Zappos tries to leanify HR by going social

Zappos has taken another unconventional step. Recently the company dropped official job titles as part of CEO Tony Hsieh’s embrace of Holacracy, the manager-less organizational method (see Leanership trumps leadership), also adopted at Medium by Ev Williams and Co. But now Zappos is dropping the traditional model of attracting potential employees: job listings.

Now, instead of candidates poring over descriptions of jobs, and applying to the company for those that might match, Zappos has set up a social network for people interested in working for Zappos, called Zappos Insiders.

The solution feels a lot like a professional network, like Linkedin or Xing. Here’s the landing page:

Screenshot 2014-05-29 11.27.00

I chose Human Resources as my team, and found profiles of Zappos staff, but not other Insiders. Here’s the profile of a senior editor, Mandy Crispin.

Screenshot 2014-05-29 11.27.49

I think a candidate might learn a great deal about company culture by reading a bunch of these profiles, and getting in touch with specific people. I didn’t go far enough along in the process of becoming an Insider to test that hypothesis, but I presume that’s where it was heading when I bailed out.

Here’s my incomplete profile page, which was pre-populated from Linkedin data:

Screenshot 2014-05-29 11.30.05

Other parts of the Insiders set-up are fairly conventional, in that they talk about corporate culture and what Zappos Insider is all about:

Screenshot 2014-05-29 11.28.51

The Bottom Line

Last fall I commented on an article that Reid Hoffman and colleagues wrote in the Harvard Business Review (see Hire for “Tours of Duty” instead of pretending jobs are forever). In the article Hoffman et al argued that companies need to drop the empty promises of hypothetical permanent employment, and embrace a new social compact between the worker and the company, based on the reality that the average period of employment in the US in 2012 is 4.4 years, according to the US Bureau of Labor.

Hoffman’s recommendation is to start with that term — 4 years — as the basis of an agreement between the parties, and work around it: not ignore it. As the authors wrote,

If you think all your people will give you lifetime loyalty, think again: Sooner or later, most employees will pivot into a new opportunity. Recognizing this fact, companies can strike incremental alliances. When Reid founded LinkedIn, he set the initial employee compact as a four-year tour of duty, with a discussion at two years. If an employee moved the needle on the business during the four years, the company would help advance his career. Ideally this would entail another tour of duty at the company, but it could also mean a position elsewhere.

So the new responsibility of a company requires building and maintaining an active social network with other companies, alumni, and organizations so that departing alumni can take on new work elsewhere. And to accomplish that, the company must create and maintain an active alumni network, at whatever expense, so that career-long relationships between alumni and employers.

Zappos is starting at the other end of the employee lifecycle, prior to hiring, but I think both sides need to be addressed. Zappos is focused on Outsiders (while calling them Insiders), but I wonder if there is any attention to the real Insiders, and the necessity for a Hoffman-style network for the inevitable departure of some Insiders (who are becoming Outsiders again).

At any rate, the bureaucratic, process-centric approach to hiring is simply too slow to keep up with the needs of today’s lean and agile businesses. The answer is to become more fast and loose, by allowing the participants to create direct relationships with people in the company, and not just Zappos Ambassadors.

I recently spoke with Gabriel Weinberg of Duck Duck Go (see DuckDuckGo’s Gabriel Weinberg talks about ‘Inbound Hiring’), an open source search engine. His company hires exclusively from within the contacts he’s met through the open source community, which is more or less what Zappos is trying to emulate. We’ll have to see how this shakes out at Zappos, and whether others will follow suit. My bet is on networks obliterating process, as usual.