Google: Meeting Needs to Keep Workers Satisfied and Motivated

iby Susanna Savage

What motivates people to take action? Why do we work tirelessly on some projects, but put out little effort on others? Why do we stay at some jobs for decades, but leave others after only a few months or years? A group of theories called “motivation theories” seek to develop answers to these questions. Organizational leaders often utilize motivation theories in determining how to motivate employees and increase job satisfaction. This case study focuses on David McClelland’s Acquired Needs Theory and explores how that theory is displayed in the way Google treats its employees.

Acquired Needs Theory

Acquired Needs Theory was developed by David McClelland to explain human motivation. McClelland proposed that humans acquire their needs over the course of their lives based on the experiences that they have had (Avtgis, Rancer, & Liberman, 2012). While studying these needs over time, McClelland was able to divide them into three categories, the need for achievement, the need for power, and the need for affiliation. These became the basis for what is now known as Acquired Needs Theory (McClelland’s human motivation theory). In its most general sense, the theory maintains that everyone has needs which fall into one or more of these three categories. The motivation to fulfill these needs determines what people will choose to do (Garrin, 2014). The ultimate goal of fulfilling these needs is what motivates us to act, and we will strive our hardest to meet those needs. We will put out much effort on tasks that lead us to fulfilling needs, and we will put out little or no effort on tasks that are not related to our needs (Garrin, 2014).

Acquired Needs Theory is often applied to organizations as a way of increasing job performance and satisfaction. The theory states that if people can fulfill their needs through their work, they will be motivated to work and to work hard. However, if they do not feel that they can fulfill their needs with their job, their motivation to do excellent work will decrease. The surest way to ensure high quality work, is to motivate employees by enabling them to fulfill their needs through the work that they do (Lazaroiu, 2015).

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• The Need for Achievement

People who have a high need for achievement are driven to make personal accomplishments. They like to be put into positions of responsibility (McClelland’s human motivation theory). Achievers tend to set moderate goals for themselves. This is because goals that are easily achieved are not satisfying to them, but at the same time, goals that are very difficult to achieve hold the risk of failure. Because achievement is so important, they will set goals that they believe they can achieve, but that are not easily attainable for others (McClelland’s human motivation theory). To satisfy this need in the work place employees must be able to take on responsibility and set their own goals. They must be given creative freedom and recognizes for their achievements and accomplishments (McClellands human motivation theory).

• The Need for power

People who have a high need for power want to attain positions that give them power over others. They aspire to be figures of greatness and respect. These people want to be in control (McClelland’s human motivation theory). To fulfill this need in the work place, individuals must have the ability to rise in influence. This means the possibility of promotion to management positions that enable them to have power over other, lower employees (Avtgis, Rancer & Liberman, 2012). Fulfilling the need for power in the work place could also mean allowing employees to pitch ideas and give input that might influence the organization. People with a need for power must feel as if they are in control, so letting them make decisions on their own and ensuring that they have some kind of influence is key.

• The Need for affiliation

According to Avtgis, Rancer and Liberman (2012), this is the “need to develop and enjoy quality relationships with others, avoid conflict, and be less dogmatic and less assertive in an effort to maintain those relationships” (186). People with the need for affiliation are primarily motivated to develop and maintain positive relationships. They want to have many friends and be liked by others. They also need a strong group affiliated. This can be achieved in the work place when employees are encouraged to have strong relationships with one another. To accomplish this, organizations can stress bonding activities and a strong corporate ‘we’ culture. People who have the need for affiliation need to find social value in the time that they spend with their co-workers and in their group membership as part of the organization (McClelland’s human motivation theory).

Critical Analysis of Google

Google is well-known, not only for its financial success and innovative products, but also for the way it treats its employees. Google has been ranked among Fortunes top 100 places to work for the last 10 years, and this year was ranked number one. Not only do Google employees experience a staggering number of luxury perks, but Google also strives to maintain a healthy and nurturing environment and workplace culture. This facilitates the high job satisfaction that Google employees experience, and in turn, the success of the organization. One of Google’s primary goals is to be an excellent place for people to work (Google careers). And Google accomplishes this goal by making sure that whether an employee needs power, achievement or affiliation, those needs can be met on the job. This does a lot more than just making Google a great place to work. It also means that Google employees love their jobs and put forth excellent work, and this employee excellence contributes to the success of the organization.

• Googlers With The Need For Achievement

Google provides employees with ample opportunities to achieve. Being employed by Google, in and of itself, is a great accomplishment, because Google’s hiring process is highly selective. Beyond that, Google encourages achievement, even from its lowest level employees. A program that exemplifies this is Google’s 80/20 rule. According to Inc., “The 80/20 rule allows Googlers to dedicate 80% of time to their primary job and 20% working on passion projects that they believe will help the company” (D’onfro, 2015). Many of the ideas that are developed in that 20% of an employee’s time become successful assent to the company. For example, Gmail was developed by a Google employee during his 20% time (D’onfro, 2015). This rule allows employees to truly use their skills and talents to make achievements, whatever their job position might be.

Google also provides employees with opportunities to take on large responsibilities. Googlers have the ability to climb to higher positions within the company through promotions. Individuals who have a strong need for achievement are given the opportunity to fulfill that need as a Google employee. Google is filled with the brightest and best minds making it an ideal atmosphere for achievers to achieve great things.

Additionally, Google offers a large number of extensive perks to its employees. While these perks serve many purposes and are offered for a variety of reasons, many of them are intended to facilitate the employees’ achievement. Free massages and delicious meals and nap-pods are all examples of perks that are designed to facilitate employee success, giving them everything that they need to feel great and do well on the job.

• Googlers With The Need For Power

Google offers employees a workplace full of opportunities to hold positions in which they have power. Managers and higher level employees hold power over the employees who report to them. And those who do not hold positions of power have the opportunity to advance to those positions based on merit. Google puts extensive stress on career planning and encourages all employees to set goals and take steps to reach their career aspirations (D’onfro, 2015).

All employees, regardless of their level in the organization are given power with programs like Google’s TGIF. According to Forbes, TGIF is “Google’s weekly all-hands meetings, where employees ask questions directly to the company’s top leaders and other execs about any number of company issues” (He, 2013). This program allows all employees to have an impact on Google, and in doing so, gives them power.

Another program that gives Google employees power is the survey. Google employees are regularly surveyed about their managers. This gives them the opportunity to express their preferences and provide feedback on the performance of their superiors. Google takes these surveys into account when evaluating management and makes crucial decisions based on them. The best managers are publicly rewarded and given the task of coaching the worst managers who are enrolled in intensive training to improve their management skills (He, 2013). This gives all employees to opportunity to take a position of power, even over their superiors. It gives them a sense of control and ensures that their voice is heard and will have an impact on the company and their own work environment (Crowley, 2013).

• Googlers With The Need For Affiliation

Google provides ample opportunity for employees to find affiliation, with a strong sense of unity and a social culture. Google employees are empowered to think of themselves as a group of people who are bound together by their skill and extraordinaire. To be employed by Google one must be among the brightest and best in one’s field. Being a Googler means belonging to a subset of the population that is known for being excellent and so Googler group membership is, by itself, incredibly affirming to employees.

Aside from this, Google employees enjoy perks that set them apart from the rest of the world and increase group solidarity. And once you become a Googler, you are a Googler for life. People who no longer work at Google are considered alumni and enjoy perks as well as support and continued group membership (D’onfro, 2015). By making it clear that Googlers are special, and set apart from others, Google makes employees feel proud to be part of a unique social group.

Another way that Google fulfills the need for affiliation is by encouraging social interactions in the work place. Many of the perks that Google offers to employees are socially oriented and designed to assist in building strong, healthy relationships between Googlers. For example, Googlers are given free access to a gym on site with fitness classes and they are encouraged to participate in organized sports with their fellow Googlers (D’onfro, 2015). Google makes employees feel like they are members of a special group of people, a group of people that they can be very proud to belong to. Within that group, Googlers are validated by strong work place relationships, encouraged by a social workplace culture.

Google effectively aligns employees’ needs for achievement, power, and affiliation with high job performance. In the framework of Acquired Needs Theory, this should mean that employees are highly motivated to fulfill their needs, and since fulfilling those needs and being an excellent Google employee are aligned, employees’ motivation to fulfill needs should translate into motivation to do an excellent job at Google. Considering Google’s success, not just in terms of business prosperity, but also in employee job satisfaction, it is safe to say that Google has successfully used Acquired Needs Theory to capture its employees’ motivations and guide them in ways that help the company and the employees themselves prosper.

Many organizations focus solely on issues that directly impact the wellbeing of the company. Things such as productivity or maximizing profits are valued above issues that seem less relevant, such as employee job satisfaction. However, it is important to understand that one cannot have a successful organization without employees who are motivated to put forward their best work. Some people believe that motivating employees is quite simple. They use rewards and punishments to encourage ideal behavior. While this strategy may work on small children, adults are much more complex beings, and this type of management may lead to resentment, high employee turnover, and low workplace motivation. Acquired Needs Theory abolishes this simplistic view of humans, by explaining motivation as the complex and sophisticated process that it is. As Google has demonstrated, when an individual’s needs can be achieved by being an excellent employee that individual will be highly motivated to be excellent (Moore, 2016). Satisfied, motivated employees are an essential component to any successful company, and following Google’s model can greatly benefit organizations of all kinds.


Avtgis, T. A., Rancer, A. S., & Liberman, C. J. (2012). Organizatioinal communication: Strategies for success. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

Crowley, M. C., (2013, March 21). Not a happy accident: How Google deliberately designs workplace satisfaction. Fast Company. Retrieved from

D’onfro, J., (2015, September 21). An inside look at Google’s best employee perks: Current and former employees sound off on the most attractive benefits the tech giant has to offer. Inc. Retrieved from

Garrin, J. M. (2014). The power of workplace wellness: A theoretical model for social change agency. Journal Of Social Change, 6(1), 109-117.

Google careers. (n.d.). Retrieved from

He, L., (2013, March 19). Google’s secrets of innovation: Empowering its employees. Forbes. Retrieved from

Lazaroiu, G. (2015). Work motivation and organizational behavior. Contemporary Readings In Law & Social Justice, 7(2), 66-75.

McClelland’s human motivation theory: Discovering what drives members of your team. (n.d.). Mind Tools. Retrieved from

Moore, C. (2016). The future of work: What Google shows us about the present and future of online collaboration. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 60(3), 233-244.


Experiencing The Other Side: USAA’s Ethical Standards

by Susanna Savage

USAA is an organization that provides insurance and banking services to past and present members of the military, as well as their families (McGregor, 2005). But USAA’s is not only focused on providing services to its members. It is also striving to maintain a corporate culture that exemplifies its values, while abolishing the commonly held stereotype that financial organizations care more about their profits than their clients (McGregor, 2005). This case study critically examines USAA’s culture with a focus on organizational ethics.

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Organizational Culture
The USAA standard is a set of six ethical standards that the organization strives to incorporate into every level and aspect of the company. The first standard is to put members and mission first. This means that for USAA the needs of the military personnel and veterans that it serves must be valued above all else. Another standard is to live the USAA core values. These values are “service, loyalty [and] integrity” (The USAA Standard, 2015), and they should be demonstrated in all transactions between employees and members, as well as within the organization between employees.

Another standard is “be authentic and build trust” (The USAA Standard, 2015). This encapsulates USAA’s belief in the importance of honesty. Organization members should act in a consistent way across varied situations. Most importantly, they should always have the best interest of the customer in mind. “Create conditions for people to succeed” is key to maintaining effective work teams and employee relations within the organization (The USAA Standard. 2015). Employees should always encourage and push each other to succeed.

USAA encourages collaboration that utilizes a diversity of ideas. For this reason, employees should purposely form work teams made of individuals who will have different ideas and ways of looking at issues. In the end, the best ideas should win out, and the team will be able to make the most effective decision based on a large variety of view points. USAA’s final standard is “innovate and build for the future” (The USAA Standard, 2015). Here, employees are encouraged to suggest and implement change. The organization should be constantly evolving, and adapting to the times.

The USAA standard incorporates aspects of all the perspectives of ethical decision-making outlined by Avtgis, Rancer and Liberman, but seems to most closely align with the Relationship-Based perspective. This perspective is defined as “assum[ing] that all relationships within and among the organization and its various external publics are based on quality and honest communication” (Avtgis, 2012, p. 201). This lines up squarely with USAA’s ethical standards.

USAA uses a variety of methods to teach its standards to employees, but perhaps the most notable of these is the “boot camp” program. This ten week program requires that employees do rigorous, military style exercise sessions multiple times a day and eat military standard meals for lunch (Fleurke, 2009). The program is designed to help employees understand what their customers go through and build empathy and common ground (Shevory, 2014).

Critical Analysis
I have designed a code of ethics for the Ashland University Writing Center, at which I work as a Writing Assistant (WA). The code is made up of four ethical standards, which are as follows:

1. Respect for students: All employees must hold a genuine respect for the students that visit the Writing Center. Those students come from a diversity of writing levels and backgrounds to share their work with us. Whatever the quality of their work, it is important that WAs respect them. It is often very difficult for students to share their writing with us, not only because of skill level, but also because their writing can be very personal and topics are often sensitive. In order to effectively assist students, WAs must be conscious of this and thoughtfully communicate their respect to the students.

2. Avoid contributing to plagiarism: Students come in every day with papers that they want “fixed.” WAs must be firm in explaining that they can point out troublesome areas, make suggestions, teach strategies and collaborate, but that they cannot “fix” a student’s paper. The WA’s job is to teach skills and enable students to work through their writing challenges on their own in the future. Their professors want to be able to evaluate the student’s work own, not the WA’s.

3. Respect for professors: WAs often work as the middle-men between students and their professors. When communicating with professors, it is important for WAs to remember that although they take on an authority role with the students, in the end the ultimate authority is the professor. WAs must be professional and polite in their communication with professors and ever mindful of their subordinate relationship.

4. The needs of the student come first: As an organization, our primary goal is to help students produce higher quality writing. Of course there is never enough time to address every potential writing issue for any given writing assignment. Thus, it is the WAs job to strategically decide which areas are most crucial. This means tackling challenging writing problems, even when it’s easier to focus on less significant details. It also means going the extra mile to provide students with advice and materials that they will need to complete the writing process after they leave the Writing Center. Additionally, the Writing Center must be flexible and accommodate all students, particularly those with specialized learning needs.

In order to help new employees understand how important these standards are, it is vital that they spend some time as a student in the Writing Center. New employees who have never visited the Writing Center as a student should be required to make an appointment before their training begins. They should bring in a piece their writing for a WA to look at and act as if they are just a normal student, seeking assistance. This would give them a taste of the student’s perspective and impress upon them how important these standards are. New employees should also be required to sign a document, promising to honor these four standards. To ensure that the standards are kept alive in the day-to-day of the Organization, they should be posted inside the Writing Center.


Avtgis, T. A., Rancer, A. S., Liberman, C. J., (2012). Organizational communication: Strategies for success. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

Fleurke, X., (January, 2009). Walking a mile in the shoes of your customer. Business Roundtable: Institute for Corporate Ethics. Retrieved from

McGregor, J., (1, September, 2005). Employee innovator: USAA. Fast Company Magazine. Retrieved from

Shevory, K., (1, September, 2014). Boot camp for bankers. The New York Times. Retrieved from

The USAA standard (2015) [PDF Document]. Retrieved from

Nothing Short of the Best: Netflix’s Unique Organizational Culture

by Susanna Savage
While every organization has its own unique culture, some stick out more than others. Netflix’s culture is one that is very different from the norm. As the organization has grown from a small DVD rental company, to the booming business that it is today, its management style and interesting culture can lend lessons to other organizations (McCord). This case study explores the culture and management style of Netflix with a critical eye to the impact of this environment on the employees.

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Netflix’s Culture

Netflix’s unique culture is based on seven basic principles. The first of these is “values are what we value” (Netflix, slide 5).  Netflix seeks to employ only those who embody all nine of their organizational values. These include communication, innovation, courage and passion, among others. Second, is “high performance” (Netflix, slide 23). Netflix wants its employees to be the best in their field. The philosophy behind this is that one incredible employee accomplishes a larger amount and puts out higher quality work then several average employees (Nisen). And when it comes to deciding who stays at Netflix and who is let go, managers make decisions by asking themselves this question; “Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving in two months for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight hard to keep at Netflix” (Netflix, slide 30).

Another aspect of Netflix culture is “freedom and responsibility” (Netflix, slide 38). Netflix believes that if it works hard to ensure that its employees are the best, it can foster a creative and mature environment that shows respect for those employees by giving them as much freedom as possible and charging them to use that freedom responsibly. As evidence of this, Netflix does not have a vacation policy. This is because it trusts that employees will take as much or as little vacation as they need while ensuring that the work that they are responsible for is accomplished. This no-policy-policy is made possible by Netflix’s focus on results rather than effort. The hours that someone puts in or the amount of effort that they invest are not as important as what they produce (Nisen).

“Context and control” refers to Netflix’ belief that directly controlling employees creates a negative culture (Netflix, slide 76). Because Netflix only employs the best, it can treat all employees like adults who do not need to be controlled. However, Netflix does not completely abandon management. Instead management is more about leading than controlling. In order to lead and guide employees in the right direction, Netflix believes that management should set contexts that maximize employees’ ability to do well. To exemplify the principle of context setting, Netflix quotes Antoine De Saint-Exuperty, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide work, and giver orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea” (Netflix, slide 77). This quote clearly shows the difference between control and context. Rather than telling employees what to do, Netflix managers set a context which will empower the employees to achieve the goal on their own.

Netflix strives to maintain a model of management that is “highly aligned, loosely coupled” (Netflix, slide 86). Being highly aligned virtually means that managers, individual employees and team members have a unified sense of their goals. At the same time, being loosely coupled means that individuals are trusted to pursue goals with what they feel to be appropriate tactics, without having to get approval from management. Netflix’s goal when compensating employees is “pay top of market” (Netflix, slide 93). This means that for any given job, Netflix plays the employee that holds that position above the highest pay for that position anywhere in the current job market. Additionally, Netflix makes use of “promotions and development” (Netflix, slide 109) to reward excellent employees.

Critical Analysis

While I have never experienced an organizational culture anything like that of Netflix’s, I believe that I would thrive in such an atmosphere. Most of the organizations in which I have worked have been much closer to a traditional organizational culture and traditional management styles. Their was little competition, and job security was fairly high. Their was also very little drive to achieve or to put in more then the average amount of effort. I have definitely not experienced an organization that focused on results above effort.

The Netflix culture is incredibly appealing to me for several reasons. When I took the StrengthsFinder 2.0 analysis , I found that one of my top strengths is “Achiever.” This means that I gain personal satisfaction from producing high quality work and going above and beyond to be “the best,” at any given area or task. The Netflix culture rewards people who are achievers and also creates an environment that enables them to achieve to their full potential and to be the best that they can be. I also think that the self management aspect of Netflix’s culture would facilitate my creativity and work productivity. I am able to work best when I am in complete control of how I spend my time and how I approach tasks. When I am managed in the traditional sense, I can feel stifled and unproductive. Netflix’s culture of trusting its employees to manage their own time, and focusing mainly on results, creates an environment in which I would thrive.

Another great aspect of Netflix is that accomplishments and not effort are valued and compensated. This model makes sense. Students are not awarded grades based on the amount of time they spend studying, but on their ability to preform on various measures of their learning. In much the same way, it seems that results are all that should matter to an employer. Any given task takes some people a longer time and others a shorter time to accomplish. For some the task might require more effort and be more challenging, while for others it is easy. The Netflix focus on results rather then effort seems to be the most fair, both to the employee, and the organization.


McCord, P. (2014, January). How Netflix reinvented HR. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Netflix. (2009, August 1). Netflix Culture – SlideShare. Retrieved from

Nisen, M. (2013, December 30). Legendary ex-HR director from Netflix shares 6 important lessons. Business Insider. Retrieved from

“The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts”: The Implications of Google’s Project Aristotle.

by Susanna Savage

In today’s workplaces and organizations, much work is done by teams or groups of employees, working together as one body. While such group work can be extremely effective at its best, not all groups function at the highest caliber. Some groups simply don’t work well, causing detrimental effects such as decreased productivity, or stunted creativity. To answer questions about what makes some groups effective and others ineffective, a team of Google’s researchers began working on Project Aristotle in 2012. The project was named after Aristotle because the team believed in Aristotle’s famous words, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” and wanted to apply the concept in their search for answers about group work (Re-Work). Several years later, after analyzing massive quantities of data and examining hundreds of groups, Project Aristotle finally found answers about the components that make an effective group (Duhigg, 2016). This case study critically examines the findings of Project Aristotle, specifically with regard to implications for leaders of work teams.

Project Aristotle

The researchers of Project Aristotle found that across the board there were five characteristics that successful groups shared (Re-Work).

The Five Characteristics of a Successful Group – Photo Credit:

Psychological safety refers to the degree to which group individuals feel it is safe for them to openly express their ideas and feelings without fear of negative social consequences. In effective groups, members feel safe to express themselves without fear of embarrassment, or disapproval from other group members (Re-Work). Another important quality of effective teams is dependability.  For a group to be dependable, group members must be accountable for the tasks that they are responsible for. All of the members complete tasks that are expected of them in a timely manner and are reliable (Re-Work). Effective groups have both structure and clarity. This means that goals are clearly defined, measurable and realistic. Group members have a clear idea of their roles, not only as part of the group as a whole, but on specific tasks (Re-Work). For a group to be effective, individual members must find some kind of meaning, either in the group itself or the work that is being done by the group. Meaning gives group members a sense of investment into the group and accentuates its effectiveness (Re-Work). Finally, group members must have a sense of the impact that their work has. They must feel that their ideas and contributions to the group are beneficial and valuable, and that the work of the group as a whole has some kind of broader impact (Re-Work).

Critical Analysis

The findings of Project Aristotle have strong implications for any organization that uses team work. In the past, organizations have worked hard to form groups out of individuals that were the best matched to work together. However, the findings of Project Aristotle show that this is not nearly as important as the atmosphere created by the group. This means that as organizations seek to make their work groups as effective as possible, they should shift their focus away from group formation, and towards establishing the five characteristics of an effective group dynamic within each individual group (McManus, 2016).

Project Aristotle’s findings also call for a shift in the role of groups. While traditional groups generally focus on work related goals, the potential of the group to fulfill those aspirations cannot be fully realized unless the group can foster all five of the characteristics identified by Project Aristotle. In order to achieve the primary goals that define the purpose of the group, the team must first create a conducive team environment.

The extensive and thorough nature of Project Aristotle give its findings considerable credibility. They also match my own personal experience. When working in groups, I have found that when there is no structure or clarity the performance of the group goes down. If group members are not responsible for the tasks that have been allotted to them, or if I am unsure what my role is in the group of on specific tasks, the group seems chaotic. On the other hand, when I have worked in effective groups, I have found that not only are group members dependable, but I feel that the group is a safe environment where everyone’s ideas are welcome and valued.

I hope to make use of Project Aristotle’s findings in the future when leading work teams. I would do this by focusing first on developing a kind of group environment that is conducive to effective team work. It would be necessary to explain to group members how important it is that they all strive to foster a positive group environment. Establishing an effective group atmosphere would be the first goal of the group and would have to be accomplished before seeking to achieve work related goals.



Duhigg, C. (2016). What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from

McManus, P. (2016). What Google learned about teams (and implications for the rest of us). [Web log]. Retrieved from

Re-Work – Guide: Understanding team effectiveness. (nd). Retrieved from

Radically Redefining Organizational Structure: Holacracy at Zappos

by Susanna Savage

Holacracy is a unique style of management that came into being at Ternary Software. In 2007, Ternary’s founder, Brian Robertson refined and condensed his most successful management practices and coined the term Holacracy. Robertson later developed the Holacracy Constitution, which lays out the core principles of the system, in 2010. Since then, Holacracy has been successfully used by a number of organizations (Groth, 2014). However, when Holacracy was implemented at Zappos, an online shoe and clothing company, many employees became less satisfied with their jobs and others were openly resistant to the change. It is now clear that at Zappos, the holacratic system was not a success and the company has moved on to a new system called “Teal” (Reingold, 2016). The following is an analysis of the strengths and weakness of holacracy, specifically in the context of Zappos.

Holacracy differs from traditional management styles in a number of ways. Rather then having job descriptions with titles that describe the work a specific person is to do, Holacracy instead has “roles.” Roles are used to describe the work being done, rather than the people doing it and they are updated regularly to fit the needs of the company. Staff members may have multiple roles at any given time (Holacracy, 2016). Authority is evenly distributed among roles and teams, replacing the top-to-bottom hierarchy found in traditional management styles. Rules are decided on and posted for everyone to see, and the same rules apply to every member of the staff, no matter their roles, status, or pay grade (Holacracy, 2016).This is a drastic shift from traditional styles, where certain actions are permissible for some but not for others and the rules are often bent by higher management.

Holacracy’s structure consists of layers of circles made up of team members. Circles are basically teams, organized to work on specific tasks. Any given employee can decide what circles he or she wants to be a part of. Whether he or she is granted membership depends in whether the teams leaders want him or her to be in the circle and whether there is available space. Although there is freedom within the system for employees to choose what circles to work in, they must find a spot to fill in enough circles at any given time to keep their job (Reingold, 2016).

Tony Hsieh is the man who has run Zappos for the last sixteen years and he has worked hard to maintain a culture of laid back, self expressive creativity within the organization (Gelles, 2015). Zappos corporate charter even expresses the company’s vision to, “create fun and a little weirdness” (Gelles, 2015). Hsieh decided to begin implementing holacracy at Zappos in 2013. This change was brought about by Hsieh’s wish to create a workplace that truly fosters creativity and freedom for the employees (Gelles, 2015).

An example of creative space within Zappos. Photo Credit:

In theory, the holacratic system is valuable for creating equality and open communication in the work place. Employees who would have no power or say in a traditional system are able to voice their opinions and manage themselves. This should allow for creativity, more efficient flow of ideas, and greater individual autonomy. However, in reality, the results of the system vary from one work place to another. It is important to consider the lack of stability that holacracy creates. While individual expression, choice, and autonomy all foster creativity and are valuable pursuits of the holacratic system, the human need for stability is also incredibly important not only to job satisfaction but to the creative process as well. 

The culture of Zappos is one that expresses relaxed creativity. While on the surface, holacracy would seem to endorse those same ideals, in reality this is not the case. The rigid structure that is a necessity of holacracy to avoid complete anarchy is not only confusing but stifling, specifically for Zappos, where employees are used to a very laid back atmosphere. This, coupled with the speed at which the company adopted the holacratic style, created culture shock. Additionally, the lack of structure and stability of holacracy made it incompatible with Zappos (Reingold, 2016). Employees felt stress and pressure from self managing. The fact that the roles that they pick for themselves are short-term, means that there is absolutely no stability. This causes employees to become preoccupied, out of necessity, with navigating the system, detracting from their piece of mind and job satisfaction as well as their ability to focus on the actual job that they are there to do (Gelles, 2015).

While the relaxed culture of Zappos suggests that inclusive management would be best, it is also clear that some structure is necessary for its employees to work creatively. A more traditional participative or democratic management style would work well at Zappos. Employees would have input on decisions and be able to voice their opinions, concerns and suggestions, while the ultimate responsibility for decisions would not rest on their shoulders. Additionally, because this type of system is much less complex than the holacracy, employees will be able to focus more time on their work.



Gelles, D. (2015, July 17). At Zappos, pushing shoes and a vision. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Groth, A. (2014, January 16). The story of the man who’s flattening the world of corporate hierarchies. Quartz. Retrieved from

Holacracy. (2016). How it works. Retrieved from

Reingold, J. (2016, March 4). A move to “self-management” has shaken online shoe retailer. Can it regain its mojo? Fortune. Retrieved from


Susanna Savage – Defining My Unique Leadership Style

by Susanna Savage

Taking StregthsFinder 2.0 has not only enabled me to understand my top strengths, but also to ruminate on how I can best utilize those strengths in a group setting. It is often difficult for people to step back and analyze their own behavior, and I am no exception. However, after taking StrengthFinder 2.0 and reading my top five strengths, it is easy for me to recognize the ways in which I exemplify these strengths and can utilize them in the future. The following are my top five strengths.

One: Strategic

People who are strategic tend to be able to see situations from many different angles at one time. They can quickly and efficiently weigh options, consider possible outcomes, and determine the best route of action. They are able to critically examine problems and maximize positive results. Strategic people are creative and lend a unique perspective to group work.

I feel that this trait is very accurate in describing me. I often use my creativity to determine the best solutions to problems. I use strategic planning in my everyday life, planning almost everything that I do out ahead of time. Whether this entails the order in which I run various errands, or the best use of my study time, I am always looking for the most efficient and effective path. As a fulltime student with both fulltime and  part time jobs, I am constantly planning and strategizing in order to maximize my time and ensure that high priority tasks are completed first.

In a group setting, I often make sure that the group spends time planning and weighing options. From the roles that each member will play in any given project, to the steps that should to taken to accomplish a project, it is important to me that as a group we decide what the best course of action is. Additionally, it is important, for the success of the project, that all of the group members understand these plans and the reasons behind them.

Two: Learner

People who are learners are motivated to gain knowledge. They have a passion for the process of taking in new information, and this learning does not always have to be geared towards some kind of end or goal. They do not necessarily feel compelled to learn in order to be rewarded, to gain social standing, or even to use the knowledge that they are learning. Learners enjoy learning simply for the process itself, distinct from any auxiliary benefits.

I firmly believe that it is important for me to gain as much knowledge as I can because it allows me to make educated decisions and to rely less on the opinions of others. It is because of this strength that I am currently majoring in three different areas of study plan to further my education after graduation in a fourth area at law school. It is my love for learning that has motivated me to study so many different areas in such depth. I generally can find interest in any class that I take, regardless of the subject matter, simply because I enjoy the process of learning new things and refining my knowledge in areas which I am already with.

In group settings, being a learner helps me be able to truly listen and understand the ideas of others. I am eager to learn all that I can from each and every team member. With the knowledge that I gain, I can make more educated decisions. This also allows me to look at situations from multiple viewpoints, rather then just one. I take what I learn and put it towards making informed, strategic decisions.

Three: Achiever

Achievers are driven to achieve. Each and every day they feel the need to achieve or to accomplish something. These people are continually looking for more challenging projects to tackle and always pushing themselves to achieve more then they previously had. Achievers are future oriented. Although they feel a sense of satisfaction when they finish a project or make an accomplishment, they quickly turn their attention toward the future and their next achievement.

The need for achievement is a driving force that is very alive in my every day life. I am always pushing myself to constantly do better then I have in the past. I am not motivated to achieve in order to receive praise or recognition, but simply for my own personal satisfaction. This is exemplified in the work that I put towards my GPA. While working full time and taking a full class load it is very difficult for me to maintain a high GPA. Sometimes I have to make sacrifices in my personal life to achieve my goal. Yet, I feel compelled to work towards that goal because I know that I am capable of achieving it.

The same is true for all areas of life. I always try to do the best work that I can possibly do. I like to say that if it can be done then I can do it. When working on group projects I generally act as a motivator to the other members of the group to ensure that the quality of the work that we do is as high as it can be. Although different group members may set lower standards of achievement for themselves then I do for myself, my drive to reach a high standard helps me motivate the others to set similar goals for specific group projects.

Four: Input:

People with the strength of input are interested and curious about the world around them. They enjoy finding and storing information about the things that interest them. They often collect things, such as books, quotes, or facts. Not only are they always searching for the answers to their questions about the world, but they also store the information that they find, hoping that it will one day prove useful to them. They bring with them a lot of knowledge that they can share with others in a group setting. They are also very thorough researchers.

For me, this goes hand in hand with learning, which was my second strength. However, while learning only deals with the process of obtaining knowledge, input has more to do with the storing away and collecting of that knowledge. While I enjoy adding to my mental store of knowledge by doing research and learning about things that interest me, I also enjoy physically collecting knowledge in the form of books. As a college student, I don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on books, but I do frequent used book stores and book sales. I have been collecting books for several years now and I am the proud owner of two large book cases full of books.

The newest edition to my shelves – a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury

I also collect other types of information. When I’m working in the Writing Center, I keep record in a notebook of the things that I have learned on the job. I write down tactics that I have found to be successful in explaining complex concepts to students, approaches for dealing with difficult students, or considerations for working with students who speak English as a second language. This gives me a resource to look back to whenever I am unsure how to approach a situation. In group settings, I use this strength by keeping and organizing information that is vital to the goals of the group. I take notes during group meetings and keep track of important handouts, research results and lists. I also keep copies of documents generated by the group. By keeping track of important information I can ensure that the group will always have access to it.

Five: Intellection

People who have the strength of intellection enjoy thinking. They like to process and understand concepts at a deeper level. Because they enjoy thinking, these people rarely make decisions without taking time to consider all the possible outcomes. By taking time to consider before acting, they are able to move smoothly through projects without having to backtrack or change directions. Additionally, they are able to trouble shoot by determining the best route before choosing a course of action.

As part of strategic planning, I take the time to think things through before choosing a course of action. I enjoy exercising and stretching my mind, and the people who I am closest to are ones that I can have stimulating conversations with. In group settings, I have used this strength to ensure that the decision making process is sufficiently thorough and that decisions are not made to hastily and with too little thought. If I feel that a decision has not been fully explored before the group reaches a verdict, I always try to extend that process by asking questions and facilitating further discussion. In the past, this further discussion has sometimes changed the direction of the group and avoided difficulties farther down the road.

Critical Analysis

My unique set of skills work together to make me a valuable group member who strives for excellence both in group efficiency, and quality of work. My skills are relevant to any kind of group work and thus make me an asset to any group that I might find myself in.

The strengths of intellection, achiever and strategic thinking work together to form their own unique skill. The careful and thorough thought that comes from the intellection strength is vital to the ability to think strategically. Without deep thought and contemplation, strategic thinking, which weighs possible outcomes and explores all possible courses of action is impossible. In turn, it is difficult to achieve goals without strategic thought. The drive to achieve that I experience as an achiever is realized by strategic thought and planning. Together those skills maximize efficiency and facilitate choosing the best route to reach a goal.

The strengths of input and learner also come together to form a unique combined strength. The pursuit of learning enables me to find interest in gaining knowledge, and the strength of input motivates me to store that knowledge. Together, they make me a more knowledgeable person, with a stockpile of information from which to draw. Additionally, they enable me to learn and retain new information quickly. This skill is often vital when working on group projects.

Organizations that would most benefit from my leadership style are those for whom quality and efficiency of work is of the utmost importance. Through the combination of my strengths I thoughtfully and strategically work towards achieving the most positive outcome possible. I hope to further my education after graduation from Ashland University at law school. There I believe that my strengths, specifically achiever, learner and strategic will facilitate my learning and development. Later, as a lawyer, the ability to think strategically as well as the input skill will assist me in putting out the highest quality of professional work.

Susanna Savage

fb_img_1458081387488Susanna is a Junior at Ashland University, triple majoring in Public Relations & Strategic Communication, Health & Risk Communication and English. She plans to further her education by attending law school after graduating from AU. Although she is not certain what specific area of law she will study, it is important to her that as a lawyer she be able to help bring justice to those who have been mistreated. She chose her undergraduate areas of study in order to facilitate her success in law school, and later as a lawyer. She believes that the communication majors will provide her with the skills necessary to effectively and appropriately meet her communication goals as a law professional. She also believes that studying English will not only improve her writing skills, but will also teach her expertise related to forming reasonable and logical arguments and reading complex texts.

In 2016 Susanna became a member of Lambda Pi Eta, the Communication Studies Honor Society of the National Communication Association. She takes great pride in her 3.94 cumulative GPA and has been on the Dean’s List each semester that she has attended AU.

Susanna has worked as a Writing Assistant in Ashland University’s Writing Center for the last two years. As a Writing Assistant she meets with students to discuss and assist with any difficulties that they might be encountering with their academic writing assignments. For the last two years, Susanna has worked as a waitress at the Brown Derby Road House restaurant. Her job duties include acting as a communicator between the guests that she waits on and the rest of the restaurant’s staff, particularly the cooks. Before beginning her work as a waitress, Susanna held a position for one year at a daycare, where she worked with children ranging from zero to twelve years old. She was the sole caregiver for groups of children during various parts of the day and handled parent relations as well light office tasks. Additionally, she was responsible for creation and implementation of lesson plans for preschool-aged children’s activities which were in accordance with Ohio’s State Standards.

While Susanna likes virtually any outdoor activity, gardening and hiking are among her favorites. She also enjoys reading and writing, both of which she feels help her constantly develop and enhance skills that are crucial to the practice of law. She articulates herself in many forms of art including painting, photography, and fabric design. Susanna believes that her ability to express creativity and to see the world from many different angles is displayed not just through the art that she makes but also through her professional performance.