Zappos' Evolutionary Journey: The Stuff That Worked
Since our very explicit announcement of "Zappos Self-Management" with Holacracy in 2013, the Evolve team, in collaboration with many other teams, has introduced many tools, mindsets, systems, and other shit that has worked and actually driven great value for Zappos (whether we all use them effectively or not... eh, well, ummmmm... that's a whole other conversation).
When we think about how we build a company that stands the test of time, it's the little things we, as Zapponians, can strategically introduce into our day-to-day work environments can go a long way to helping us build happier, more engaged and motivated teams. The strengths of our teams will enable us to dictate the change we all want to see in the future of our company.
While there are a lot of factors in driving success, how we choose to do it is up to each of us, just know you're never alone in your journey - we, Evolve, is always here to help you navigate it.
Without further ado, we wanted to share our thoughts on the organizational design and productivity stuff we've introduced since 2013, but only the stuff that could work well for you, your team, and your business.
The Good Stuff From Holacracy & Teal
Note: Although these things don’t exist for every part of the organization, we have successes in various areas that are important/meaningful enough to call out. I also want to call out that I’m not saying we’re perfect at any of these things, but we’re better than many companies our size when it comes to these points.
Helps Us Evolve Faster: If we don’t evolve, we will certainly die. Holacracy practices and principles (e.g. “dynamic steering” (a.k.a. sense & respond) and “distributed authority” help us evolve more effectively (after "the dip", of course) just as every Circle and Role is tied to a specific reason why it exists (purpose) that keeps us on track.
Creates Structure/Role Transparency: Huzzah is only as good as the information that can be found in it; It's like a company directory and every circle must do its part to keep its work updated. Being able to quickly find the whos, whats, and hows helps us spend more time on the stuff that matters and less time trying to figure out where it is.
Defines Explicit Accountabilities: Clear roles and accountabilities eliminates much of the grey area we have in our relationships and it helps people focus on the work, rather than implicit direction/communication or old-school job descriptions. The more clear these are, the more effective every employee can be in her/his work.
Builds Clear Commitments to Others: By explicitly capturing next actions and projects, reporting on them, and holding people accountable for executing on them, we can be more effective/productive in our work and respond more quickly to challenges and opportunities that may pop up.
Allows For Free Role Assignment: Putting the right people in the right roles, at the right times as always been critical; it’s vital for Lead Links to remove people that don’t work out early and often (hire slow; fire fast). Holacracy enables us to do this much faster than traditional processes. A Lead Link doesn't need to hire new people to get some work done, they can put any person in the company in a role they feel like would deliver on the expected value.
Enables Us to Process Challenges and Opportunities (Tensions): If a problem or opportunity is sensed, in any part of the organization, at any time, we need have very clear paths to process them (e.g. escalation of tensions; utilization of rep links, going straight to circle lead links/people who hold roles of authority)
The Best Thing Ever: Article 4 of the Holacracy Constitution: Enables and enforces us to hold ourselves and others accountable for the commitments we make and expectations we have. Check out more information on this HERE.
Gives Permission to Delegate Authority/Leadership: Lead Links can delegate things they’re not good at, the things that someone else can do better, the things they don’t want to do, and the things they don’t have time to do. Not only is it a great way to build trust and make the team stronger, it's a great way to build more productivity and efficiencies in the long-term.
Provides Permission to Empower: Everyone leads their roles. In order for people to feel like we are truly self-organized/self-managed, they need to have perceived control and authentic/meaningful – a large part of this is having the right people in the right roles and trust.
Enables Us to Break Down Silos: Holacracy could help us build more collaborative, cross-functional teams, focused on getting specific work and projects done, together.
Helps Us Define Clear Priorities and Strategies: When Lead Links can set clear priorities and strategies and leave their teams to figure out how, not only can Lead Links spend more time doing the work that's important to them, out teams can be more effective in driving our entire business into the future.
Helps Us Stay On Track: Policies can be created and enforced to prevent the organization from going off the rails and creating harm, we create Policies that limit action, but can be impacted if permission is given by the team/individual who holds the authority. These policies are not only clear, but they provide corrective consequences so every employee can evaluate trade-off decisions. We go through a lot of work to create them, we need to hold people accountable for abiding by them.
Improved Circle to Circle Communication: In order to get the latest, greatest information in every Zapponians hands, Lead Links and Rep Links work together to effectively communicate up and down throughout our entire organization, so no one misses a beat.
The Good Stuff From MBD & CGB
Note: Again, although these things don’t exist for every part of the organization, we have successes in various areas that are important/meaningful enough to call out. I also want to call out that I’m not saying we’re perfect at any of these things, but we’re better than many companies our size when it comes to these points.
The Triangle of Accountability Provides a Simple Formula For What Value Looks Like: We have a blanket definition of what value is, no matter where a Circle or an individual resides in the organization or what it/she/he does. See Triangle of Accountability or simply <triangle.zappos.biz>. So long as an employee/circle simultaneously delivers on all three sides of the triangle, she/he/they are relevant to the business.
We Can Tap Into The Creative Talents and Passions Inside the Company: We are able to tap into creative genius, potential, skillsets, experiences, and passions from within the organization
:: Allowing for internal growth and opportunity; born and raised
:: We have created a system that truly allows for ideas to be born and flourish; any Zapponian can start a new business inside the walls of Zappos
:: We’ve developed the ability for solopreneurs/Circles of One to exist and actually build value for various parts of the organization (versus one team/one silo)
:: We’ve created the ability for any person to work on any team (holding roles across various circles in the organization)
:: We were able to identify nontraditional leadership that exists and can come from any part of the organization
:: We’re able to find better homes for Zapponians that weren’t the right fit in their previous roles
We Helped Create Financial Transparency: We’ve built better financial transparency
:: Better financial visibility into how our decisions impact our internal businesses
:: Full costs/expenses transparency so circle know how successful they are
:: Any individual has utmost transparency into any circle's finances
:: Teams can transact/”do business” with each other; teams have the mechanism, through CGB, to do this
:: People Costs: While not perfect by any means, Lead Links now know there is an explicit cost that comes with the people in their circles
We Enabled Cross-Functional Collaboration: We have better cross-departmental collaboration then we did before (even though we've arguably never been really great at this)
:: The system enables better communication and learning across teams and silos
:: The system allows the possibility to spin up a cross-functional team
:: We’ve also developed neutral ecosystems in which people can work (MBD Microbusinesses and Discovery Businesses)
We've Made Expectations Even Clearer: We can build define as much explicit clarity as we want in our team to team relationships, commitments/expectations/value are defined
:: via accountabilities and policies
:: via Service Agreements (contracts between Circles)
We Created More Accurate Job Profiles: We have started down a more explicit path of building more accurate and flexible job profiles (versus standardized job descriptions), ones that take the blend of what people are doing and pays them appropriately for energizing and delivering value on those roles
We Enabled Organizational Agility: The ability for us to be more agile in certain parts of the organization; Dynamic Steering;
We Created Conflict We’ve brought great conflict between silos. While this can be seen as a bad thing, healthy conflict, debate, and conflict-resolution is an important function of solving for big problems and overcoming challenges and adversity.