Tommy serves as the President at ThreeWill. In this role, he works with his leadership team to hire the best people, find the right business opportunities, and ensure that ThreeWill delivers for our clients on projects.
Truly caring about company culture seems to be the path less traveled
Recently, one of our Associates at ThreeWill shared this article on Zapposmentioning that their culture has some similarities to ThreeWill’s culture. This piqued my interest, so I gave the article a quick read. The article (Zappos says 18 percent of the company has left following its radical “no bosses” approach) discusses the high turnover after the CEO challenged his organization to get behind their management system called “holacracy.” The CEO offered an attractive severance plan if you did not “buy in” to this decision; it looks as though a good number of people took him up on this.
What the heck is Holacracy?
This is the first time I have seen holacracy used for a company management methodology. I have not formed an opinion on this yet. Why not? Well, maybe it is because it is the first time I have seen this word before. I will to need dig deeper on the topic and let it percolate in my mind for a while before I can form a solid opinion on holocracy. What I do gather so far from holocracy is that it hinges on self organizing teams and requires breaking down traditional company hierarchies (including the use of the term “boss”).
Side Topic — Seems like comments on articles are a dumping ground for angry people
By the way, what was so surprising (or maybe not so surprising) was to see all the negative comments at the bottom of the article bashing Zappos and none of the comments pointing out the courage that went into being willing to allow the company to shrink in order to have , what Jim Collins says, “the right people on the bus”. Even if they needed to downsize, to do this in a way to realign to the company values vs. executing a pure heartless financial cutback is commendable. I know it is just another way to package offering severance to people that might be better served by leaving the company, but I think that takes some guts and thought.
Why “No Bosses”?
I admire company leaders that protect their culture and are brave enough to stick their neck out on the topics that are critical to what makes that company special. Before I was made aware of this article, Zappos had been a company that has piqued my curiosity. I think some of their intentions around “no bosses” are similar to our most important shared value, “Free Will.”
Free Will statement on our website:
We value the God given ability to make conscious choices in the workplace and life. Free will is the term we use to describe the awareness that we have to consciously choose to make good decisions. At ThreeWill, we encourage each other to use our capacity to innovate when solving problems. Free will is summed up well by author Stephen R. Covey in three sentences: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space, lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices, lie our growth and happiness.” At any moment, we have the freedom to choose to make the right decision. This is often difficult, but is key to helping each other and our clients succeed.
The “no bosses” concept is not a new concept to me. I worked at W.L. Gore and Associates (now known just as “Gore”) for 5 years as my first job out of school. Gore is where I got my first taste of what it is like to work in a healthy company culture. Gore operates under “a team-based, flat lattice organization that fosters personal initiative.” I think Gore has the same spirit as Zappos where leaders emerge based on followers. To thrive in these environments, you need to be a self-motivated individual. And this is not just a passing fad at Gore, they have had “no bosses” from the beginning (over 50 years ago). “No bosses” has been a key factor in building an authentic culture that is even respected outside of Gore (including being on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work” 18 times and this year at #17).
At our company, ThreeWill, we also prescribe “no bosses.” We adopted this concept based on my experience at Gore, which is having sponsors vs. bosses. Sponsors at ThreeWill help new associates get established by orienting them to the culture of the company and how things get done. At the end of the day, Sponsors are advocates for the people they sponsor by finding opportunities for the associate to grow and channel the passions that brought them to ThreeWill in the first place.
This sponsoring approach fosters a servant leadership approach to how things are run at our company. The leaders at ThreeWill are the people that serve others internally and have natural followers. The value of the sponsorship paradigm is that it focuses on succeeding as a company, by creating an environment where helping others to succeed is expected vs. focusing on making your reporting structure (bosses) happy.
No Bosses and No Titles?
Both Tony Hsieh (CEO at Zappos) and Bill Gore (founder of Gore) created a no-bosses and no-titles environment. ThreeWill has not gone as far as not having titles (it has certainly been pondered). The concern I have (which is probably similar to Gore’s and Zappos’ concern) is that titles put people in a box that can limit a person’s full potential. At ThreeWill, we have titles more for the benefit for people external to ThreeWill and not as necessary for functioning internally. But at the end of the day, ThreeWill values “roles and responsibilities” over “titles and hierarchy.” While there is some value to “titles and hierarchy,” we value the “roles and responsibilities” more. The danger of titles and hierarchy is that it can easily degrade a culture and create division and silos in a company. At ThreeWill, we like to keep titles and hierarchy to a minimum and focus more on fostering a self managed organization and self organizing teams.
Stand up for your company culture!
So as I said in the beginning of this post, the Zappos culture intrigues me. I have not looked into the “holacracy” way of managing, but will be reading the book call “Reinventing Organizations” that describes this system and browsing the http://www.holacracy.org site. It is good to have people like Tony and the late Bill Gore as examples of leaders that really care about their company’s culture and are willing to take an unorthodox path to make the company great. Having these examples gives me strength to fight for our culture at ThreeWill.