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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