Zappos: Performance Without Management

Zappos is moving away from traditional management and distributing the role of a traditional manager to lead links, mentors and peers. This explicit distribution of the manager role comes with many challenges. One of those challenges is performance management. The following is a description of some of the ways we are attempting to address this challenge.

Why: Performance Awareness
Traditionally performance management is about giving managers the information they need to either give an employee a raise or put them on a performance plan. This motivation doesn’t really work when the role is distributed. Assume, in a self-organized system, that individuals want to be the best they can be and work with trustworthy people; then the job of a performance system is really to raise performance awareness so the individual can constantly improve and peers can quickly see each other’s trustworthiness.

Who: Those Impacted by the Work
Without managers, who is responsible for providing feedback? Similarly to the role, it made sense to distribute this responsibility to the people who are impacted directly by an individual’s work. The responsibility is a two way street, the individual is responsible for requesting feedback from people who their work impacts directly. In turn it is the impacted people’s responsibility to provide meaningful feedback to the individual.

What: Impact, Trustworthiness, Praise, and Coaching
The meaningfulness of the feedback is determined largely by the content. To help the impacted people provide meaningful feedback we first request that they be as honest as possible. We then ask them to evaluate the individual’s trustworthiness on a specific task through a few simple questions. We also ask that they describe how the work impacted them, what the person did well, and how they can improve. By default everything but the improvement piece is public, this is so peers can quickly see each other’s strengths as well as trustworthiness. We decided to keep the improvement piece private so that people could “coach in private” while “praising in public”.

When: As Often As Needed
It is easiest to provide meaningful feedback when the work is still fresh in people’s mind. So we encourage that people request and provide feedback as the work is being done and as often as the two parties feel is necessary.

How: Easy to Use Tool & Training
A lot of this is not rocket science, and yet, very few of us do it well. We think there are two main reasons why this is hard. One, there aren’t many tools out there that make collecting and reviewing this type of information easy. And two, providing truly meaningful feedback is not a skill that many of us are taught. Some people are born with tact and grace, but for the rest of us, the uncomfortable conversations are well….uncomfortable. To help with that we are creating (or leveraging existing) training programs relating to emotional quotient, conflict resolution, and mentorship. We also created a 360 feedback tool with performance awareness and the training philosophies in mind so that individuals can easily track and share their Journey.

The Right People — The Right Feedback
A self-organized system is based on the belief that people are capable and that they want to do their best, together. With this belief in mind we have created a new performance process centered around the individual (as opposed to their manager). The primary focus of the process and tools is to raise the individual’s awareness of their performance and impact. To do this we provide them with an easy way to get feedback from their peers regarding their impact, trustworthiness, strengths and weaknesses. This is what made sense to us because we believe that performance isn’t about management but about getting the right people, the right feedback.