The Right People For Flat Organisations – 4 Hiring Tips From Google And Zappos

Dan Rogers
The Right People For Flat Organisations – 4 Hiring Tips From Google And Zappos

One thing that will break a flat organisation faster than you can say “All my managers have Ivy League MBAs.” is hiring the wrong people. Hiring the right people is key for any business, but especially so for those that want to give their employees high levels of freedom. This is why pretty much every flat (or semi-flat) organisation puts the following qualities top of their hiring list;

Hire people who can communicate

One of the core jobs of a manager is to collect and disseminate information. Allowing employees greater freedom to manage themselves doesn’t remove this requirement; it shifts it onto the employee. In practice high levels of autonomy normally increases the level of information flow required. For example, if you have five employees making decisions instead of one manager, you’ve probably increased the information flow requirements by 5x, because in order for those employees to make good decisions they each require a degree of information comparable to the previous manager. Certainly, if you look at the average successful flat organisation, they are normally those that excel at the dissemination of information. Semco, a 3,000 employee Brazilian company that boasts outstanding growth of almost 30% per annum for the past 20 years, openly shares all their financial data amongst the whole company, and even gives employees training on how to interpret it. Semco is so autonomous they even let employees set their own salary!

Hire people who can collaborate

You can have the best collaboration tools in the world (and there’s certainly plenty to choose from these days), but no technology is going to work unless you have the right people and the right culture. Zappos – one of the world’s largest shoe retailers and a leader in flat management – has baked this into one of their 10 core principles;“Indeed, if you want to get a job at Zappos, the value to emblematize most is be humble — avoid using I in favor of we. Humbleness allows for greater collaboration.” – Aaron Magness, Zappos’ director of business development Valve does a good job of articulating why they believe collaborative people are so important;“[We look for] people who can deconstruct problems on the fly, and talk to others as they do so, simultaneously being inventive, iterative, creative, talkative, and reactive. These things actually matter far more than deep domain-specific knowledge or highly developed skills in narrow areas.”

Hire people you can trust

When Bill Gore, founder of Gore (the makers of Goretex), started the company in 1958 (which now has $3.2bn in revenue and 10,000 employees) he opted for a radical management structure without org-charts, reporting lines, or fixed communication channels. Core to his strategy, which still holds today, was trust. To quote CEO Terri Kelly (one of the few people with a formal job title!): “[We are] focused on generating value through trust – with our associates, suppliers and customers.”  Gore was clearly ahead of his time. There are very few leaders today that wouldn’t agree that trust is critical to running an effective organisation. You have to be able to trust your team, your team has to be able to trust you, and they have to be able to trust each other. Jim Dougherty, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan and veteran software CEO, had this to say about trust“Managers will never learn the truth about a company unless they have employees’ trust.” 

Hire people who are passionate

Effective autonomy is often synonymous with passion, because at the end of the day someone who loves what they do is highly self-directed and needs minimal management. That girl or guy still working at 10pm because they want to (here’s looking at you, Christian!) is infinitely far more likely to function well in an autonomous team than someone who would prefer to be in the pub at 5pm everyday. “Some people hear that and they think, ‘Oh God, that’s chaos. Like how is anyone actually doing anything good for a company?’ I think that we select people to bring on to the team, bring into the company, who are naturally self-motivated, naturally passionate about what they do and about technology… It’s not like everyone says, ‘Oh great, well I’m going to go do cooking today,’ or something unrelated to collaboration. Everyone is working on something that they believe will benefit the company in some way.” – Peter Furia, former director at Github

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