A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported how the billion-dollar online retailer Zappos joined Twitter in adopting a new and controversial approach to leadership called Holacracy. In essence, this management theory prescribes a flat hierarchy, doing away with all manager titles. Without management, employees have to determine themselves how to get work done. It sounds intriguing – no boss monitoring your tea breaks, micro-managing or whisking out deadlines. But how well do you think it would work in practice?
It turns out that the change apparently rattled employees so much that more than 200 of them resigned. Without clear leadership, some found the switch to self-management confusing and time-consuming. This got me thinking about whether management plays as significant a role as we think it does.
Without effective management to take control of a situation such as this, you could well end up with an empty ship. Good management would have made a qualified judgement call on the amount of risk-taking to put their employees through and also instilled the right company culture and incentive systems to ease their employees into major organisational changes.
Another potential problem is the unavoidable tension that will arise without a clear chain of command. As anyone who has watched an episode of Survivor, The Apprentice or even been on a team-building exercise themselves will know, dominant personalities often just take charge and are inevitably looked up to as authority figures, whether they are explicitly labelled as such or not. The fact is, as reported in ‘The Path to Glory is Paved with Hierarchy,’ that the pecking order is ‘the universal default for human social organisations’. While many people have no problem with answering to a leader, one that is not officially recognised can often cause deep resentment and office politics.
For the sake of accountability, I believe recognised leadership is crucial. It’s important to remember that as managers, our responsibility does not solely lie in getting a job done or turning a profit for the company. We are entrusted with nurturing our staff and helping them develop with the support structures they need. It’s not enough to be a boss who is present – strive to be a leader who is proudly acknowledged by your team.
Author: Brett Tromp CA(SA) is CFO of Discovery Health