Sometimes Zappos, Disruption is Just…Disruptive

Topics include:

Many of our clients are startups so I really appreciate the concept of disruptive companies and Zappos is about as

"They will totally hire us! Look how fun and hip we are in our profile pics!"

“They will totally hire us! Look how fun and hip we are in our profile pics!”

disruptive as they get. I mean, when you think about it, they sell shoes—so it’s not like they invented the consumer jet pack (when is that coming out by the way?) But they did come up with a very successful disruptive model and have tried to be innovative in terms of creating a great culture. But turning off the job boards, the information on their website and at their headquarters that tells people what jobs are available, well, I don’t think that’s a helpful kind of disruptive.

Instead of the job boards and other traditional means of documenting and publishing open positions, Zappos has created an online community that job seekers and non job seekers can join, interact with Zappos employees and maybe wind up with a job. There are several problems with this:

First of all, being disruptive with HR is kind of like being disruptive about law or accounting. There are a lot of regulations to make sure hiring is fair and they can be easily broken by people being disruptive. There are so many examples of companies being slapped with fines for running afoul of these regulations.

Secondly, as one commenter on the Wall Street Journal pointed out, on a social network it would be completely natural to reveal protected information, like age, pregnancy status, or race. Suppose someone shares this information and doesn’t get a job. What’s to stop them from alleging that the company didn’t hire them because of this information?

Thirdly, I understand the value of using a social network. We have advocated for this as a part of recruiting strategies for clients for many years. A lot of people come to new jobs because they knew somebody. But this is a tiny, exclusive, social network and the ONLY means of getting a job there? It’s another hoop job seekers have to jump through to get a job. Must have a Twitter account, Linkedin account, Facebook etc.

Lastly, using only this method may attract candidates who are just like each other and just like your current employees. It’s well researched and documented that can lead to group-think. The odds are you’re going to end up with a bunch of Twinkies (or Hipsters as a subset). If you’re going to be a disruptive company, you want to have employees that think differently not the same. With this method, what is the likelihood you’ll wind up with people of different ages? Backgrounds? People with disabilities? What are the chances you’re going to get people who don’t have reliable access to the internet? Traditional methods of communicating with candidates are still valuable and necessary, I promise.

In addition to turning off the job boards, the company also did away with titles and descriptions and implemented a form of organization called Holacracy, which is a very specific “agile like” system which states that managers are no longer needed. Hmmm, Google tried that. They now admit is doesn’t work and managers matter. Now, you have an interesting non-management structure and jobs that can only be accessed by making pals with a bunch of strangers before you even know if you will ever be employed there.

Oh and one more thing, Zappos employees are encouraged to live in apartment complexes owned by the company. That sounds a bit like the manufacturing towns of the 1920s where everyone worked for the company, lived in company owned housing, and bought groceries (and shoes) at the company owned store. Disruptive? What’s the saying – those know do not learn history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them?

Maybe something great will happen. Maybe this is the future of management structure. Right now though, it looks a little bit like an interesting experiment. I’ll see if Tony decides to blog about it in a year or two like the Google folks did.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.



We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.