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Zappos levels the no-boss playing field

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Over the past few years, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has revolutionized the concept of management. But it’s an open question whether his most recent moves are for better or worse.

Hsieh, 41, introduced a system at Zappos that’s built on self-management. Employees at the Las Vegas-based e-commerce firm no longer have job titles or bosses; they are expected to decide for themselves how to prioritize and perform their work.

Hsieh’s attempts to shake up his workplace have come at a cost. About 14% of Zappos’ 1,500 employees will leave the company soon. These buyouts represent a renewed effort to “rip the Band-Aid,” Hsieh explained in a companywide memo.

Remaining employees are not embracing the no-boss system. In fact, many of them complain that it’s confusing and time-consuming. Some report having to attend five extra hours of meetings every week to establish “circles” and learn a different vocabulary where performing a job is “energizing a role” and workplace concerns are “tensions.”

Moreover, some staffers worry that they may not earn pay raises—or miss job advancement opportunities—because they lack a manager guiding their careers. Adjusting to the system has proven a major distraction.

Another brewing problem: What happens to all those ex-managers who no longer have anyone to supervise? Zappos has not promised former managers that they’ll get moved into another job. And even if they hang around, they could face a pay cut in 2016.

Hsieh admits that overhauling the traditional office hierarchy “takes time and a lot of trial and error.” But with 200 people bailing out and disgruntled employees staying put, it’s hard to know if his bold moves will pay off in the long run.

— Adapted from “At Zappos, Banishing the Bosses Brings Confusion,” Rachel Emma Silverman, www.wsj.com.

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