Moving Beyond Command and Control

Companies of all sizes and shapes are creating more responsive and ethical cultures driven by a shared sense of purpose and meaning. It is no longer just the IBMs or Googles applying their resources and reach; it is every company that wants to move beyond command and control to connect and collaborate. Consider these examples:

Zappos: Now part of Amazon, this Las Vegas-based organization is a leader in innovative business practices that lead to stronger financial performance. Customer service, not shoes, became the focus not of a department, but of the entire company. Culture became the infrastructure upon which all subsequent success was built. New employees are paid a $2,000 bonus to quit if they do not believe Zappos is the right place and best fit for them.

A similar idea was developed to highlight Zappos’ culture and values. Employees would be asked to write, in a few paragraphs, the answer to the question: What does Zappos’ culture mean to you? Except for correcting typos, the answers were left unedited and published. If the company was going to stand behind its culture and core values, there couldn’t be a better way to see if Zappos was doing it right. Now customers, partners and vendors contribute to this collection of stories, and it is used to train and orient new hires.

The U.S. military: The military, even with its conservative rank structure, is pushing leadership and decision making downward through the organization. U.S. combat troops have become front-line knowledge workers/warriors. Their front-line missions are less “search and destroy” and more “seek and discover” with a variety of possible actions at their disposal. Members of the military act and respond like leaders, no matter their rank. To make these types of decisions quickly, they must have a deep understanding of mission, values and purpose, communicate well and be strong collaborators.

Whole Foods: A repeat member of the Fortune Best Places to Work list, the grocery store chain has more than 62,000 employees and 310 stores in North America and the United Kingdom.

The store’s operating unit is the team. There are roughly eight teams per store and they make decisions about what the staffing levels should be, who to hire (two-thirds vote is required), what to stock and what to do if performance wanes. Sensitive data on compensation and company operating performance are available for any employee to review at any time. Employees take their mission — Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet — seriously. This statement is about communities working together to create value for others.