Self-manager: Zappos' Tony Hsieh © Zappos
When I first wrote last year about Zappos’ efforts to introduce a self-managing system called Holacracy, I said that for most companies to adopt such an approach would take “time, a leap of faith and an act of unusual self-effacement by their leaders”.
An extraordinary memo from Tony Hsieh, chief executive of the Amazon-owned online shoe retailer, has underlined just how difficult it is. In the memo, published by Quartz this week, Mr Hsieh says that in the face of potential resistance, the company is now going to take a “rip the bandaid” approach to accelerate its progress towards self-management.
Quartz reports that some of the things I predicted would be stumbling blocks — confusion about the absence of titles, defection of staff — have already affected the transition. Mr Hsieh is not giving up; indeed he’s offering severance packages to staff who are not comfortable with the new approach. The fact that a chief executive has to order a change to a system with no chief executive is only one of the apparent contradictions here.
A colleague who headed an overseas editorial bureau of the Financial Times once called me to ask my advice: did I think he should devote more time to managing the journalists in his team or to writing front page scoops?
© Henrik Sorensen/Getty
Remember those days when long-haul flights were sometimes only a half, or even a third full? The joy of sprawling out across four seats in economy for the original “flat bed” experience?
Airlines’ use of technology to manage their flights more efficiently has largely killed that 20th-century pleasure. I’ve struggled to count more than a handful of empty seats on most of the flights I’ve been on in recent years.
Now “big data” seems to be on the cusp of streamlining many other workplaces in a similar fashion — with consequences for workers that go far beyond a mere bad night’s sleep.
The latest edition of Harper’s magazine picks up on the growth of labour scheduling software in business, which, by matching shifts to demand more accurately, is helping to make sure businesses are not overstaffed. If only it stopped there. Read more
Can a man speak for women’s experiences? It is a perennial issue, leading to charges in the Twittersphere of “mansplaining”, explaining things to women that they have more expertise on themselves.
The controversy re-emerged this week, centred on Vivek Wadhwa, a lecturer at Stanford University. A blogpost by Amelia Greenhall, a tech blogger, forcefully described her anger at Mr Wadhwa having become the go-to guy for opinions on women in the tech industry.
“Many tech feminists (such as myself) like to mock Vivek Wadhwa as “The Guy Who Gets Paid to Talk About Women in Tech,” but what he does is a serious problem that hurts women in tech in tangible ways. By appointing himself the unwanted spokesman for women in tech he has kept actual, qualified women’s voices from being heard widely in the mainstream media.” Read more
I am angry with Stephen Green. I am angry in part because HSBC’s former chairman (now Lord Green) presided over a financial institution where, it turns out, oversight was so distant that large-scale tax avoidance schemes could be peddled by a Swiss subsidiary, in breach of, at the very least, the spirit, if not the letter, of good banking.
Project managed home life
The lean and flexible management model deployed by software developers is being adopted by companies in sectors beyond technology. A new book by Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of the Scrum project management process, encourages teams to work together by setting clear goals. The book, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, claims that meeting regularly and having visual workflows can reduce workloads, raise productivity and speed up development.
A recent interview on the Harvard Business Review blog
discovered that executive coach
Frank Saucier applies such management methods to family life.
At home, as well as the office, he uses a board to display tasks that need to be done, are being done and done. So, “go bowling” gets added to a list, much like tasks in beta testing would.
Thomas Edison: entrepreneur, plain and simple © Getty Images
Thought leaders were bad enough. Changemakers were hard to cope with. Do we still have to put up with serial entrepreneurs?
The phrase has become alarmingly common — more than 15,000 people on LinkedIn have decided that “serial entrepreneur” best describes their career path.
Admittedly, there is a certain genius in co-opting a word whose better known application to careers has been as a preface to “killer”. And these days being an entrepreneur is more fashionable than shaving off your beard while binge-watching Netflix.
But that does not excuse the phrase serial entrepreneur. Read more
LinkedIn's Reid Hoffman assesses levels of 'alpha-ness'. © Bloomberg
Everyone knows what an alpha personality is. Typically but not always a man, they dominate a group or workplace and are at the top of the pecking order, or ambitious to be so; they are assertive, often with a whiff of aggression. Read more
Mary Barra is a lifer, born and bred to do the job she now holds. But as General Motors’ chief executive pointed out in an interview last week at the World Economic Forum, few young Americans now anticipate spending their lives in the warm embrace of a single employer, as she has.
Chief executives project an air of certainty but their real state of mind must be constant doubt
There comes a time in most people’s lives, usually very late in the lives of self-made billionaires, when they settle their affairs and divide up their assets to put everything in order for the family. It has the added benefit for business moguls of pleasing the shareholders.
If you have room left in your 2015 diary, then volunteer. If you feel overwhelmed by work — the main reason UK citizens claim they cannot devote time to a good cause — then volunteer. It will teach you something you can use to improve as a manager and as an employee.
A job vacancy has caught Sir Alcon Copisarow’s eye. The Institute of Directors has been advertising for a new chair, who “commands respect and inspires confidence”, can “articulate the case for British business” and is “comfortable operating and influencing at the highest levels of government and the business community”.
Pope Francis Photo: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi
I suppose if you are the pontiff, you don’t have to leaven your Christmas greeting with false bonhomie, but the Pope has not pulled his punches by inviting his Vatican team to reflect on a catalogue of 15 ills or diseases he has diagnosed. They all seem to be highly relevant to executives. Here’s the full list of 15 and my brief gloss for CEOs*: Read more
Any restructuring of the 43 police forces of England and Wales would require political will. But such a reform would also be a vast management exercise.
In proposing the creation of nine new regional “super forces”, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, head of the Metropolitan Police, is addressing two of the knottiest issues in modern organisational management: how to reconcile central control with local accountability, and whether to get there through structural changes or to rely instead on collaboration. Read more
“Trying to forecast oil demand, supply and price in today’s market is like trying to paint the wings of an aeroplane in flight. Even if one succeeds in covering the subject, it’s unlikely to be a tidy job.
Surprisingly, Cho Hyun-ah has a few supporters, if comments on a Financial Times story about her resignation are anything to go by. The daughter of the Korean Air chairman quit as vice-president of the national carrier on Tuesday after insisting her flight should return to the terminal to remove the chief flight attendant – following a breach of nut-service etiquette. Read more
If I have ever written “C-suite” unironically, let me apologise. The more I come across it, the more I dislike it.
The idea of a “suite” is disturbing enough. Reeking of bathrooms and bad hotels, it appears to have nothing to do with the typical open-plan workplace. It is the C-part that really worries me, however, not because it may give occupants of the suite delusions of seniority, but because it may give them delusions of control.
Even by the exotic standards of train delay excuses, the reason for my commuter service’s late arrival one day last week was unusual: “Swan on the line.” But it got me thinking, Nassim Nicholas Taleb-style, about the hidden business risks posed by the humble commute to work.
Harriet Green, ex-chief executive of Thomas Cook, certainly broke through the glass ceiling on her way up to the top of corporate Britain. But was her abrupt departure from the travel group this week further evidence of the existence of a “glass cliff”, off which female CEOs are often said to plummet? Read more