Back in March the online shoe retailer Zappos made a move to eliminate hierarchy from its management structure, implementing a system called Holacracy. You’d think employees would appreciate the greater individual freedom, dearth of bosses, and enhanced focus on collaboration. It sounds like the epitome of 21st century corporate meritocracy, right?
But the New York Times reports that since Zappos implemented Holacracy in March, 18% of the Zappos employees (about 260) have opted for a buyout and left the company. Zappos, owned by Amazon, is admittedly behind schedule in transitioning its giant retail website to Amazon’s Super Cloud — perhaps putting extra pressure on the Holacracry move. But the departures at Zappos may not be unwanted. The buyouts were reportedly generous enough to be seen as an inducement — in other words, to weed out players who can’t thrive in the new system. Amazon itself has taken some criticism — right or wrong — for how its workplace is managed, and the Zappos experiment may just be a canary in a coalmine for the larger company, testing the method to see if it’s applicable elsewhere. That would fit with Jeff Bezos’ style — and Zappos, already a leader in workplace satisfaction, is clearly an excellent place to experiment.