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'First, Let's Get Rid of All the Bosses' -- the Zappos Management Experiment 327

schnell writes: The New Republic is running an in-depth look at online shoe retailer Zappos.com's experiment in a new "boss-less" corporate structure. Three years ago the company introduced a management philosophy that came from the software development world called "Holacracy," in which there are no "people managers" and groups self-organize based on individual creativity and talents. (When the change was announced, 14% of the company's employees chose to leave; middle management openly rebelled, but perhaps surprisingly the tech organization was slowest to embrace the new idea). The article shows that in this radically employee-centric environment, many if not most employees are thrilled and fulfilled, while others worry that self-organization in practical terms means chaos and a Maoist culture of "coercive positivity." Is Zappos the future of the American workplace, a fringe experiment, or something in between?
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'First, Let's Get Rid of All the Bosses' -- the Zappos Management Experiment

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  • by vikingpower ( 768921 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:18PM (#50680275) Homepage Journal
    welcome our new <null-pointer> overlords!
  • Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dmaul99 ( 1895836 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:22PM (#50680303)

    So how do I get a raise in such an environment? How do I differentiate myself from my coworkers? This has Lord of The Flies written all over it. Or that Simpsons episode where Martin ends up in a bird cage.

    • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

      by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:27PM (#50680333)

      >> So how do I get a raise in such an environment?

      Do you basically live at the office? Raise, unless...

      >> How do I differentiate myself from my coworkers?

      Do they also live at the office? Then you can't.

    • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rudy_wayne ( 414635 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:30PM (#50680359)

      And there's the problem.

      We've all had to deal with asshole bosses and it is very tempting to say "Get rid of the bosses and just let people do their jobs without interference". But, you can't have a hundred people just doing whatever they want. Somebody has to be in charge. Somebody has to be the final authority when tough decisions need to be made. Otherwise, you've just got chaos. It may work for s short time, but in the long run, it simply isn't workable.

      Anyone who has any real world experience knows that management by committee just doesn't work.

      • there's four places. There's the Hammock Hut, that's on third. There's Hammocks-R-Us, that's on third too. You got Put-Your-Butt-There.That's on third. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot... Matter of fact, they're all in the same complex; it's the hammock complex on third.

      • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @02:08PM (#50680665) Journal

        Somebody has to deal with the board of directors, senior managers, and large clients, ensuring that they're wishful thinking and lack of technical expertise doesn't destroy any chance that the project will be successful.

        I can spend my time explaining to the suits what is possible and what isn't , or I can architect and code the project. Which do you want me to do? Someone has to manage expectations and point out that fast-tracking one thing means delaying another. That's called management. Somebody has to do it. If I spend my day doing management, I can't spend it coding - and vice-versa. Forcing techies to deal with political BS and "dumb" executives is a sure way to piss them off. Many of us would rather have a good manager insulate us from the stupid.

        • by Old97 ( 1341297 )
          I'd mod you up but I use my last one 2 minutes ago. Sorry.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          ... I can architect and code the project.

          Stopped reading right there.

          Did you miss the memo about software architects and how fkn useless they actually are?

        • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @02:49PM (#50680961) Homepage

          Protip: you don't have to have a boss to have somebody working the management function you describe.

          That's the part people are missing; the vast majority of management functions do not require a person with nearly unlimited power and discretion over the other workers involved. A team can simply have a "external liaison" hat that somebody has to wear, and whoever is currently assigned that function does the "explaining to the suits what is possible and what isn't." In your example, I see no utility at all in involving a boss. If there is a project lead who is not only a technical lead, but actually a boss, they would actually be well-served having an assistant who can do grunt work like explaining possibilities of engineering to suits. That said, most of the projects I've been on do not have a boss inside the team at all; the worst the team leader could do is the same that any other team member could do; write an email to a suit. Instead, the team leader is the one designated to have authority over what goes into the source repository, the technical requirements for those things, and to tie-break the who-does-what when everybody wants the same toy.

          Conflating bossing with the management of a resource is the base of the problem. If there is truly a conflict of interest between what the team wants and what an individual worker does, that can be dealt with in a separate process than is used for managing team resources. In fact, once that sort of issue comes up and there is that much conflict, the worker just needs to get fired (or transferred, re-educated, etc, depending on your societal norms) and that can be done by a vote; there is no requirement to have a Boss even to decide who gets hired and fired.

          Of course, all of that works only when workers have a high enough morale to support a healthy work ethic. If there is high turnover then it will be Lord of the Flies. But if it is well-paid professionals, who value the work they do personally, and the work the company does, then it can run very smoothly. (I use "professional" to describe people who take their career seriously, not just white collar workers with letters)

        • by boristdog ( 133725 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @02:57PM (#50681023)

          Yes and no. GOOD managers obviate the need for a "holocracy", but good people managers are rare as hen's teeth. I have a "decent" manager, but he's too much of a pussy so I have to deal with the higher-ups myself on any important issue. And for any minor issue I don't need a manager anyway.

          Any group will still have leaders. I am a de facto leader of my group, they all ask me for advice on projects and situations, because the real management will just roll over and do whatever the upper echelons say, even though they no nothing about the situation. I don't "manage" but I offer suggestions.

          So the traditional people manager is not necessarily the best option. I don't know if holocracy is the best option, but at least SOMEONE is trying something new. If it works, that's awesome. But to flat out say it won't work is stupid.

      • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @02:09PM (#50680679) Journal

        The bigger problem is that management is a legitimate job. I'm studying project management--studying because I studied it and it's being a fucking pain in the ass to get into--and so I know a lot about budgeting, about team building, about managing human resources (e.g. do you hire someone or send your people to training? How do you track skills and competency?), about negotiating contracts and purchases, and a whole lot of other shit. To get rid of the managers is to put the responsibility of critical work onto a group of people who have other shit to do.

        My understanding of management also leads me to conclude that everyone should have some understanding of management. I see too many managers just deciding it's an authoritarian chain: you do what I say because I said it. From my perspective, as a manager, it's my job to make sure shit gets done; that means that you need to understand why we do things the way we do, and I need to understand any important facts that will affect how to get things done. If we have a difference in understanding, knowledge must transfer: you must understand that we do these work breakdown structures and risk assessments to avoid doing excess work, missing work, or producing worse output for more effort; and I might learn along the way that I missed some critical information, which changes what work we do, how we do it, and how much time we estimate it will require.

        Managers not communicating such information to engineers and other subordinates results in IT people saying a lot of stupid shit about what management should do to fix the shop--most of which would fuck things up a hell of a lot worse. Engineers not communicating to managers results in managers telling engineers to do stupid shit, not caring that it can't be done or that it can't be done in so little time. Impediments to communications are the primary way to fuck up by the numbers.

        The manager is a tool for both their superiors and their subordinates. Management *is* a technical job, and half the damn time it's being performed by unskilled idiots.

        • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

          by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @02:21PM (#50680761) Journal
          The problem is regarding management as a position of importance that people are promoted to. Management is a specialisation, just like accounting or programming. You wouldn't say that a good manager should be promoted to being an accountant or to being a programmer, or that people who are accountants are the most important in the organisation. Manager is an administrative position and should be regarded as such, not as a leadership role that is somehow more important (and worthy of more pay) than the people that they are responsible for. HP did this (long ago) with parallel technical and management tracks. Managers were often less senior than the people that they were managing.
          • Re:Give me a raise (Score:4, Interesting)

            by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @02:33PM (#50680853) Journal
            Management *is* a leadership position; leadership is not computer programming. It takes a whole understanding of business to understand what's what, and most people miss that so badly they envision everyone above them in the organizational hierarchy as non-working, excess, useless money-sinks which the business would get along better without.
            • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

              by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @03:47PM (#50681331)
              The point I believe he's making is the idea that management positions are "better" than non-management positions is flawed, and that management should be seen as more of a lateral difference instead of a vertical difference.
            • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

              by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @03:47PM (#50681335)

              Yes, it is a leadership position. But i think his point still stands. It is ~just~ another position. And its not implicitly more important, or deserving of higher pay than all other positions.

              If I run a small medical practice the most important positions are the doctors. If its large enough and successful enough, it'll hire an office manager who will deal with supplies, staff scheduling, deal with contractors (window cleaners, floor waxers, IT, etc...)

              Its a more demanding and complicated job than receptionist, but its not more important and demanding than being a doctor. They are paid more than the receptionists, but less than the doctors. And its *just a job*.

              The small medical practice has it right... the primary productive 'employees' the doctors -- need a manager, and so they hire one. But the manager isn't their "boss". He's their manager.

              Yet in corporate America, there's this pervasive lunacy where they take the equivalent of one of the Dr's, strip him of all his medical duties, "promote" him to manager, and then pay him more... and then layer on this bizarre notion that the manager should be the boss.

              That works in a fast food restaurant because the manager has likely been trained on every position, can train new people for those positions, can spot fill any position as needed, as well as being responsible for dealing with customer issues, providing leadership, managing supply levels, scheduling, cash management, key holder, etc. He deserves to be paid more.

              But in a lot of scenarios the small medical practice has it right. The producers should be the ones in charge of hiring, evaluating, and replacing their managers.

              An engineering or architectural firm would be run the same way... the engineers or architects would hire a manager. And the manager is an employee, not their boss.

              But in big corporates -- that seemingly obvious structure comes apart. And who ever is assigned to be manager is lord and master over all under his domain... he can be the least qualified person in the room, but he decides who does what, and how well they are doing it, and even what metrics to use to measure them ?!!! WTFBBQ?!!

              If I had a manger in a software development team role, I'd want a structure where I'd look to him as my peer; there to do an important job of his own, where we evaluate each other; and where we can replace him if he's not working out...

              • If I had a manger in a software development team role, I'd want a structure where I'd look to him as my peer; there to do an important job of his own, where we evaluate each other; and where we can replace him if he's not working out...

                This is how our company works and it's perfect. Their role is to handle client interaction, to set budgets (and hold us to budgets) as well as set schedules and work with us to accomplish the schedule. Ultimately their ass is on the line for staying within budget and schedule so anything within the purview of budget and schedule they are god. If something has to be cut because of budget, we cut it. So that naturally creates a healthy working dynamic. If they need to cut the schedule and/or budget the

          • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

            by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @03:48PM (#50681343)

            The problem is regarding management as a position of importance that people are promoted to.

            This is perhaps one of the single largest failures of our social organization. "Boss" has come to mean "important" or "ruler" instead of being an integral component to facilitate real work. It would be like saying that a switch is the most important and valuable piece of hardware in an organization.

            In college I studied film direction and my friend was studying producing and one night while bitching about this exact phenomenon (everyone wanting to be a director or producer because "they're in charge" instead of because they were attracted to the unique specialized work of a director or producer) we settled on the "Doer and Enabler" dichotomy. Directors, Managers, Producers, Supervisors are not Doers, they are Enablers. An enabler's job is to help the doers do. An enabler should be clearing the way, organizing materials and answering questions that doers need answered. A doer obviously actually creates things and does the work.

            There certainly are Doer/Enablers, if you have an art director, or a software architect they often start to straddle enabling others to execute their vision while also providing a high level plan--but for the most part management is not a doer, they are an enabler.

            However, people generally want more money than they have so the only way to get that more-money is to become a manager. It's stupid. If I was running an experiment I wouldn't fire all of my enablers, I would simply stop making the management position necessarily an upgrade or promotion but more of a crossgrade with a similar payscale.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Wheely ( 2500 )

              While I agree with the sentiment,I would say in my own case as a manager, if the pay scale were the same as when I was a techy, I'd just stay a techie.

              As a techy, you know what you deliver, you invest in what you are responsible for and generally speaking your working world revolves around the things you know you are skilled at. For me at least, as a manager, it took time to find what it was I was delivering and even now, when I am clearer on that, it is far less concrete a thing. If my team delivers far

        • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

          by swb ( 14022 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @02:24PM (#50680785)

          An enlightened perspective, and I think you're right.

          I see too many managers just deciding it's an authoritarian chain: you do what I say because I said it.

          This will never be fixed until managers are paid and treated the same as the people they are managing. As long as they are compensated and treated as figures of elevated status, they will tend to act in authoritarian ways.

          • I'm paid more than the help desk and I keep trying to explain to the help desk manager why we need help desk training and training to interact with a help desk. It's another function--one that's cheaper because it's easier to replace and less necessary. There aren't a whole hell of a lot of managers, and good managers are a lot more productive than 2 extra engineers. Part of that is the whole accessible college thing: workforce development is an individual responsibility, not an employer responsibility,
        • Re:Give me a raise (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Escogido ( 884359 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @02:51PM (#50680981)

          What you are describing usually works when a company is doing great. Then management can be upfront about the department's goals and criteria, and in general be transparent on what is expected out of its employees. However reality is such that if there are some problems, being upfront about these often leads to best employees leaving for greener pastures, so enforcing the whole transparency policy can be compared to sentencing oneself to death. Since companies cannot really plan for good times or bad times, idk how applicable that approach in general is.

          Otherwise I agree that yes, many management positions are filled by people who don't really understand that their job is to facilitate and not to "just in general be right about everything". They should not be there, but that's the problem of the culture they indoctrinate people in MBA courses with, and not easily solvable within a company that doesn't have access to a great management talent pool.

          • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

            by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @03:02PM (#50681055) Journal

            What you are describing usually works when a company is doing great. Then management can be upfront about the department's goals and criteria, and in general be transparent on what is expected out of its employees. However reality is such that if there are some problems, being upfront about these often leads to best employees leaving for greener pastures

            No, it doesn't.

            There is a reason we do work breakdown structures: it seems like a waste of time, because you all think you know what you're doing; but it's gets us a full view of all the work we have to do, so we can understand if we don't have the capability, if it's going to take a lot more work than we think, if we need to hire more people, to consider a smaller target, or whatnot. It lets us organize our work so we understand what we're doing, so we have everything planned ahead, and so we know where our blind spots are and can use rolling-wave planning to further decompose the work in those blind spots as we finish earlier work and come more to understand what we're doing.

            There's generally a reason we do everything, even the things the engineers disagree with. There's a reason we make decisions against the team's judgment--hopefully not for incompetence. There are clear reasons for specific processes, for forms, for encryption policies, for software restrictions, firewalls, everything. There's a reason you're not allowed to burn CDs. There's a reason you've been told to use a fully-featured $50,000 commercial software and not a half-functional open source package--requirements and deliverables, other projects requiring those features, future plans, risks and opportunities.

            When you hunker down and say "Do what I say and don't question it," you're sending the signal that the employee's expertise is unnecessary. You're also cutting off your ability to use their expertise, which is going to lead to a corporate collapse.

        • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Informative)

          by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @03:31PM (#50681241) Homepage Journal

          I got a better idea of what a good manager was from reading the book "The Soul of a New Machine".
          The problem with good managers is they look like they are doing nothing.
          A good manager fixes problems before they happen. You are going to need a logic analyzer next week and it shows up on your desk on Friday of this week.
          It is just transparent.

      • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @02:30PM (#50680833) Homepage

        But, you can't have a hundred people just doing whatever they want. Somebody has to be in charge. Somebody has to be the final authority when tough decisions need to be made. Otherwise, you've just got chaos.

        In a restaurant that I'm familiar with, the actual "manager" works from home, (read: doesn't work) and whoever the most senior person physically in the building at any time is the "Person In Charge." That is the person designated as the official "call 911/contractor/inspector" if something goes wrong. This is not a real problem, it is just something you're presuming is a problem. You don't have to "be in charge" to be the designated front-person for dealing with (some class of problem.)

        Employee-owned businesses, which are usually corporations where all the stockholders are employees, don't have any problem at all. Where you need a management function, you can consent to placing responsibilities on a particular worker, without making them a "boss" or giving them direct power over other employees. When you take away the generic ability to throw a temper tantrum and fire people, it actually doesn't reduce the ability to make authorized decisions to achieve real and consensual management goals.

        Of course, nerds already know about this in detail because Kim Stanley Robinson explored the subject for about the last thousand pages of the Mars trilogy.

        • You cite KSR? Really?

          The mars series was terrible. I can suspend disbelief as well as any scifi fan.

          But a space mission staffed with Grateful dead parking lot loiterers? That goes ohhhhmmmm over their plants...and somehow survives...just blithering.

          It was a series of books written for parking lot loiterers, that never stops kissing their butts. No concept is so irrational that KSR won't say 'that's absolutely true!'

          Most employee owned companies are not equally owned. There are still bosses.

      • by Daetrin ( 576516 )
        "Anyone who has any real world experience knows that management by committee just doesn't work."

        Just imagine having an Agile standup meeting every day, with the entire team acting as a collective Scrum master. *shudder*
      • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @03:20PM (#50681169) Homepage

        >Somebody has to be in charge.
        >Somebody has to be the final authority when tough decisions need to be made.
        >Otherwise, you've just got chaos.

        A perfect statement of the authoritarian belief system. I say "belief system" not to be insulting but to point out that such statements are often phrased, as here, to have no exceptions, there's no "usually" qualifiers anywhere. So a single counter-example proves them to be incorrect statements. As there are many counterexamples, its a belief system, not a fact.

        Decisions can be made by voting, or consensus, for instance. The workability is highly dependent on the group size, the problem, and particularly on whether the group contains a lot of people with authoritarian belief systems. Such people rarely want to contribute unselfishly to a group dynamic, they're constantly looking for "angles" to improve their own personal situation at group expense and the group dynamic quickly breaks down.

        But if you can pull a group together where such people are absent or muzzled, they are frequently far more productive that groups lashed to a boss under an authoritarian system. They often have "leaders" - sometimes a number of them, each a Leader at a different type of problem - that other people follow happily because you get results if you follow them - but not bosses that compel obedience.

    • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:30PM (#50680361)

      My wife works at Zappos. Compensation is based on "badges", designed by the employees themselves and reviewed through a compensation "circle" (committee). It's not super well defined or understood yet, and my informal conversations with her friends/coworkers indicate to me it isn't well like.

      The overall mood at the organization isn't fantastic, the've lost a lot of top talent, a significant percentage the IT department is contractors now, and some very large on-going IT infrastructure projects halted or failed outright.

      • by blazer1024 ( 72405 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:36PM (#50680413)

        So you *can* get a raise by wearing more flair?

      • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

        The overall mood at the organization isn't fantastic, the've lost a lot of top talent, a significant percentage the IT department is contractors now, and some very large on-going IT infrastructure projects halted or failed outright.

        Sounds like a great place to work with such an optimistic future outlook, although that same description probably applies to a lot of companies with a more traditional organization.

    • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tripleevenfall ( 1990004 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:30PM (#50680363)

      You don't.

      People who aren't managed are not being invested in.

      Obviously, the culture there is one of people being replacable cogs, who will move on when they get bored or wish to better themselves, and a new cog will be swapped in.

    • Re:Give me a raise (Score:5, Informative)

      by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @02:05PM (#50680641)

      So how do I get a raise in such an environment?

      I know, RTFA is anathema, but there is a real (and stupid) answer for that:

      One thing Zapponians now have to do is their own research about salaries, to find out the market rate for jobs at other companies that correspond to their roles. In a normal corporation, such things are taken care of by the human resources department. Not at Zappos, not anymore. Instead, if Murch wants a raise, she has to do all the research into what she's worth, create a badge, come up with qualifications for receiving the badge, and then design the actual look of the badge. Then it all has to be approved by the People Pool & Comp circle. And who happens to be the lead link of that circle? "Now, instead of trying to convince your boss that you deserve more money," said Murch, incredulously, "you have to convince Tony Hsieh [Zappo`s CEO]."

    • Your comment presupposes that managers are somehow worthy of more pay by virtue of their position. I've worked enough jobs to know that this is just not universally true. I see no reason why holacracy can't still have organizers and leaders without a permanent division between management and non-management. I've known plenty of "leadership level" people who don't contribute much and could be eliminated without pain for anyone else. Do they really deserve more than the true workhorse(s) of the team, who have

    • by Spaham ( 634471 )

      you must be from group B.

  • Just like Microsoft (Score:5, Informative)

    by lgw ( 121541 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:23PM (#50680311) Journal

    Microsoft though this was a clever idea once as well, firing all the low-mid level managers in engineering (senior management was safe of course) and keeping just the engineering team leads. Today, first-level managers have the job title "Lead", and nothing else has changed. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

    Zappos is part of Amazon, of course, so this could be a contained experiment to see how it goes before a larger scale move. I suspect it will go the same way as MS. First level people managers serve a vital role (whether the individuals in that role are competent is a different question) in preventing "drama", and hiring, training, and retaining the best. Mid-level managers may be mostly useless overhead promoted out of harm's way, but someone needs to decide what projects are worth funding, and what projects aren't worth continuing, from a business perspective. Those roles will be filled again eventually. "And their beards have all grown longer overnight."

    • by tripleevenfall ( 1990004 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:28PM (#50680339)

      A good manager isn't someone that you spend your life wanting to get rid of.

      What's that old quote... with the best leaders, when the work is done the people say "we did it ourselves"

      • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:36PM (#50680411) Journal

        with the best leaders, when the work is done the people say "we did it ourselves"

        That's really a great quote. Bad managers think management is about "telling people what to do", but really, that's the failure mode of management. If your team has good people (and that's the job: making that happen), you need only present to business goals and any broader vision, and let your people do their jobs.

        My favorite quote is "you have a good leader when the people are doing what they should. He might be telling them to do that, he might be telling them nothing, he might be telling them the opposite so they'll do it just to spite him, that's all implementation details." But really that's only half the picture: you job is to balance discipline (people doing what they should) with morale. Any idiot can make a trade-off between those two in either direction, but it's the product of both that's the long-term productivity of the team, and raising both at once is the real trick.

        • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:42PM (#50680457)

          A good manager is supposed to facilitate the work of their team members: give them guidance in what they're supposed to do, help them work with other teams when necessary, and do all the interfacing with upper management so that individual contributors don't need to worry much about what goes on above them and can concentrate on what they do best.

          Unfortunately, there aren't that many great managers, but that doesn't mean that getting rid of all managers is the answer.

          • Exactly. My boss is great. She handles all the muckitymucks so all I have to do is sit in my box and code. I'm happy.

            I would not want to have to flow...in...circles or whatever to animate my tensions or some crap.

        • with the best leaders, when the work is done the people say "we did it ourselves"

          That's really a great quote. Bad managers think management is about "telling people what to do", but really, that's the failure mode of management. If your team has good people (and that's the job: making that happen), you need only present to business goals and any broader vision, and let your people do their jobs.

          My favorite quote is "you have a good leader when the people are doing what they should. He might be telling them to do that, he might be telling them nothing, he might be telling them the opposite so they'll do it just to spite him, that's all implementation details." But really that's only half the picture: you job is to balance discipline (people doing what they should) with morale. Any idiot can make a trade-off between those two in either direction, but it's the product of both that's the long-term productivity of the team, and raising both at once is the real trick.

          My philosophy on management is that I have to get/keep the right people in place, and then do whatever I can to put them in a position to succeed at their work.

          I don't have to tell the right people what to do, they care and they know it and do it. If they don't, either I need to develop them or they aren't the right people. If micromanagement happens either I'm too far down in the details or I'm trying to fit a square employee into a round hole, IMO.

          It sounds like Zappos had a bad management culture (or mor

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've seen this before, too. You get rid of management professionals and "let the leads handle it" Now you've dumped salary you pretend you'll use to invest in more "workers" but instead it gets rolled into better margins. Now your leads are no longer doing the technical side of the job and standards cease being enforced and code review goes to shit. A year or two later costs double (or so) in order to enact "stabilization" measures because your leads are "incompetent". It also makes the case for offsho

    • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:44PM (#50680473)

      Microsoft though this was a clever idea once as well, firing all the low-mid level managers in engineering . . . Zappos is part of Amazon, of course, so this could be a contained experiment to see how it goes before a larger scale move. I suspect it will go the same way as MS.

      I would say MS has/had much larger issues with personnel management than Zappos than getting rid of low-level managers. One of the factors that many ex-employees say contributed to MS dysfunction was the reliance on permanent stacked ranking. Stack ranking led to teams and individuals sabotaging each other rather than contributing productively to MS as a whole.

  • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:29PM (#50680341)

    TFA is a description of what a holacracy is, and how it should work. And the people quitting when the experiment was announced. Not a detailed report of the theory in practice.

    And while TFA glows about it, the reports I've read about the Zappos experiment [citations not committed to memory] indicate that after a year, it was hard to get issues like "getting from the office to the parking structure at night is physically dangerous because of changes since the holacracy took over" solved.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Hwaguy ( 253509 )

      I was curious about your comment, and I think I found the article you were referring to. It was a 7/19/15 NYT article ( http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07... [nytimes.com] )

      Here is a direct quote from it regarding the efficacy of the Zappos holacracy:

      "Pressed for instances of Holacracy’s achievements at Zappos, employees could offer only pedestrian examples. Mr. Hsieh had shut the bridge connecting the office to a parking garage, hoping staff would experience more serendipitous encounters if they all used the same entr

  • A "bossless" environment may work somewhere (I can't think of any off the top of my head) but there are lots of situations and jobs that need a "boss" or some authority to direct things, settle disputes, parcel out tasks, etc etc etc.

    This sounds like some fuzzy feel-good bullshit that came from tumblr and leaked into the real world.

    • Or, perhaps, most environments could go bossless, we just don't have enough employees with the skills for bossless working yet. If the entire existing infrastructure is based around one form of organization, you can't expect peak performance by just slapping in a different one, even if that model is much better when you get it working.
    • Yeah, it reminds me somewhat of Chiat/Day [wired.com]'s attempt to create an office-less workplace.

      However, sometimes you have to iterate thru a lot of stupid ideas to find the truly brilliant ones. And you can learn stuff in failure that's useful down the road. So good on Zappos for trying, even though I don't think it will pan out so well.

      • However, sometimes you have to iterate thru a lot of stupid ideas to find the truly brilliant ones.

        This is very true...ask me how I know. :)

    • by Forgefather ( 3768925 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @03:06PM (#50681079)

      The most famous example is Valve corporation. They released their employee handbook a couple years back detailing what they had done to achieve their organization state. The one that stuck out the most to me was that Gabe Newell stated that bossless had to be bossless which had to include the CEO. Its seems like the CEO didn't quite get that memo as he made sure to keep himself presiding over bonuses and raises in the company as others in the comments have pointed out.

      Even this implementation was not immune to criticism as reports have been made by former employees that its very hard to get anything done because there is no one to set hard goals and priorities. If you want to get a project going then you have to convince your coworkers to join in. This apparently lead to an interoffice popularity contest with cliques forming around certain individuals, and the rest of the people being left out to dry because they didn't have the same social clout.

      Here is an interview with a former Valve employee at the escapist:

      http://www.escapistmagazine.co... [escapistmagazine.com]

      It seems like the general culture is positive, but only due to a lot of conscious effort on the part of the people.

  • by Hohlraum ( 135212 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:32PM (#50680379) Homepage

    I used to evangelize to people about this place and then everything about them started to suck. Their prices were always the best and they had amazing customer service. All that seems to have changed now. Coincidence?

  • CEOs gone wild (Score:4, Insightful)

    by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <kepler1@hotmai l . c om> on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:34PM (#50680385)
    The problem with a lot of leaders is that after they achieve some initial (and maybe even really big and sustained) success, they start to see it as validation of stupid ideas they may have on other things that are not related. And they begin to view their companies as experimental labs for their personal unvetted ideas. This is dangerous.

    You saw it in Google's daycare fiasco where some progressive schooling agenda was rolled out, leaving lots of parents with no affordable option for their kids because an executive wanted this, and everyone else had to follow. There are other (better) examples too.

    I get the sense that this is the same kind of thing in action. A CEO has some utopian dream about a fully collaborative workplace where everyone is equal, meritocratic, and maybe actually some noble goal of making a better company.

    But the thing you learn about groups of people over time is that not everyone can or wants to be equal all the time, and have a content-based battle for leadership every day of their lives. Sometimes you just need a factory workplace to get stuff done, and you don't need everyone to be equal and coming up with ideas every day of their lives. People often want someone to be the leader, to take the responsibility, say what others need to do, and they do it. You evaluate how it went, and try another idea where someone else leads.

    You can see examples of this in your own workplace, your friends, your family. You very rarely will see a successful or satisfying group structure where everyone has to debate every decision all the time and be thinking on their toes to do it. It's tiring, and sometimes very much the opposite of what you need to happen. Get a group of friends together where no one feels they can say what the evening's plan should be and I think you get the frustrating picture.

    Go home, start making dinner, and debate and negotiate with your spouse and kids about every step of the process because it's sure to make it better, right? I suggest you try it in your life before rolling it out to 1000 employees as the company policy.
  • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:36PM (#50680421) Homepage

    I don't feel like reading the whole thing, but I have a strong suspicion that the thing is bullshit. I'll admit I don't really know, but I wouldn't trust what I was told about this unless I saw it for myself over an extended period of time, but I've worked with/in/for a lot of different companies and groups, nonprofits and businesses, and I've seen a few try various schemes to do away with "managers" and "hierarchy". At least in my experience so far, it doesn't work.

    You might think that the problem is that the system breaks down and becomes chaotic, that without guidance, workers will allocate resources badly. But that's not quite the problem that I've seen. The problem is more that some kind of hierarchy always forms. In the end, someone takes the role of "the boss" and people still do what the boss says. The boss may be making speeches about how he's not "the boss", but he's your friend. He says he'll listen to you, he'll take your input and criticisms seriously, and you shouldn't feel like this is a hierarchy. He may spend quite a long time talking about the benefits of not having a "boss" or a "hierarchy", and how it continues to work out so well for your company, but when push comes to shove, he'll make a unilateral decision and expect you to go along with it. And he'll also have some people that he likes more than others-- whether for personal or professional reasons-- and those people will be able to tell other people what to do, too. They'll be the de facto middle-management.

    So it really becomes an issue of terminology rather than organization. There's no "hierarchy", but some people are more important and influential than others. There are not "managers", but you'll find yourself answering to one or more of those "more influential" people. The change in terminology creates a lot of feel-goodery for the management team, but in the best cases, it's just a hierarchy by other names. Unfortunately, the informality of the hierarchy tends to lead towards cronyism rather than egalitarianism.

    • Re:Probably bullshit (Score:4, Interesting)

      by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:44PM (#50680481)

      > but I have a strong suspicion that the thing is bullshit. I'll admit I don't really know, but I wouldn't trust what I was told about this unless I saw it for myself over an extended period of time,

      Valve's management is "flat". They have been doing this for years.

      * http://www.valvesoftware.com/c... [valvesoftware.com]

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yeah and their customer service is a hot fucking mess. When everyone gets to do whatever they like most, the boring stuff that needs to happen, doesn't.

        That, coupled with their tenuous release schedule (to put it mildly), makes Valve a perfect argument against this sort of structure.

        • > That, coupled with their tenuous release schedule (to put it mildly), makes Valve a perfect argument against this sort of structure.

          As Gabe said:

          * No one will remember a bad game that shipped on time,
          * No one will remember that a great shipped late.

          Obviously this no-management style doesn't fit all business needs.

      • Valve's management is "flat". They have been doing this for years.

        Yes they have. And what *REALLY* goes on there is exactly what the OP describes:

        some kind of hierarchy always forms. In the end, someone takes the role of "the boss" and people still do what the boss says. When push comes to shove, he'll make a unilateral decision and expect you to go along with it. And he'll also have some people that he likes more than others-- whether for personal or professional reasons-- and those people will be able to tell other people what to do, too. They'll be the de facto middle-management.

        So it really becomes an issue of terminology rather than organization. There's no "hierarchy", but some people are more important and influential than others. There are no "managers", but you'll find yourself answering to one or more of those "more influential" people. The change in terminology creates a lot of feel-goodery for the management team, but in the best cases, it's just a hierarchy by another name. Unfortunately, the informality of the hierarchy tends to lead towards cronyism rather than egalitarianism.

  • It all depends on what the product is in and how the business needs to interact with the customers. However, in certain environments that it works in - I believe steam works in this way. However, I can definitely see this not working in other business, but can be viable in a Tech-only company.
  • by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:40PM (#50680447) Journal

    This looks like an excellent experiment for someone else's company to do.

  • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:42PM (#50680459)
    Self directed/managed teams are not new. However to be successful the team must consist of people with high expertise in the various areas where things need to be done. Plus they need to have goal oriented personalities and be team players, willing to do a dirty/uninteresting task at times to get the team to where it needs to be. And most importantly open minded when discussing how to solve a problem, complete a task, etc amongst fellow team members, willing to put one's own idea aside and adopt a colleagues. In other words this sort of structure is not for most people. It can work but the team members must be very carefully and thoughtfully selected.
    • by ibpooks ( 127372 )

      I'll also add it's much more likely to work with younger people who have fewer concerns in their lives outside of their jobs, who don't need to use leave for ((embarrassing medical problem they don't want all their co-workers to know about)), or a divorce, or any of the other very personal things that may affect work performance someone can share with their supervisor with a reasonable degree of confidentiality that they really don't want to share with their team mates. Managing people is about a lot more

    • this. There are a lot of people in the world who just want a paycheck, as opposed to trying to accomplish something and overcome a challenge. I work with mostly the later, and it's made all the difference. Sometimes it gets weird, but for the most part we enjoy tackling each goal set before us. Sometimes your the visionary, other times your the drone just pushing someone else's idea through.

  • by Tony Isaac ( 1301187 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:42PM (#50680461) Homepage

    The leaders will still be there, they just won't be recognized as such. It's another way to be politically correct, just by not saying certain taboo words.

    I'm reminded of a big soccer league in the Houston area, where they officially do not keep score in any of the games. They want everybody to just play for the enjoyment of the game, and no one to feel inferior to others. But the reality is that everybody not only knows the score, but they know the win-loss record of every team. They just aren't allowed to say it officially.

    Zappos, I'm sure, has the same kind of thing going on.

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:45PM (#50680485)
    The biggest issue I have with Mr. Hsieh is that one of his core values is employees should be motivated by factors other than compensation. I can certainly agree with the premise but the problem is he doesn't offer much in exchange for the lack of compensation. Employees are exposed to all the difficulties of a young, startup atmosphere, including long hours, uncertain work/living environment (move to downtown uprooted lots of employees), volatile policies (holacracy implementation), etc... But employees get none of the benefits that normally come with those issues, specifically compensation.

    When Tony sold Zappos to Amaozn he became a centimillionaire several times over. Yet none of the rank and file earned a penny off the sale, per Tony's core belief that employees shouldn't be motivated by compensation, which apparently includes equity compensation as well. If you're going to treat your employees like guinea pigs for your social theory experiments at least give them some carrots for the distressful uncertainty it creates.
    • Also, wait, so the company wants me to integrate my life with it? To spend my creativity and excitement for things...there? No. How about you give me money, and I will use that money to be creative about the things I want to be creative about. Which, by the by, do not have anything to do with selling shoes.

      This might work in some kind of post-scarcity society where people are working on projects they explicitly want to work on, and need a way to organize. But even on Star Trek, ya know, I would still "self-

      • I completely agree. What's ironic is that Tony uses all the money he makes hoarding the equity in his companies to finance his creativity elsewhere, such as the Vegas downtown project. It would be nice if he spread some of that wealth so others could find an outlet for their ideas as well, an outlet that doesn't involve making Tony more money.
  • by Rakarra ( 112805 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:47PM (#50680513)

    They rebelled because they don't want to do what they managers do. Decisions the managers make don't just go away because no one in charge is there to make them.

    I had a job when I was in college where, in the latter days, I was promoted to a senior position in a campus computer lab that had managerial aspects in addition to the technical stuff I did before. I got that position because I knew my stuff, helped organize the lab, and was a senior worker there (in a workplace staffed by college students, it doesn't take long to attain seniority). I hated it. HATED. Worst time I've ever had in my career. The point in the semester where I was supposed to submit performance evaluations.. I dreaded that. These were decisions that would affect peoples' salaries. Affect whether they were kept on. Affect what they heard from the "real" managers. For a guy who wanted to code and set up servers and tinker, it was a stressful distraction.

    I think a lot of geeks are like that. They don't want to be the manager. They don't want to be involved with those sorts of decisions. But there are so many things that a good manager will do to remove that burden from the geek. They can manage inter-personal conflicts. They can decide the direction that the department will go in. Most importantly, they can negotiate with other departments. If the tech department has no advocate who can explain in plain language the pros and cons of technical decisions, then other departments are going to make those decisions for the tech department without any input from them. I'm sure there are a lot of geeks who are now saying "oh, it's already like that everywhere." It's not. In particularly dysfunctional environments it can be, but in places where various departments have a good managerial staff, at least executives can understand what the risks involved are, and what is realistic. I understand the temptation to replace bad managers with no managers, but I can't see how "getting rid of all the managers" will improve that situation.

  • by businessnerd ( 1009815 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @01:59PM (#50680599)
    Google attempted something similar back in 2001. Larry Page up and fired all of his project manager (in front of all of the employees!) and left it to the engineers to form their own teams, and pretty much just manage themselves. It didn't last long. Per this article [businessinsider.com]:

    Page’s reorganization didn’t last long either. While some engineers thrived without supervision, problems arose. Projects that needed resources didn’t get them. Redundancy became an issue. Engineers craved feedback and wondered where their careers were headed. Eventually, Google started hiring project managers again.

    This was also a big contributing factor to Page and Brin being relegated to the kids table for a while until they were mature enough to run the company on their own.

    • Sounds like what happened with Steve Jobs as well and why he was kicked out of Apple. He became wildly successful and thought he knew the best way to do everything. Just because you can make a good product that people want to buy and use doesn't mean you know anything about running a business. There's also a stark difference between the small startups where the founders accomplish what makes them successful and the huge behemoths that they eventually become.
  • Even the word is stupid. The site doesn't seem to give any explanation of where it came from. Perhaps they all greet each other in Spanish?

    Now maybe it's due to other words (dem~, theo~, aristo~) or maybe I did too much chemistry, but I want to read it as "halocracy", which would mean rule by salt.

    I doubt in practice that would be much worse.

  • This isn't a corporation it's a cult.

    What does it mean, really, for all employees to bring their full creativity to work? They're a SHOE SELLING WEBSITE. Unless Hsieh has figured out a way integrate basket weaving into tech, sales, marketing or leadership he doesn't really need/want "full creativity" and he's just leading everyone down Jim Jones way. He's a true 21st century shaman priest because he can't deal with his success so he thinks he's superman and he has to impose his vision of a utopian future

  • So instead of having jobs, in Holacracy people have roles. Each role belongs to a circle rather than a department, and circles are guided not by managers but by lead links.

    So it sounds like you still have the same hierarchical management structure as before, out of organizational necessity. Except you've renamed the roles and the managers / lead links have the same added responsibility but no extra pay

    • That might be all the improvement you need. The role of 'boss' is now played by the 'secretary' that was doing all the work anyway.
  • I have no idea how things are at Zappos, but my previous employer was definitely the anti-Zappos, that's for sure. I worked in the US office of a European telecom I don't want to name. They don't deserve the publicity even a bad mention would bring them. Few Americans have even heard of them or their parent company. My former employer tried laying off American employees but keeping their managers, apparently under the belief that if all those pesky benefit sucking employees left, real work could get don
    • I'm guessing the name of the company is also a color between red and yellow in the rainbow. Good guess?

      I also work for a not-to-be-named European company and the management culture is very strong in European organizations. It's very confusing to American employees on first brush. I'm not defending it because it's stupid, but the reasoning behind it is that companies in Europe are much more insular -- a lot of them almost exclusively promote from within. People tend to have much longer tenures with the same

  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @02:37PM (#50680877)

    The article shows that in this radically employee-centric environment, many if not most employees are thrilled and fulfilled

    These are the worthless fucks you don't want anyway.

    while others worry that self-organization in practical terms means chaos and a Maoist culture of "coercive positivity."

    The ones doing the actual things that need to get done in order for people to get pay checks

  • The problem is not a management structure. It is having bad managers. A hierarchal structure works perfectly fine as long as the managers actually know how to manage.

    The mistake most companies make is making someone a manager based on the ability to do their job. Just because you are a great developer doesn't mean you are going to be a great manager of developers. This method is doubly stupid when you consider that by promoting your best performers to a management role, you are decreasing your efficiency, s

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @03:26PM (#50681207)

    OK - I've recently been "promoted" to a Senior Lead position in a small group. This means, in addition to the work I have been doing and continue to do, I now have to deal with the management and HR stuff for a bunch of coworkers. Even though we have a "technical career track," at this point in the track I'm expected to take on some management duties. I'm of the opinion that management by socially promoted workers isn't the way to go. Despite all the complaints from workers, first-line management is an essential function and needs to be performed by people who are good at it, period. I really am trying to make a go of it, and I consider my mandate to be something along the lines of "don't be one of the numerous idiot managers I've had in my lifetime." That said, management is a completely separate skill than just about anything technical. It's not "better," it's just "different" and therefore it shouldn't be held out as something to achieve after working as an individual contributor for X years. I think the fact that management is sometimes much better compensated than their workers leads to people ill-suited for it fighting to be promoted into it.

    That said, unless you have a universally motivated workforce, the Zappos no-management thing can't work. There really are people who will do the absolute minimum to avoid getting fired. I've always been a good worker; no one would ever call me a workaholic, but I do put in extra effort consistently and have been recognized for it. It is a huge eye opener to be in the management seat and see that (a) not everyone is like this, (b) those who are not motivated need to be pushed along constantly, and (c) very little can be done to motivate said people beyond keeping their jobs. That's one of the fundamental realizations new bosses should get early on.

    I agree that many companies have changed since the authoritarian style of management was the most effective everywhere. Some companies really are capable of having their staff do a good job without being helicoptered constantly. Some (law firms, consulting firms, etc.) have kept the authoritarian and up-or-out style, mainly because they only hire new graduates and indoctrinate them completely. It'll be interesting to see where this experiment ends up in the MBA case study book.

  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @03:47PM (#50681333) Homepage Journal

    The problem is EXCESS of management personnel. Resulting in top-heavy organizations with too many layers of do-nothings between the people actually running the company and the people doing the grunt work. And with each level piled in, progressively less understanding of what's ACTUALLY going on (in both directions).

    Getting rid of management COMPLETELY isn't really the answer, as workers have to then take time away from actually doing their jobs to waste time explaining about the job they should be doing if they weren't there wasting time explaining about the job they should be doing...

    A good manager should have a decent idea of what the people working under him are doing, and enough loquaciousness to break it down into simpler terms for the person he/she is working for.

    When you filter it through multiple levels of management the message going up eventually becomes "we are doing "stuff" right now".
    Then message coming back down is "We need to keep doing "stuff" right now".

    It's like trying to give a best man's speech at a wedding for a complete stranger.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @04:06PM (#50681447)

    Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

  • by yayoubetcha ( 893774 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @04:35PM (#50681599)

    We're an anarcho-syndicalist commune! We're taking turns to act as a sort of executive-officer-for-the-week--

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @04:16AM (#50684457) Homepage Journal

    It's all the same, really.

    If you have good people, you don't need managers, good people can manage themselves.
    If you have good people as managers, other people won't mind working for them, because a good manager is a real contribution to the team.
    If you have good people at the top level, they will bring good ideas into the company, have the resources and power to see them done, and benefit everyone.

    And the reverse for bad people. In the end, it comes down to how good your people are.

    That is CMM level 1 [wikipedia.org]. You don't want to run your organisation on that level. It's idealistic, and if it works, it works great, but it depends too much on individuals. When your company is not 20 people, but 2000, it becomes almost impossible to ensure that they are all heroes. That is when you need processes and organisational structures that, if they are made by good people(*), will act as training wheels for the less-good.

    In IT we know this concept as an "expert system". Someone who is a really good manager works with someone who knows about processes and modelling to turn what he does best into a guideline for others who are not so good. The implicit knowledge gets turned into explicit knowledge. With that, you can go to CMM level 3. The higher levels are for a different discussion.

    The point is: Managers are needed, because many people work better under management. Maybe nobody in the team wants to bother with resource allocation and procurement, or skill development and HR processes. Maybe nobody wants to bother with organisational tasks, or (something other posters commented) wants to make the hard decisions. There are many reasons. In the end it boils down to division of labor, which is a proven productivity enhancer.

    (*) yes, you can't get rid of this dependency entirely, but you can reduce the number of good people you need. It is fairly easy to find 5 or 50 good people that set up the structure for everyone else. It is near impossible to find 500 or 5000 good people. Not because they don't exist. Because they already have jobs.

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