• Thu, Jun 21 2012

Call Me Crazy, But I Like Having A Boss

When it comes to business structure, management gets a pretty bad rap. How often do we actually hear about good bosses? The kind that inspire and motivate you? No, we hear about psychos, sleazeballs and idiots. Thanks Horrible Bosses! Perhaps it’s just human nature to resent anyone who has power over you, like we’re all just overgrown teenagers, but people really seem to dislike their bosses.

So I’m sure that a company like Valve Corp, a videogame maker that has no boss at all, must seem rather ideal. The Wall Street Journal reports that this business hierarchy is completely flat. “At Valve, there are no promotions, only new projects. To help decide pay, employees rank their peers—but not themselves—voting on who they think creates the most value.” Teams handle hiring and firing of employees, though they admit that this process takes longer than unilateral decision-making. Employees recruit colleagues to work on large projects with them, but each individual is basically responsible for their own productivity and direction.

And Valve isn’t alone. Apparently the flattening of the office hierarchy is a growing trend, with even General Electric running some small manufacturing facilities without any foremen or bosses. The company says that the system boosts productivity in low-volume factories with a small number of employees.

So are we all ready to throw out our bosses and create our own little managementless offices? Gut the corner suites and insist on open-air offices for all? Sorry guys. I don’t think I’m a fan.

I enjoy having a boss. I’ve had some really amazing managers in my past work experience. I’ve learned from them and grown under their tutelage. And while bosses often aren’t the most-loved of co-workers, I think they serve an important function.

A good boss creates a company vision and then helps their employees to realize it. My work has benefited from instructive and thoughtful managers. My very first editor taught me about the writing business. She helped me become a better writer. I wouldn’t be where I am today without such an amazing boss. Although I don’t work in the industry anymore, my last boss helped my data analysis career by being open and thoughtful in her critique of my work. She helped me see reporting and graphs from other useful viewpoints. She gave me confidence in my abilities.

Without these women, I don’t think that I would be at the professional level that I am today. And I hope to continue to find bosses who challenge and motivate me. I want direction from people who know more than me. These superior bosses are my role models and they fuel my ambition.

A really great boss brings their employees up. And without any bosses, I think a company would be destined to stay stagnant. The need for team consensus would make it difficult to leave the groupthink behind and break outside of the status quo. Bosses move their companies forward, and without that vision, I think it would be difficult.

Do companies sometimes have unnecessary levels of bureaucracy? Sure. And I realize that there are a lot of bad bosses out there. But the great ones are invaluable. They deserve a little recognition for the important role they play in building their employees up and making the entire company better.

(Photo: auremar/Shutterstock)

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  • Lastango

    I sure agree with you about what good leaders contribute, both to the organization and to the personal and professional development of individual people. And like you say, consensus and groupthink can be (and usually are)pure poison to innovation and performance.

    If we analyze what is happening at Valve Corp, we may conclude the company is merely treating its employees like independent contractors. In that industry, a lot of work can be (and is) farmed out, and then sub-contracted again below that level. Being located half-way around the world is no barrier to collaboration to a lot of tech projects. A contractor that doesn’t produce or perform gets dropped, and that sounds like what happens at Valve Corp.

    There can be a dark side to that approach; a company can spin it as empowerment, while the motivations are in fact to escape providing a career path, ensure a turnover that keeps the employees weak, and minimize employment-related costs by keeping the employees in an associate (minimal benefit) status. And it’s cheaper to pay people off with a hip atmosphere than with real money. It can take young people a while to figure out they’re being conned, and when they do there’s always another sucker.

    (Disclaimer: before someone flames my comment, I am NOT saying that’s what motivates Valve Corp.)