Why Doesn’t Zappos Need IT Managers?

by drjim on April 28, 2016

If Zappos doesn't need IT managers, does anyone else?

If Zappos doesn’t need IT managers, does anyone else?
Image Credit: Mash Bonigala

Just exactly how secure do you feel in your job? Do you believe that you are using your IT manager skills to bring value to your employer? Most importantly – could they get along without you? I’d be willing to bet that most of us think that our IT manager training allows us to bring value to the table. However, over at the well-respected online giant Zappos, they just get rid of everybody who looks like you and me. Big mistake or a sign of things to come?

What Was Zappos Thinking?

Zappos is all about change. What this means is that they are always looking for ways to do a better job of delivering improved customer service which is how they define themselves. “Embrace and drive change” is one of the Zappos core values.

The goal of what Zappos is trying to do is to provide their employees with a kind of personal freedom in the office. Studies have shown that highly motivated employees who do well in a bossless environment tend to always do well.

In order to set up the new bossless environment, the workers at Zappos had to spend a great deal of time in meetings. They all hashed out who was going to be doing what even if nobody was going to be telling them what to do. Where things get interesting is that all Zappos employees will still have “external titles” that will be advertised to the world.

Just What The Heck Is Holacracy?

What Zappos is trying to do is to implement a new management philosophy called Holacracy. This is a new approach that was created by a former software executive. Holacracy is spelled out in a 30-page constitution document. There are new terms for things that we all know about. Doing your job is called “energizing a role”. Workplace issues are called “tensions”. Updates are made at “tactical meetings”.

At its heart, things get done under Holacracy by using teams. However, under Holacracy teams are replaced by what are called circles. Workers join a circle based on the type of work that they want to do. Each circle has a “lead link” who acts very much like a project manager – but with no real authority.

When a circle is formed, the members hold a series of IT team building “governance meetings” in order to make decisions about what their roles and responsibilities will be. The circle’s progress is tracked in a series of “tactical” meetings. Right now at Zappos over 300 circles have been formed.

The problems with the Holacracy process that have shown up are many. A number of firms who have initially adopted it and then walked away from it stated that they left because it required too many meetings and decision making was too vague. Two big areas that get thrown into disarray include pay and career progression. Where are you going to go if you are working in a completely flat organization?

What All Of This Means For You

You have to give the leaders over at Zappos some credit here. They sure seem to be willing to try new things! Their recent decision to embrace the Holacracy philosophy and do away with mid-level managers should serve as a wakeup call for all of us. Is this going to be a failed experiment or is it a sign of things to come?

This extreme example of flattening the organization has its merits. What Zappos is trying to accomplish is to build a work environment in which employees feel more like entrepreneurs, allows for faster idea flow, and helps with collaboration and innovation. However, drawbacks include confused employees who no longer know what their career path looks like or what they need to do in order to succeed at the company.

My gut tells me that Holacracy is very similar to Communism. On paper, it sure seems like a great idea – a lot of sharing going on and everyone helping everyone to succeed. However, as is the case with Communism where things start to fall apart is when human nature gets involved and our desire to better ourselves interferes with our willingness to participate in the program. We’re going to have to keep our eyes on Zappos and see how this all works out…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that implementing Holacracy at your company would help it to be more successful?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’ve got a quick question for you: how is your IT team doing? Do you have all of the staff that you need in order to accomplish everything that the company is asking you to do? Has anyone left lately? Do you have any funding for positions that you just have not been able to find the right person for? I’m willing to bet that you just answered yes to one or more of these questions. Don’t worry about it, despite our IT manager skills we’re all in the same boat: not enough of the right people are currently available!

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How long will Millennials stay a part of your team?

How long will Millennials stay a part of your team?
Image Credit: Erin Nekervis

Hey IT manager, I bet that you didn’t realize just exactly how big the group of millennials who are working for your company had gotten! It turns out that 18-34 year olds make up 34% of the U.S. job market – the biggest group out there. Next comes the Gen-Xers who make up 32% and finally the Baby Boomers are still out there and they make up 31%. What this means for you as an IT manager is that you are going to have to get better at managing millennials because there are more of them…

Maybe You Can’t Prevent Them From Leaving

So here’s a wild idea for you to consider: is it possible that all of the millennials that are working on your team will eventually end up leaving? How long do these people generally hang around? It turns out that last year, the median job tenure for IT workers who were between 20 and 24 was less than 16 months! Compare this to workers who are between 25 to 34 it was only 3 years. All of these numbers are less than the 5.5 year median for workers 25 and above.

If you want to hang on to your millennials just a bit longer, then you are going to have to take steps to make them want to stay. There are a lot of different ways to go about doing this. One of the most important is to strengthen networking opportunities for your millennials. Provide work related events where both younger and senior workers are provided with an opportunity to mix and mingle.

There are other things that can also be done to make your team a place where millennials will want to stay. An obvious one is to relax your dress code. I mean really, does it matter what your team wears to work as long as all of the important parts are covered up? Another thing that you can do is to create councils of millennials to allow them to have input to how the team is being run.

How To Manage Millennials Who Will Eventually Leave You

No IT manager wants to face the fact that a third of his or her team may end up leaving in the near future. However, trying to get millennials to stay may be a losing game. If they are going to go, then they will go no matter what you do. Perhaps a better idea is to understand that they’ll be taking off and start to plan for it.

If you start out with an expectation that you millennial employees will be leaving, then you can do things differently. One approach is to segment a millennial employee’s career with the company into so-called “tours of duty”. For each one of these, both the IT manager and the millennial employee have to agree on what the goals of the tour are. When the tour is up, both parties need to understand that this might be a good time for the millennial to leave.

The good news out of all of this is that simply by talking openly about the possibility that your millennial employee might leave often causes them to end up staying. Your goal as an IT manager needs to be to let your employee know that if it makes more sense for them to leave instead of staying, then that’s ok with you. Try to communicate to your millennial employees that being a part of your team is really a career accelerator and that they will benefit from the time that they spend with you.

What All Of This Means For You

In today’s IT workplace, IT managers are faced with a number of management challenges. One of the biggest is the simple fact that their largest group of workers are the millennials. Their career plans may not line up with what you are trying to accomplish with your team.

Millennials don’t generally plan on staying with one firm for very long. They don’t view any one job as being a lifetime of employment. This means that they will undoubtedly move on probably sooner rather than later. As an IT manager you need to accept this reality and you need to provide your millennial workers with clear opportunities to leave when it works best with your schedule.

Trying to retain workers who don’t want to stay is probably one of the biggest mistakes that an IT manager can make. Instead, we need to deal with the situation that we’ve been placed in and find ways to maximize the value of the employees that are members of our team right now.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What would be the best way to let millennials know that if they want to leave, now would be a good time?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental IT Leader Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental IT Leader Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Just exactly how secure do you feel in your job? Do you believe that you are using your IT manager skills to bring value to your employer? Most importantly – could they get along without you? I’d be willing to bet that most of us think that our IT manager training allows us to bring value to the table. However, over at the well-respected online giant Zappos, they just get rid of everybody who looks like you and me. Big mistake or a sign of things to come?

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