Category Archives: corporate culture

A Goodbye to Bosses at Zappos

manager exitIn a matter of days, Zappos will officially say so long to hierarchy, and say hello to Holacracy.

As of April 30, “people managers” will be a thing of the past for the Las Vegas-based online shoe and clothing retailer, according to a recent memo sent from CEO Tony Hsieh to all Zappos employees.

In that same memo, Hsieh outlines the Holacracy system, which he says removes traditional managerial pecking orders, allowing employees to self-organize “to complete work in a way that increases productivity, fosters innovation and empowers anyone in the company with the ability to make decisions that push the company forward.”

Hsieh also lamented not making “fast enough progress toward self-management, self-organization and more efficient structures to run our business,” announcing that Zappos would be taking a “rip the Band-Aid approach” to accelerating the full implementation of Holacracy, a concept the company first adopted in 2013.

Over the next few months, Hsieh plans to minimize service provider groups and lean more toward creating “self-organizing and self-managing business-centric groups,” and will begin the process of breaking down the organization’s silo-like structure of merchandising, finance, marketing and other functions.

All that said, the company will still have room for those who are giving up their manager positions, says Hsieh, who acknowledged the “absolutely necessary and valuable” role these leaders have played in aiding Zappos’ growth to this point.

He also expressed his eagerness to see “what new exciting contributions will come from the employees who were previously managers,” noting that these soon-to-be former supervisors will have opportunities to find new roles within Zappos “that might be a good match for their passions, skills and experience.”

In addition, all former managers who remain in good standing will keep their salaries through the end of 2015, “even though their day-to-day work that formerly involved more traditional management will need to change,” according to the memo.

It’s fair to say that adopting this kind of model is unorthodox. But it becomes a much less unusual move when you consider who’s making it.

This is, after all, the same organization that eliminated traditional online job postings and created Zappos Insiders, a social network where job seekers can sign up to schmooze with the company’s employees, participate in contests and chat directly with recruiters.

And, Zappos has famously offered workers financial incentives to leave the company, as a way to ferret out those who were sticking around strictly for the paycheck.

While Hsieh and Zappos have often been lauded for flouting the conventional, other firms have largely avoided following the company out on such limbs.

The Holacracy concept does have its proponents, however, with Twitter co-founder Evan Williams implementing the system at his new company, Medium, for instance. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey did the same at non-profit Conscious Capitalism Inc.

It’s not easy to envision that list getting significantly longer anytime soon. But, as was the case with telecommuting, dress-down Fridays and every other workplace development that once seemed like a radical idea, someone had to be the first to try it.

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$70,000: The New Minimum Wage

By now, you’ve likely heard of Gravity Payments’ CEO and Founder Dan Price, who set off the latest salvo in the wage wars when he told his 120-person staff that he would raise the salary of even the lowest-paid clerk over the next three years to a minimum of $70,000.

According to the New York Times‘ piece, Price, who started the Seattle credit-card-payment processing firm in 2004 at age 19, said he would pay for the wage increases by cutting his own salary from nearly $1 million to $70,000 and using 75 percent to 80 percent of the company’s anticipated $2.2 million in profit this year.

The paychecks of about 70 Gravity workers will grow, with 30 ultimately doubling their salaries, according to Ryan Pirkle, a company spokesman. The average salary is $48,000 a year.

While Price’s audacious move may not have many companies following in its path, it at least speaks to an economic issue that has captured national attention in the years since the recession: The disparity between the soaring pay of chief executives and that of their employees.

 Indeed, in an essay published recently by Politico Magazine, venture capitalist Nick Hanauer warned that the widening income gap in the United States would eventually spark a violent revolution:

“No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out.”

But, according to the Huffington Post,  rather than see this as a charitable offer to his workers, Price sees the pay raises as an investment. In theory, workers motivated by higher salaries will ultimately attract more business and handle clients better.

“This is a capitalist solution to a social problem,” Price said. “I think it pays for itself, I really do.”

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Are Your Managers Just Muddling Through?

boredIf your managers are supposed to set an example for employees to follow, a new report finds the odds are pretty good they’re leading your workers down a road that’s been paved with apathy.

In its State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders report (available for download here), Gallup Inc. surveyed 2,564 U.S.-based managers, studying the relationship between managerial talent and engagement, and the level of engagement among managers. The Washington, D.C.-based performance management consulting company found that just 35 percent of managers are engaged in their jobs, with 51 percent of managers “not engaged,” and another 14 percent “actively disengaged.”

It stands to reason that this type of managerial discontent would have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the workforce, and this survey doesn’t offer any figures to suggest otherwise.

For example, Gallup’s analysis found that employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59 percent more likely to be engaged than those overseen by actively disengaged managers.

That finding shouldn’t surprise anyone. No, it’s the sheer number of disengaged managers that should be alarming. And, just as disconcerting is the small percentage of supervisors the poll found to have the “innate talent to become a great manager,” according to Gallup.

Defining talent as “the natural capacity for excellence in a given endeavor,” Gallup found just one in 10 individuals has the “unique blend of innate characteristics” that are predictors of management excellence, including motivational skills, assertiveness, accountability and decision-making talents.

Another two in 10 have “functioning” talent, which means they possess some of the aforementioned traits but not all of them, and could become successful managers with the right coaching. Just 18 percent of current managers have “high” talent, according to Gallup.

Naturally, these managers are more likely to be engaged. Fifty-four percent of those classified as having high managerial talent described themselves as being engaged in their work, compared to 39 percent of those with functioning talent and 27 percent of managers in the “limited” talent group.

It can and has been argued that “employee engagement” is a somewhat nebulous concept. But few would dispute that—however you define the term—getting and keeping employees engaged at all levels throughout the organization is critical to success.

And, this Gallup data certainly suggests there’s a big problem with engagement among managers. Fixing it may be a tall order, but, as Gallup notes in its report, a failure to do so comes with a hefty price.

“Managers influence everything that gets done in organizations,” according to Gallup. “They translate energy into action and hold employee morale, turnover, productivity, safety and creativity in their hands. A great manager improves lives while improving performance. A poor manager makes workers’ lives miserable while destroying performance.”

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Starbucks Doubles Down on College

Starbucks, the Seattle-based coffee giant, announced yesterday it was doubling its free college tuition plan for employees to cover a full four years of college instead of two. Starbucks will offer employees faster tuition reimbursement–after every semester instead of after completing 21 class credits.

The program, in partnership with Arizona State University, offers all eligible full-time and part-time employees full tuition coverage for a four-year bachelor’s degree though ASU’s online degree program. Starbucks says it will invest up to $250 million or more to help at least 25,000 employees graduate by 2025.

Nearly 2,000 Starbucks employees have already enrolled in the program, which offers 49 undergraduate degree programs through ASU Online.

“By giving our partners access to four years of full tuition coverage, we provide them with a critical tool for a lifelong opportunity,” says Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, in a statement. “We’re stronger as a nation when everyone is afforded a pathway to success.”

And in a LinkedIn piece announcing the move, CEO Schultz talks in a video interview about the importance of education and his company’s role in making the American workforce a more robust and agile one within the next 10 years.

“We have a long history of under-promising and over-delivering,” he says. “We think we’ll do the same there.”

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John and the Thick Glass Ceiling

According to a new piece on the New York TimesTheUpshot section, fewer large companies are run by women than by men named John.

If that seems like an unlikely thing to consider, that nugget of information was dug up from what the Times calls its Glass Ceiling Index, explained thusly:

Among chief executives of S.&P. 1500 firms, for each woman, there are four men named John, Robert, William or James. We’re calling this ratio the Glass Ceiling Index, and an index value above one means that Jims, Bobs, Jacks and Bills — combined — outnumber the total number of women, including every women’s name, from Abby to Zara. Thus we score chief executive officers of large firms as having an index score of 4.0.

The GCI is inspired by a recent Ernst & Young report, which computed analogous numbers for board directors, according to the piece. That report yielded an index score of 1.03 for directors, meaning that for every one woman, there were 1.03 Jameses, Roberts, Johns and Williams — combined — serving on the boards of S.&P. 1500 companies.

While the methodology behind the figures is certainly interesting and unique, the NYT piece notes that it also points to the sad truth “that in many important decision-making areas of American life, women remain vastly outnumbered.”

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The Long Lost Art of Listening at Work

It’s tough to be a good listener in the workplace these days — even if you consider listening one of your strengths. That’s according to #ListenLearnLead, a new survey out from Accenture today based on responses from 3,600 professionals from 30 countries.

Nearly all of the respondents (96 percent) consider themselves to be “good listeners,” yet 98 percent report that they spend part of their workday multitasking and 64 percent say that listening “has become significantly more difficult in today’s digital workplace.”

Interestingly, though, despite the plethora of smartphones, tablets and other must-have yet highly distractable devices in today’s modern office, the most-cited distractions by the respondents were of the more old-school variety: When asked what interrupts their workday the most, 79 percent cited telephone calls and 72 percent cited unscheduled meetings and visitors. That compares to the 30 percent and 28 percent, respectively, who cited instant messaging and texting.

Rampant multitasking is a routine part of the workday, judging by the survey’s results: Eight in 10 respondents say they multitask on conference calls with work emails, instant messaging, personal emails, social media and reading news and entertainment. Perhaps this is something to keep in mind for your next conference call: if you’re the presenter, try and keep things lively, quick and fast, otherwise your presentation could lose out to the latest goings-on of the Kardashian clan as bored attendees seek relief via their smartphones.

In keeping with general trends, respondents have mixed views on the benefits of technology in the workplace: 58 percent believe technology enables leaders to communicate with their teams easily and quickly, and nearly half cite its ability to enable flexible work from anywhere. However, 62 percent of women and 54 percent of men view technology as “overextending” leaders by making them too accessible. Majorities also agree that information overload (55 percent) and rapidly evolving technology (52 percent) are among the top challenges facing leaders today.

 

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A ‘Smarter’ Look at Transparency

Here’s an interesting twist of business-world irony: While a  company’s culture of transparency may help increase accountability, collaboration, knowledge sharing, innovation and productivity, it can also undermine it.

At least that’s the view being espoused by Harvard Business School’s Ethan Bernstein in a piece that recently appeared on the Wall Street Journal site.

Bernstein, an assistant professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School, writes that quantity should never trump quality when it comes to how an organization approaches the issue of transparency:

The problem, I believe, is the conviction that when it comes to transparency, “more is better.” But more transparency isn’t necessarily better. Rather, smarter transparency is better. If leaders can adopt a transparency strategy that strikes a balance between openness and privacy, that tears some walls down while leaving others in place, they are more likely to get the results they want.

In the piece, Bernstein shares three guiding principles employers should follow in order to strike the right balance of openness and opacity within their organizations, including his take on open-office designs.

One global company Berstein studied had recently transformed its headquarters from traditional to open offices, he writes, and so he measured face-to-face and electronic interaction of its staff both before and after the redesign.

After the redesign, interactions between individuals who weren’t on the same team jumped more than 50%. Sounds good, right? Except that interactions between individuals who had to work together to get things done fell by almost an equivalent amount, and the total amount of interactions actually fell.

The moral of that particular story, he writes, is that organizations adopting transparent workplaces “need to think even more about who should observe whom, not just leave it to chance.”

And the key for organizations, he writes, is for company leaders to strategically consider when observation will improve productivity, and when it will undermine fertile soil for innovation:

As with all transparency efforts, a lot of good can come from putting everybody on stage some of the time.

But, he concludes, requiring “a constant performance [by employees] comes with a high price: the loss of experimentation and learning. It’s a price that companies should be unwilling to pay.”

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Are You a Minister of Culture?

How’s your company’s mojo supply these days?

According to a new piece by Forbes contributor Liz Ryan, it’s likely lower than it could be because some “leaders can’t imagine treating their employees any better than the law requires.”

And that’s what happens when fear-based leaders tell their HR people to simply focus on employment-law compliance instead of employee engagement and other strategic issues, she writes in a new post titled “Reinventing Human Resources For The Human Workplace.”

In the piece, Ryan calls it “a tragedy when HR people are assigned to spout policies and process performance reviews rather than to serve as the Ministers of Culture every organization needs.”

“HR people who see their job as keeping the firm out of court miss dozens of chances a day to build community and trust.”

In order to do this, she says, HR needs “to actively get out there with our teammates and into the talent market and say ‘How do we make this place the hands-down coolest place to work?’ I’m not talking about slogans and happy talk or even Friday night pizza parties or foosball.”

“I’m talking about grown-up accountability for the trust level in the organization. That’s the fuel tank your HR team is responsible for keeping full to its brim. Your Finance team looks after the money. Your HR people keep the mojo stores full.”

And one of the best ways for HR leaders to maintain a company’s good energy, she says, is actually quite simple: “They have to ask way more questions than they answer.”

Indeed, when it comes to mastering a topic as tricky as mojo, taking a “curious” approach certainly seems to make quite a bit of sense.

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What Workers Want and How to Supply It

As most of you embark on your first official work day of 2015, and Bruce-Tulgan-New-Photo-June-2014-200x300just in case a New Year’s resolution was to treat your employees even better this year than last, I thought I’d start you off with some suggestions from workplace and demographic expert Bruce Tulgan.

As I noted in this earlier (summertime) blog post about his recent book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face, Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., is pretty authoritative when it comes to employer-employee relationships.

In this more recent post, What Employees Want and How to Give It to Them, Tulgan once again relies on his and Rainmaker’s more than 20 years of research into workplaces and manager-employee relationships to give you these “key elements of every job that employees typically care about,” he says.

As he puts it in the post:

“You want to be generous and flexible with your employees. Why wouldn’t you? Everybody is working harder. Everybody is under more pressure. Everybody needs more than what they are getting.

If you are the boss, one of the most important parts of your job is taking care of your people. Remember, people work to take care of themselves and their families. They want your help. Some managers consistently do more for their employees. If you’re not one of those managers, what is your problem?”

He’s not the only one stressing the importance of treating workers with respect and helping them develop — especially as more millennials and Gen Zers enter the workforce. But he’s one of the few with this much research behind what he recommends.

So here’s Tulgan’s list of what employees really care about:

  1. The ability to earn more money. This is all about the compensation package. What is the base pay and the value of the benefits? How much of the pay is fixed? How much is contingent on clear performance benchmarks tied directly to concrete actions the individual employee can control? What are the levers for driving the pay up or down?
  2. More control over their own schedules. What is the default schedule? How much flexibility is there? What are the levers for achieving more or less scheduling flexibility?
  3. Relationships at work. Who will the employee be working with? Which vendors, customers, co-workers, subordinates, and managers? What are the levers for controlling who the employee has a chance to work with (and/or avoid)?
  4. Task choice. Which regular tasks and responsibilities will the employee be assigned to do? How much of it is “grunt work” (tedious or otherwise difficult recurring tasks)? Are there any special projects? What are the levers for controlling the employee’s opportunities to work on more choice tasks, responsibilities or projects?
  5. Learning opportunities. What basic skills and knowledge will the employee be learning in order to handle his basic tasks and responsibilities? Will there be any special learning opportunities? What are the levers for controlling access to those special learning opportunities?
  6. Location and workspace. Where will the employee be located? How much control will the employee have over his workspace? Will there be much travel? Are there opportunities to be transferred to other locations? What are the levers for controlling these location issues? Within a given workspace, how much latitude will the employee have to customize his/her immediate surroundings?

Tulgan says the key to making these desires work for you has a whole lot to do with how you leverage them, as bargaining chips. He offers these examples:

  • “You don’t want to work on Thursday? I’m glad to know that. Here’s what I need from you by Wednesday at midnight.”

  • “You want your own office? Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to bring your dog to work? Great. Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to have lunch with the senior VP? Here’s what I need from you.”

“When managers are able to [leverage employee desires and business needs like this],” Tulgan says, “they are giving the employee control over [his or] her rewards by spelling out exactly what [he or] she needs to do to earn them.

“In exchange,” he says, “the employee will probably be willing to do a lot [more] — to work longer, harder, smarter, faster or better” — while getting a valuable and immediate reward in return.

Sure, you can say all this is intuitive, but I would counter with, “then why aren’t more employers doing it?”

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For Women, ‘Assertive’ Still Means ‘Mean’

We really haven’t come that far, fellow females.

Not when recent polls show too many women in business — whether by their own fault or by their being mislabeled — are still being 162892062 -- bitchy bossperceived as too gruff, too assertive, too downright mean when they’re in positions of authority.

When Lawrence Polsky wrote an article about “bitchy bosses” earlier this year, he garnered hundreds of responses, clearly touched a nerve and sparked a nationwide conversation about why women leaders are perceived differently than men, according to one release I read about the article .

“Ninety percent of the leaders I have coached over the past 20 years [have been] women,” says Polsky, managing partner at the Princeton, N.J.-based global consulting firm PeopleNRG.com. “I have found the reason they are called bitchy or some  version of that, by their team or colleagues, comes down to one thing: the perception of being ‘too’ assertive. It can also be a way for employees to undermine a woman leader they don’t like or are jealous of.”

Polsky followed his article up by polling 221 professionals on their perceptions of the article for a survey he appropriately titled “Bitchy Bosses” as well.

That poll found:

  • 76 percent of women reported having a “bitchy boss” in the past, compared to 64 percent of men;
  • 89 percent said it reduced team productivity;
  • 87 percent said they or someone on their team left their job because of it;
  • 79 percent said it made them less motivated to do a good job;
  • 62 percent of men said they were lied to by the boss, compared to 52 percent of women;
  • 36 percent told human resources about the problem, yet only 10 percent said HR did anything to help the situation; and
  • 15 percent called in an outside consultant, and of those, 79 percent said that didn’t help.

A recent post on this blog by Senior Editor Andrew McIlvaine supports this notion that we have a problem out there, women. His post describes, as one linguist uncovered through her research, “what seems to be a powerful bias against women who are seen as ‘too assertive’ in the workplace — and the bias seems prevalent regardless of whether the review was conducted by a man or a woman.

That research, which surveyed 248 performance reviews from 28 companies, showed women received much more critical feedback than men did. (About 59 percent of men’s reviews included critical feedback, while nearly 88 percent of women’s did.)

Some of the criticisms against women written in the reviews included: “Stop being so judgmental” and “You can come across as abrasive sometimes.” In fact, the linguist found the word “abrasive” was used 17 times to describe 13 different women, but the word never appeared in men’s reviews. (McIlvaine’s post also includes a link to an HRE piece addressing this.)

More recently, in her October column addressing the scuffle caused by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s comments on women’s pay, Susan R. Meisinger, our HR Leadership columnist, acknowledges this double standard in how we come across affects pay as well.

“Some women aren’t comfortable asking for more money,” she writes, “because they fear it will adversely impact how they are perceived. The fear may be valid: Research shows that both male and female managers are less likely to want to work with women who negotiate during a job interview, since women who press for higher pay are considered pushy.”

Boy, we really can’t win for losing, can we?

Of special concern to Polsky, from the research he did, is that HR doesn’t appear to be all that effective in mitigating the perception problem, at least as it concerns female bosses.  What this means, in his estimation, is that:

“HR cannot rely on hearing about a bitchy boss from employees but must be proactive to discover if the problem exists. [HR leaders] need to look for clues, such as a leader complaining to HR: ‘The people on my team are not stepping up to the plate.’  Another sign is if you sit in team meetings and many team members are very quiet. Both are clues that there is no space for the team to contribute. This points to the fact that either the leader hasn’t built trust or is eroding it.”

He offers these tips for dealing with this issue (as well as how he gave them to me below). If HR does hear about this type of behavior in a female manager or leader:

  1. Encourage employees to talk directly to the boss. Direct feedback is the most helpful for leaders to understand the impact they are having. Our research showed 43 percent of people spoke to their troublesome boss about the problem and about one in five said it helped improve the situation.

  2. If more than one person brings it up, then they need feedback. This needs to come from their manager, not HR.  Why?  If they are to turn this around, it could get messy before it gets better.  They need their manager on their side through the process, to make them aware of the perception problem. Often, these leaders are not aware of how they are being perceived.  Their manager needs to discuss the situation with them.

  3. Oftentimes, the team and the leader need support to move through this problem.  The leader needs help pulling back and being less aggressive while the team needs help being more assertive.  Most of the times I have been involved, the team needed to learn to be more assertive to push back on an overly assertive leader’s aggressive communication. What often gets forgotten, and what we always do, is help the team go through a process of open, honest dialogue with the leaders. This creates healing and forgiveness. Employees will forgive and move forward if they believe the leader is sorry and will change.

  4. If the leaders do not change, after six months of coaching and support from HR and/or a qualified coach,  then they need to be moved to a different position where they can thrive or be removed from their job.

Also, overlook it, he says, if it’s a one-off. If there is only one person complaining, make sure this is not an employee with an axe to grind. Check into it. “I have seen where an employee with an axe to grind gave anonymous feedback to make the leader look bad,” Polsky says.

Also overlook it if the female leader has been charged with implementing a new vision/strategy/approach. “Employees,” he says, “might be complaining because the leader is  pushing them more than the previous manager/leader/situation required.”

This notion kind of feeds into a piece by Mark McGraw, posted here earlier this month, suggesting there are times when “being a jerk” can be effective in business. Unfortunately, the researchers in his piece don’t address the “bitch” factor, only the multi-gender “jerk” factor.

I guess the million-dollar question that has yet to be answered is: Why are women getting the lion’s share of the “bitch” complaints? And (perhaps for Polsky to take on in 2015) what can HR do to even that score?

 

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