You have the eccentric supreme leader, who claims to be just another equal among the group, yet issues edicts that the whole organization must follow. Scientology has Hubbard, Zappos has Hsieh.
You have the doctrine based on moving the organization and individuals towards a pure state, untainted by the way the rest of the world operates. Scientology has 'clear', Zappos has 'teal' and 'self-management'.
You have the lingo that only people within the fold understand. Everything that everyone does is couched in terms that are invented by the group, or especially words that are redefined with specific meaning, creating a kind of dialect for group members that diverges from the mainstream. This makes it difficult for them to communicate with outsiders or leave the group, and also makes it difficult for outsiders to investigate and understand the group. Scientology has words like 'tones' and 'ethics' and 'holidays', Zappos has 'circles' and 'lead links' and 'roles' and 'distractions'.
You have people who don't fit (i.e, accept and submit to the doctrine and leadership) be driven out. If you're one of these people, it's treated as a personal failing on your part: you haven't haven't been willing to accept the doctrine, which is taken to be self-evidently correct and ideal, and cannot be allowed to taint the group. Scientology has its 'suppressives', and Zappos has 'the Beach'.
Are there more? Maybe. Am I just imagining them, and it's really no stranger than any other company that's a bit insular... like Apple for example? I don't know. But reading this article definitely tripped my 'cult' alarm.
Holacracy a cult? Why not traditional management a cult? The difference being simply that traditional management is broadly accepted as "normal" by society at large.
Ostracism via "the Beach" is just a different kind of social power than the traditional hierachical institutions, with different tradeoffs. Generally you think of these kind of power-diffuse societies as unable to scale, but Zappos has 1500 employees.
It's too early to say whether it works. There's a saying I'm trying to remember, something about 'you can only see the rocks at low tide'. Almost anything will look wonderful in good times, and it's easy to attribute that success to whatever you're doing at the time. It's not until bad times that its flaws become visible.
Zappos was built to its current state on a hierarchical structure. They haven't yet had its decentralized structure tested in any significant way. If Zappos hits a slump in sales for whatever reason, how will the organization respond? Will Holacracy survive a crisis like that? That's where you'll really see if it's a useful system to govern a company.
You can't define 'cult' without an element of normative determination. It's right there in the first sentence on the Wiki page for cult, and in every dictionary definition I could find.
Also, the term does not necessarily carry a derogatory tone. I've seen many small spiritual groups self-describe as cults.
Well, the only difference between a cult and a religion is age. And possibly whether they tell you to see a doctor if you get sick, not sure what the parallel to that would be.
The most interesting question was when they upped and moved the company to Vegas and you really had to make a life decision about whether to go, knowing full well that your support group would be your colleagues, and you would be also their support group. Like triple the isolation and dependence? But it was for business reasons! Just coincidentally had very demanding cultural requirements as consequences.
I think there are lots of industries where holocracy could be just as good as the top down model is. For example, retail, hotel work, taxi companies, etc. Anywhere where mom and pops could have a business... That is wherever your average non MBA graduate can have a modicum of success you could probably create a workforce of equally qualified workers who could self assemble into workgroups according to their dispositions and aptitude. It's not far off from how the workgroups were supposed to work in practice in communist doctrine. Of course in their practice 5 year plans meant top down control.
Importantly you don't need highly paid managers to manage low level operations. Operations which don't require a whole lot of external supervision if you indoctrinate the workers to self regulate.
Now if you get to the point where ordinary words are being redefined to mean something complete different (or even opposite), you are already late for the door. Run.
It seems it's probably a good workplace to start your career but I doubt it works for a long career.
I haven't heard of any isolation at Zappos ...
Woah, got some more info on that?
Looks like there were a few!
I think however that the general tendency to play with power is a worthwhile one. If people have to play games with each other, they probably also become better in games with the outside world. It is important that they don't develop an idiom only understood my themselves however. A hierarchical structure might also be good training material.
Then, if friendly interaction with customers and getting new customers seeps into the entire organization through nonhierarchical means, this would be a great win. I can imagine that a dynamic structure that reflects the company goals directly, will be really good!
It's smart from a culture management perspective though. Creepy (intimidating?), possibly unethical at times, but effective... Cult structure as a filter for all but the ultra-loyal sure seems wrong from the outside, but internally it fosters unity and rock-solid hierarchies under a guise of self-actualization. Isn't that what every human organization tries to pull off?
Want to spend all day at work planning fun activities? No one can tell you no!
And one day, perhaps due to bad luck or competition, Zappos won't be Zappos. Sales will suffer, restructuring will be required, and layoffs will be necessary. Inevitably, there will be comments here asking, "Why is it that these common workers pay the price?"
Well, such comments will be much less "inevitable" if workers indeed have such freedom in the shaping of the company's future.
Oddly, though, the invisible hand of those who actually run the company will ensure that the Will of the People is that, after enough party members are on a team, no more than that will join. It's quite curious, and no one quite understands how that will happen, but the Will of the People is clearly observable. (Sorry, should have capitalized Party there).
Compared to, say the Basecamp offices, which look open, airy, and peaceful:
The choice isn't between the clutter of Zapos or the open space zen of Basecamp. It's between the "make your own ideal workspace" freedom of Zapos (on a relatively small budget) and the "this what we made for you" design of Basecamp (on a relatively high budget). Some people will prefer Basecamp, but not everyone.
I don't know that at all. All I know is that social pressure works, even at Zappos.
If every desk at Zappos has a bunch of crap on it, then by damned your desk better have some crap on it too. Otherwise, you could end up on a hero's journey to figure out why you're not fitting in.
Remember that 'conforming' doesn't always look like clean desks with the stapler always in the upper left hand corner.
I'm not sure who's working PR as Zappos but that picture cballard linked to is probably not a good corporate message given the sign in the upper left corner.
The open areas are Basecamp-esque cleanliness, the cubicles are the quirky-and-random crampiness.
Still more space than I have now. :(
What I do know for sure is this: I have never been a Zappos customer and am not planning on it. All these experiments seem to be leaving them with prices that are just much higher than alternatives. Even their parent company, Amazon, often has better prices on similar products.
Zappos has been very successful and had a clear positive trajectory before holacracy/Teal. Clearly foolish to jeopardize that to such a degree!
At the same time, you may believe that a new system could truly pay off and take you to the Next Level. Maybe there would be a temporary setback, but you have to grit your teeth and believe in your reasoning that it will work out in the end, better than had you kept the status quo.
I can't help but think of Hsieh as a kind of artist. He isn't trying to just make money or "be successful" like most people. He wants to create something new and exceptional. And will reach for it while paying little mind to the risks.
Is holacracy's scope confined, where there are still execs above it that can make those decisions? Were these decisions actually decided "holacratically", meaning my expectations of making it difficult to do such sweeping changes in such a system are wrong? etc.
Again, let me emphasize, honest questions. I clearly have preconceptions in those questions but I'm trying to avoid opinions, as I don't have enough data. (And I am suspicious of the tone of the article, admittedly. But still, honest questions.)
I worked in a partially "holacratic" organization for about six months, and had a lot of good experiences, but remain something of a skeptic. Certainly it's problematic that the companies most likely to adopt it are already in the bad state that necessitates a major shake-up. I think a lot of the criticism of Zappos by outsiders and message-board nerds is misguided or ignorant, but they seem to be in a bad spot no matter what.
Just as Lenin, et al had to maintain a repressive aristocracy during the "transition period" in the journey to the dictatorship of the proletariat, there's always an incentive to keep the transition period a little longer.
Namely, Valve just did it, Zappos made a big deal about doing it
( I know that Zappos consulted Valve about their organization, at least according to a friend that works at Valve, but no idea what Zappos took from that consultation )
My guess: the bystander effect
Both would be baseless opinions. It's damn near impossible to compare like for like here.
I'd file the idea under "interesting", but I'm not going to be rushing to send Zappos my business card because there are creepy and inappropriate overtones - not least is the insistence that Work is Family[tm].
But... I think it would be definitely a good thing if more corps experimented like this, so that "business culture" actually meant something identifiable, and there was a lot more corporate diversity, with a much wider variety of management structures and personnel styles.
Then if you didn't like a culture, you could avoid a corp. It would be easy.
The problem now is that a lot of business culture is implied, and the rules - which are at least as strong as those used in holacracy - are unspoken. Sometimes they're deliberately misleading.
I don't think this particular solution has much hope of transcending office politics. But I still think it's a more interesting culture than anything offered by (say) HP, Oracle, or IBM.
It is no surprise that this is a difficult and long process. They are breaking some longstanding, fundamental human processes at a large scale. This is a hard thing to do and it might not be possible.
Hat tip to Zappos for trying.
I've only found in the past the Valve employee handbook, some people raving about Valve and some people talking about highschool style bullying.
Your description succinctly summarizes the 7 references in Wikipedia for that topic https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valve_Corporation#Organization... .
This BBC article touches upon the concept more broadly:
My dream job is to be a resident Game Developer for a non-game development company. Literally paid to make whatever games I want, no manager micro-managing me, no committee telling me what to make or what "they want int the game." This article gives me a small amount of hope that one day I could do this, but my question above is the big "speed bump."
I'll keep running numbers however and figuring out timing and niche!
why can't i make this page stop playing its video
why is there a text element sitting over a flash video player blocking me from being able to make it stop playing
did you know that safari's 'reader' functionality will hide self-playing flash elements, but will not make them stop? now i know this.
oh, and now i know that clicking the blue speaker icon in safari's title bar will make this page STFU.
I think it's very brave to take this decision and I'm very curious to see how it plays out in the following 5-10 years - maybe they've struck gold, but it's still covered in some dirt.
Once the brick and mortar retailers started taking online returns, Zappos lost its biggest differentiator--its no hassle return policy--and had to eat the return cost of shipping.