who don’t see the value in pullin’ yerself up by yer bootstraps) have theorized it may, I have my doubts.

The thing is, even if power isn’t designated explicitly through a job title listed on a business card or email signature, power will still be designated. Bosses will still be bosses, and they will still have bosses. Humans are inherently competitive; they want to be better or more talented than those who surround them, and some people, call them “leaders,” or in some cases “sociopaths,” will find ways to get more power, regardless of the system.

Zappos has also admitted that they have not yet figured out salary–how do you pay some people more than others if the company is “flat”? For many people the primary incentive to work is to get paid, and the primary incentive to work harder and take on more responsibilities than others is to get paid more than others.  And anyone who ever worked in corporate culture knows that salary is often equated with the employee’s status within the company, thus working against the “flat” model.

I also wonder about new employees coming into Zappos, or those who may actually wish to leave the holacracy at some point (gasp!). How do you train people to work in an entirely new and unfamiliar system? How do employees update their resume when their title, the primary piece of information on a resume, has been taken away from them? How do they display professional growth when the company they currently work for doesn’t record or quantify professional growth in traditional metrics? What the fuck about LinkedIn??

CEO Random guy who work there Tony Hsieh has refused to comment on the holacracy, which lends more credence to my theory that this is more of a stunt that he has agreed to go along with, rather than a business practice he endorses. Maybe he realizes holacracy’s essential fault: Sure, in principle it sounds like a great way to increase productivity and communication, but, like communism and Pizza Hut’s Pizza Rolls, it only works if you discard the humans involved in making it.


2 thoughts on “Don’t Want a Boss? Work at Zappos!

    1. Hi Helen- thanks for reading. I took a look through your site and there are some interesting posts there! I agree with a lot of it and I look forward to reading more.

      Do you have examples of larger companies that have made a “flat” system work? I would love to take a look if you do. I am inclined to think that the larger the company the easier it may be to fall back in to traditional power structures, regardless of whether job titles are designated. Kind of a “de facto” v. “de jure” thing, you know?

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