An investigation into the social experiments at the corporate headquarters of Zappos that raises some important questions about entrepreneurship, business management methods, and human values.
In 2013, journalist Groth, a freelancer who writes often for global business news publication Quartz, triggered a firestorm of publicity when she reported that the company’s CEO, Tony Hsieh, had decided to completely reorganize the company as a holocracy, which “eliminates job titles and abandons traditional hierarchy. The ultimate goal is self-organization.” Working as a senior editor at Business Insider, the author was on the scene as the adoption and implementation of the holocracy occurred, resulting in a management shakedown, employee discontent, and numerous layoffs. Groth traces the prehistory of a company that, from the beginning, prided itself on a quirky insistence that culture and fun ruled over mere profit. Hsieh adopted holocracy expecting to develop a common language that would unite the different components of his empire. However, it was much rockier than he expected, and Groth explores the shortcomings of the attempt. The culture of Zappos was organized around the slogan, “Delivering Happiness.” Similar concepts have been adopted by countless digital-age tech companies and have resulted in corporations beginning “to take on the task of managing the emotional well-being of [their] employees.” In the case of Zappos, the author identifies a group therapy–like tendency to psychologize, even at the company’s mass meetings. She writes that the practice sharply contrasts with that of some of Silicon Valley’s best investors, who are “investing in someone’s career…over the span of decades.” Consequently, there is “a subtle backlash emerging around the cult of the entrepreneur.” Groth’s investigation led to the conclusion that the Zappos organization has become quite cultlike; whether that was caused by holacracy or Hsieh’s personal foibles remains undetermined.
An intriguing business/sociological chronicle with wider implications for modern corporate practices.