No CEO: Swedish company trial running without a boss

No CEO: Swedish company trial running without a boss

We regularly scrutinise best practise for managers. Should more bosses show their employees gratification like PepsiCo’s CEO? Do workers want a boss that’s more passionate or more hard-working? Do employees even want a boss?

Swedish software consultancy Crisp decided that, in answer to the latter, they felt they didn’t need a CEO to oversee their company decisions – BBC reports.

After trialling more traditional employment hierarchies, including having a single CEO and an annual vote on who that CEO should be, Crisp staff found that having no boss worked best for them; a decision taken three years ago and still in place.

By sharing the usual responsibilities of a CEO amongst other employees, Crisp staffers decided to retire the role.

Instead of strategic decisions being taken by a Board, four-day meetings for all staff are held two to three times a year. Company-wide strategy is discussed at these meetings.

At other times, workers are encouraged to make decisions for themselves.

Though the company does have a Board – a legal requirement – it is only used as a last resort to resolve issues if something is not working.

Henrik Kniberg, an organisational coach at the firm, argues that, as staff are in charge of their own workloads, they are more motivated – with staff satisfaction measured at 4.1 out of five.

Speaking to the BBC, Kniberg said that not having to ask a boss for decisions on projects, or budgets, means the firm can respond faster.

"If you want to get something done, you stand up and start driving that," he says.

Yet Mr Kniberg stresses that not having to ask permission does not remove the need for staff to discuss issues or bounce ideas off each other. 

However, the Founder of online file-sharing service Dropbox, Drew Houston, does not believe a leaderless structure can work in larger firms.

"Often infinite freedom like that can be pretty disorientating. It doesn't always feel good, because you no longer know what you're supposed to do, what's important and you're bumping up against other people," Houston told the BBC.

Crisp’s move may seem unsusual but other companies have trialled the arrangement. Zappos, an online shoe and clothing retailer owned by Amazon, experimented working without a CEO.

However, a fifth of employees subsequently left. Many cited ‘self-management’ as not for them.

Comments (1)

  • Rhys
    Tue, 28 Mar 2017 11:54am BST
    Having a company without a boss can work but it is a journey which requires for people and the entire organisation to appreciate and support such a level of a self-determined management style.

    Many employees are asking for more responsibility; especially in bigger businesses where there is definitely a lack of autonomy. I guess the simplest form of answering the difference in opinion highlighted in this article is by considering 3 levels of employee's interest in taking responsibility and being accountable:

    LOW: Most common in formal corporate environments. People often feel undervalued and under-challenged but it’s an environment many people can easily get used to. Be equipped with specific roles & responsibilities, get your tasks, get them done and get paid.

    MIDDLE: Employees get clear objectives but are responsible for finding ways on how to achieve those objectives. They are able to negotiate and influence goals and / or resources when critical and necessary.

    HIGH: A rather entrepreneurial environment where people have a high level of determination what jobs to get involved in. They might even be able to set goals themselves. People are not only accountable for the work they do but their measured contribution might even impact their pay.

    The irony is most people work in environments with a LOW demand and many crave for being more actively engaged (MEDIUM). However, for people to work in workplaces like CRISP with a HIGH demand not only means you need to work with developed and experienced professionals but also having an organisation that enables this kind of engagement (e.g. access to data, open knowledge sharing, supportive leaders being able to act as coaches).

    ZAPPOS has experimented successfully with HIGH engagement forms of collaboration by trying to embrace Holocracy. However, this HIGH level of personal accountability cannot be scaled endlessly (e.g. ZAPPOS 1000+ empl.). You need to create smaller business units where people are more closely connected to the purpose and spirit of their business. Ricardo Semler is a splendid example of having taken his father’s industrial company SEMCO from LOW to HIGH.

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