inspiration, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, work life

Taking Chances With Success

Hi all…please join me out here on this branch..careful, I don’t want you to fall as you consider just how much you’re willing to ante up at work.

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times this past Sunday about Dov Seidman, CEO of the company LRN.  The mission of LRN is intriguing to HR nerds like me – helping companies “inspire principled performance in their operations”.  Pretty cool, don’t you think?   He has written a book (which I have not yet read) titled, “How:  Why How We Do Anything Means Everything”.  In short, he has taken his company in a surprising and challenging direction – developing a form of self-governance that boldly eliminates many of the sacred cows that few have ever dared to sacrifice.  He threw out the org chart, eliminating titles (but for his).  The structure is as flat as possible, with authority and decision-making viewed as part of their shared, collaborative mission.   There are no titles; performance reviews for each employee are completed by a personally selected group of reviewers and a mentor. Self-evaluations include perspective on performance as well as a score.  Employees are “trust[ed] to weigh the feedback they collect into their own ratings”.  All of these scores are published internally.  Vacation time is unlimited – presuming that people will be candid and plan their time off with an appreciation for their colleagues and the good of the organization.  Management committees do exist, though my sense is that there are a very discreet few.  In an effort to reflect his commitment to transparency, Seidman opened his own review for comments from anyone who wanted to offer his/her views, and published his own assessment along with all the others.

He feels that empowering employees is a hierarchical phenomenon, and fuels supervisory power rather than individual initiative and commitment.  His approach is to give each employee as much ownership over their career as possible.  After completing a study of companies world-wide, he acknowledges that few companies are practicing self-governance.  And, he admits that the process within his own organization is far from complete, and has been “enlightening, frustrating, nerve-racking, authentic and urgent”.

There are many companies that give lip service to such ideology, and place questionable value on walking the walk defined by their mission statements.  Whether you are a department head, chief officer, vice-president, king…doesn’t matter.  What do you think about the pros and cons of such a daring premise?  Could you do it?  Would you do it?  What would it take for you to step out on a limb and try something totally new to see if it flies?  I am most  impressed by Seidman’s efforts to be authentic in the workplace, to ensure that his personal philosophy is in sync with his professional environment and do more than shake the tree, but actually climb.



21 thoughts on “Taking Chances With Success”

  1. I, too, read the article and thought “wow!” The cynic in me thinks that he leads an greenfield organization and can handpick a small number of employees (300). The optimist in me thinks this is how change happens. Will be interesting to follow LRN’s story.

    1. I had a similar reaction, and think that an organization’s size can drive a lot of the success with a program like this. But larger organizations can take a page from the book too I think. Layers upon layers of hierarchy and bureaucracy can sap employees of their sense of ownership and connection to their company. How are you going to keep employees engaged and collaborative? I applaud his willingness to take some risks.

  2. I love this. Thanks for sharing. I hve to say, though, I worked in an organization with a completely flat structure, including pay, and I, as the Public Policy Director, was making the same salary as the recpeptionist. That didn’t seem fair either, given the different stresses and responsibilities of the job. But I do think there are some great ideas here. I’ll have to share with my HR geek husband! Thanksagain for sharing!

    1. I think that a flat salary system is a bit much – that would tick me off too!! I’m glad you liked the post – I found the whole approach really interesting. 🙂

  3. I think that *anytime* someone in a position of power has the chutzpah to try something new, innovative, different, he or she should be applauded. I’m sure that there are aspects of the “experiment” that will prove fruitful, and others “not so much,” (in particular the flat pay structure–just doesn’t seem practical). But it will sure be interesting to see what happens as he, as you say, ‘climbs the tree.’. Thx Mimi, as always, for bringing a fresh perspective to bear…. 🙂

    1. Hi Lori, I agree with you – there are elements of this paradigm that are really questionable to me (and I’m not sure what he means by flat pay structure really…it could be by position – e.g.., it could be that anyone performing certain responsibilities is paid ‘x’ dollars – again, I haven’t read the book). But I applaud the chutzpah and the willingness to try something new. It’s refreshing..

  4. I had to read this more than once before making comment.
    One comment you made Mim sticks out to me more than the rest:

    “There are many companies that give lip service to such ideology, and place questionable value on walking the walk defined by their mission statements.”

    This…is the God’s truth. My husband worked for such a company. For almost 17 years…until he finally realized that they were nothing BUT lip service. It all looked so good on paper…the self evaluation weighted by performance review by a select few…the empowerment of employees to ‘own’ the success of the company by ‘tieing’ their own success to that of others…basically a one for all and all for one approach.

    Only it didn’t work…mainly because it did not start at the top. We all know the saying “shit rolls downhill”? Yeah, the top kept the same ol’ shit and it rolled down hill. Nothing changed, just the talk. No walking of the walk. I wish Mr. Siedman success, and he’s likely to get it for the very fact that he started at the top…it cannot work otherwise.

    (sorry for cussing on your page)

    1. There’s no question that if the commitment doesn’t start at the top, any new program will fail – and fail miserably (because the impact will be felt for years to come). I give Seidman points for trying and honestly? He’ll get points in my book if he fails (and owns it) as well. At least he didn’t let all of the ‘it’ll never work’ messages stop him from trying.
      ps. no need to apologize for anything you write!

      1. i agree…he gets points for trying to figure it out, as well as kudos to him either way as long as he owns it. i really do wish them the best of luck…not a bad time for a new work model.
        and thanks…

    1. No need to be…I applaud his willingness to try something new, put his own company on the line while doing it and admitting frustration with the process. Even if it fails, he tried to create a better workplace – and I appreciate that spirit.

  5. Well, this is still in its experimental stage. We will have to watch how it develops, and whether it succeeds, and whether it can succeed in other arenas too. But like yourself, I am very enthusiastic about new thinking in the area of work, and believe that we could reach better arrangements in the dynamics of the work place. It is always good to hear of a system that gives more credit and more integrity to the worker.

    1. Thanks Shimon – I give him points for the effort too. It may crash and burn, but he did something more than just talk about change – he tried it. My hunch is that a lot of this won’t sustain – and some of it will. That’s already light years ahead of many other companies that haven’t changed their model since they opened their doors.

  6. Mimi,

    I also give him a ton of credit for even trying this. And like Tina, I feel like I would have to learn more about the details of how this works.

    But my general response based on what I have read is that I think most companies would benefit from becoming a lot more like this. However, I don’t think going this far would work for all companies.

    When I read this, one quote that came to mind that I think I heard former basketball coach Pat Riley say several years ago:

    “A strength used to excess can become a weakness.”

    Though, I should probably stress the word “can”, because it sounds like things with this company are generally going really well.

    I guess my point is that I don’t think there is an inherent problem with org charts. I would view an org chart as basically neutral. I think the problem is usually with bad management practices.

    And I definitely like all of the good management practices that are being implemented at this company.

    I’m not giving a feel firm or clear answer, but those are my thoughts.

    1. You were very clear – and I too like the idea that he is trying something different. It takes courage to fight the desire to keep the stasis. I think they will probably go through different iterations and arrive somewhere in the middle – but the middle is still way ahead of many. Thanks for your comments Greg!

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