Like a Boss!

Like a Boss!

If you “Google” the phrase “like a boss,” what you’re likely to see at the top of the subsequent search results page is a still frame of Andy Samberg squatting on his haunches (with his pants around his ankles) presumably doing “number 2” on some unfortunate person’s cubicle desk. (At any rate, that’s what I see when I Google this phrase since I have Google’s “SafeSearch” feature turned off…your mileage may vary.)

In re-watching this video for the umpteenth time, I have to wonder if management guru Peter F. Drucker who passed away four years prior to the release of the video (2009) would have laughed out loud at its absurdity or wretched in disgust had he lived to see it…my sense is he would have done a bit of both.

Why begin the first of what I hope to be many more LinkedIn posts with this subject? Two reasons:

  • First, the phrase “like a boss” – much like Mr. Samberg’s video – is just patently funny/absurd. (Just thinking about the phrase right now puts a smirk on my face.)
  • Second, I like the idea of launching a mini-series of sorts around this topic, i.e., “like a boss”. (I’m sure that I’m not breaking any new ground here with this concept but I’m entitled to my slant on it…right?)

If the Internet is to be believed (and the Internet, of course, never lies or misleads), then the origin of the word “boss” is a bit murky…perhaps it was derived from the Dutch word “baas” meaning “master” or perhaps from the Old High German word “basa” meaning “aunt”…regardless, the word evokes unique images for all of us. Your first boss…your current boss…your “boss who use to throw lit matches” at you, etc.

Enter a new kind of “boss”…the “bossless boss”…or, more accurately, the “bossless company.” Think I’m yanking your chain? I assure you they do exist. Indeed, there are numerous articles on the topic these days that highlight the various companies – from very large and/or well-known companies such as Zappos, W.L. Gore & Associates and Whole Foods to smaller and/or more obscure companies such as Github, AngelList and The Morning Star Company (shout out to Lisa Thorell for compiling a very good list of such companies in April, 2013) – that have decided in one form or another to go bossless.

“Sounds awesome”, you say? Well, not quite…many of these same Internet articles point out the various downsides of these types of organizations and, in fact, as early as 1970 Jo Freeman began articulating the downsides of “structureless groups” in what later became an essay/article titled “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” In the end, Freeman’s article can best be summarized by saying that people have a way of screwing themselves out of even their best, well-intentioned ideas and endeavors.

Why? Because we end up putting ourselves in hierarchies anyway (“Lord of the Flies,” anyone?) – even if no formal hierarchy has been mandated by the organization – and those “organic hierarchies” are just as susceptible to the diseases of power-grabbing, self-absorption and bullying as any other traditional hierarchical organization is susceptible to absent consistent guidance and nurturing. Beautiful and productive gardens don’t “just happen”…they must be watered, pruned, fertilized, etc., at the right times and in the right measures to maintain their beauty and productivity. I suspect so it goes with organizations as well.

So does this mean that the proponents of traditional command and control-type companies can slap themselves on their collective backs, high-five each other or otherwise sneer out a group “in your face” to the “commie-hippy-granola-eating-bossless-company” advocates because they always knew they were “right?” (Well, they could do exactly that but they would just be affirming their soulless stereotype to be correct…ironic, no?) I would submit that there is a better way than either of these two extremes and that better way requires an organizational pivot from a “customer first” mentality to an “employee first” mentality.

Notice that such a pivot does not mandate what type of management structure that an organization should have (bossless, autocratic, democratic, etc.) but instead simply states that an organization’s employees are its chief concern. Crazy, right?

I’m not suggesting anything new here (though, it may be perhaps a bit revolutionary). In fact, Simon Sinek’s wildly successful book “Leaders Eat Last” offers a number of example organizations who have embraced this mentality and have prospered to one degree or another because of it.

I won’t go into the “touchy feelies” of why I think this mentality is the “right” thing for a business/organization to do…rather, I will offer some brief anecdotal insights that I have noted using what I would argue is the least biased tool for measuring employee satisfaction: Glassdoor reviews.

  • Insight 1: Companies with high employee satisfaction make a LOT of money! If you take a look at Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work (2015)” list and tried to tally up the collective net worth of the top 20 “Best Places to Work”, then you would have a gazillion-billion-trillion dollars (don’t question the accuracy of my sums here). So the lesson learned from this first insight is that not only can companies put employees first but they can do so AND make a TON of money!
  • Insight 2: Companies with high employee satisfaction attract more top talent. Again, if you take a look at Glassdoor’s top 20 list, you’ll see a bunch of companies that everyone wants to work for (yes, even you entrepreneurs who are reading this post secretly want to work for these companies…just a wee bit). Supposedly, even the waste management staff at Google are Stanford PhDs if that’s any indicator of the veracity of this statement. (Okay, I made that up.)
  • Insight 3: Companies with high employee satisfaction make a LOT of money…er, wait…that’s redundant…how about, “companies with high employee satisfaction are changing the world?” Again, not to beat a dead horse but just look at that list of companies again…if In-N-Out Burger (number 8 on the Glassdoor list, though, I think it should be higher) is not changing the world, then I don’t know who is! (Sure, the word “Google” has been added to the dictionary as both a verb and an adjective but can Google make you a “Double-Double?” Answer: Hells-to-the-NO!)

I know what you’re thinking at this point: “I’m sold, Danny…my company needs to embrace this ‘Employees First’ movement ASAP but how do we do that?!?” Patience, my friend…I will offer some suggestions in my next post in this “like a boss” mini-series. It’s like my grandma always used to tell me, “leave them wanting more, m’ijo!” (Okay, I made that up too.)

[Originally published on LinkedIn.]

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