Thoughts on Self-Management; and on Organizational Change – Reflecting on Zappos’ “Holacracy” Shift

I’m not an expert on Zappos.

But, in addition to preparing synopses of many books on organizational change (as part of my work with the First Friday Book Synopsis over the last 17+ years), I’ve been involved in organizational change efforts on a very personal level (back in my days as a minister, trying to bring about such change within an established, traditional congregational system).

And, if I did not practice self-management, I would not survive, because I work as an independent consultant and trainer/speaker. In other words, I have to manage myself – no one else is going to.

So… some thoughts.

The book comes out in June, 2015
The book comes out in June, 2015

The story of Zappos’ move is described in this article (among many others) 210 Zappos employees — 14% of the staff — take buyouts after CEO ultimatum to embrace self-management or leave by Richard Feloni. Here’s the key summary sentence:

The company, well known for its experiments involving corporate culture, has been transitioning to a self-management organizational structure known as Holacracy since the beginning of 2013.

Zappos was formed in 1999, and was bought by Amazon in 2009. So, it is not an old company. But it is old enough that to pull off a true organizational change can be a significant challenge. And, one this substantial, to move everyone int eh company into self-management, is especially challenging. It appears, from the articles I’ve read about this experiment, that it is not working out as well as was hoped.

My two observations:

#1 — this should demonstrate how very difficult it is to bring about genuine organizational, organization-wide change. If a CEO as influential as Tony Hsieh, in a company as “young” as Zappos, has trouble dong this, then maybe we can better understand why it is so difficult within any organization.

#2 – Maybe not everyone is cut out for self-management. I remember recently reading why we don’t need less management, but more. I’ve read a lot of books dealing with management approaches, and management challenges. And, know personally how difficult it is to be fully in charge of every aspect of what I do in my own work life.

In other words, there are plenty of people, and jobs, that simply work better when good managers are part of the mix.

So, to put it simply, many people need a good manager. (And, a few other good “influencers,” like coaches, and mentors, and sponsors, and…).

I think this Zappos experiment is definitely going to be worth watching over the next few months/years. I really do wonder how it will all turn out?


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