Note to self (i.e. goodbye)

I’ll write you a letter tomorrow
Tonight I can’t hold a pen
Someone’s got a stamp that I can borrow
I promise not to blow the address again

– Walt Whitman

Warning, it’s about to get sort of meta here.

It’s hard to write these posts when you find yourself looking from the outside in. I know, that’s kind of confusing, considering I’m still Lead Link of the one circle to rule them all. Such is life.

Before I leave, I thought it would be good to reflect on what I’ve learned over the last few months since sending the teal email – a sort of note to myself, much like one would do with a diary kept safe by lock and key. The only lock and key I possess is to my heart, and I’m about to use that key right now. Maybe I’ll throw it away after this.

Dear diary,

I wonder how to best put into words some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few months. It’s been a wild ride, an emotional roller coaster and I’m beginning to think that may not end anytime soon. I’d like it to. I’d like to return to something resembling some sense of normal; realizing that will be Zappos normal, which will always seem odd to those on the outside looking in. We’re Zappos, we’ll never conform to what others have in their mind about what and how a company should look like. I’m fine with that. I’m not fine with the feeling that a certain number of Zapponians maybe don’t trust me. So what have I learned?

  • Problems need solutions. Solutions don’t need to find problems. What problem am I trying to address with transforming to a teal organization? Have I communicated that well? If I poll the Zappos family about what problem(s) we’re trying to solve by going teal, would they answer in an even remotely unified manner? I know that the problems I’m trying to solve are sometimes kind of abstract and so far in the distance that it’s hard for others to understand them. That is my challenge then, to explain the problems we’re trying to solve, so that people can be unified in moving toward the goal rather than constantly wondering why we’re moving in that direction in the first place. Not clearly defining the problem doesn’t only impact teal, it impacts other initiatives as well. Too often, my definition of a problem is a solution. When people have trust, feel safe within their tribe, and understand the goal, it’s amazing what they can achieve.
  • It’s not the strength of the idea that matters as much as the execution of the idea. Self-organization is a fine goal. It is likely the future for many companies going forward. A command and control method of management seems foreign to those in their twenties today. Just imagine how it’ll feel to future generations. That said, change doesn’t happen overnight. Even if most people in your organization want to see massive change in the way the company is managed, it’s a long process. Not everyone you hired for the old way of working will like the new way. Some will recognize this on their own and some won’t. Some will definitely want to support self-organization but can’t get behind the way it’s being rolled out. Those people will leave, but you can only afford to lose so many of them before you find yourself without the leadership you desperately need, no matter the management system that’s in place. Teal, for all its benefits, is not magic. I wish it was magic. I was kind of hoping it was magic. Change on this scale is hard.
  • Being present is important, so is surrounding yourself with people who balance your strengths and weaknesses. I have to be more visible. I’m not always comfortable in groups of people. I’m fairly quiet in those situations and that sometimes leads Zapponians to believe that I’m distant and aloof. I care about the people at Zappos. My instinct to retract from the crowd backfires. I don’t need to tell people how to do their work, but I do need to let them know that I care enough to show up and take an interest in what they’re doing to make Zappos the awesome place to work that it is. Along with being more present, I need to make sure that the senior leadership I surround myself with counter balance my weaknesses. I’m not a super vocal guy. I’m not always good at showing empathy. Have I surrounded myself with people who communicate well and empathize?
  • Saying one thing and doing another is really easy when so much is changing so fast. I never intended for people to lose trust in me or Zappos as a whole, but I’m afraid I’ve contributed to that in ways that I don’t completely understand. I have a tendency to latch onto the next great idea, while Zapponians are left bearing the load of implementing one or more of my last great ideas. And, since I’m not an outspoken guy by nature, I have a tendency to keep my lessons learned internal, rather than expressing them to the Zappos family. During the transition to teal, I’ve allowed numerous consultants to come in without announcement of who they are and what role they’ll play in helping us during the transition. I’ve also seen former Zapponians come back as contractors and others become contractors without being clear what that is all about, which sends a strange message to those who’ve committed to staying on full time in making Zappos successful. Some of the leaders closest to me have made poor choices in communication and little to no effort to rectify that. I’ve allowed some of those leaders to come and go as they please, while (at the same time) allowing them to inject some rather poisonous elements into the Zappos culture. Conflicts of interest sometimes seem to abound and go unquestioned. That is neither transparent or open and honest communication. I’ve got to change that. It’s going to be really hard to do. Sometimes I want to go so fast, I forget that the core values I want to live up to get trampled in the process.
  • Are we a family? This is a question I need to answer. I stress happiness. We call ourselves the Zappos family. I’m also promoting a self-organization system in Holacracy that is based on some potentially antithetical ideas to that of family. Fiefdoms don’t occur simply because of the system that is in place. They occur because people have natures that are not altruistic. I need to be careful to not create a system (and by nature, a culture) that ends up being “every person for themselves”. That is the furthest thing from family.

I think that’s enough, dear diary.



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