Don’t Empower Anybody

This article is written by Claire Lew who is the CEO of Know Your Company, a software tool that helps CEOs get to know their employees better and overcome company growing pains.

Don’t “Empower” Anybody

I hate the word “empowerment.”

I never think I should “empower” anyone — especially our employees.

Why? The definition of the word “empower” is:

to give power to (someone); to make (someone) stronger and more confident.

The key words here are “give” and “make.” Empowerment means you’re transferring power to someone else. You think someone else needs you — your permission, your influence, your talents — to do something. And I don’t ever believe that’s the case.

Continue reading Don’t Empower Anybody

Gamifying Company Politics: Chou’s Corporate Player Types

Corporate Gamification Player TypesThe Corporate Environment is a Terrible Game

This post is a little different to what I usually write. It is not about my Octalysis Framework (but there are some core foundational principles derived from it), but rather on my observations after working with a significant amount of corporate companies.

Most employees dislike the politics and culture within their corporate environment for a multitude of reasons.

  • Your coworkers and allies are also your competitors.
  • You don’t know who is actually playing nice or pretending to play nice.
  • Sucking up seems to be more important than doing good work.
  • When working between departments, people would spend an hour explaining why they shouldn’t do something that would take 15 minutes.
  • People fight to claim credit and put the blame on others.

This has demoralized the motivation of many employees, which results in low productivity, bad-mouthing the company after work, and high turnover rate.

Of course, being a manager is extremely difficult too. You have to deal with this most fuzzy thing called human emotions. It’s confusing and irrational. Many of the smartest people in the world with ridiculous IQs were terrible at  figuring out human feelings.

I remember many years ago, when my friends first entered the workforce, they would complain how their bosses are incompetent idiots that didn’t understand the business at all. However, I’m almost 100% certain that, besides a few exceptions, now that these friends are managers themselves, people under them are calling them incompetent idiots.

Clearly, it is very difficult being a good manager.

Based on my observations, I’ve created a quick player type matrix for the corporate environment so managers would have a strategy guide to follow. Keep in mind, this is not meant to be some great gamified player type theory that I spent years perfecting. There are many others like Richard Bartle and Andrzej Marczewski who have more robust gamified player type concepts that I highly recommend.

Gamifying Company Politics: Chou’s Corporate Player Types

Corporate Gamification Player Types.001

The key principle in my Corporate Player Types, is that I divide all employees into two characteristics: performance, and politics.

Performance simply means how well the employee can carry out their responsibilities. This factors in work ethics but is focused on end deliverables. If an employee works hard but cannot produce good work, then performance is low. However, this should NOT factor “business impact,” simply because business impact is a result of having both performance and political skills.

Politics means how good (or proactive) the employee is at making friends within the organization. These are people who regularly say nice things to others, ask coworkers out for lunch, and proactively try to impress their superiors. They also tend to make something harsh sound more pleasant to the ear, even if it means sugarcoating the information a little bit, or having slight exaggeration or omission. They aren’t “liars” in most socially acceptable standards, but they are very driven by extrinsic goals and therefore pick what they say carefully and strategically.

Any 2×2 matrix divides people into four different categories: Low Performance and Low Politics, High Performance but Low Politics, High Politics but Low Performance, and High Performance and High Politics.

Corporate Gamification Player Types

Gamified Player Type: Survivors

For the Low Performance and Low Politics quadrant, I call them “Survivors.” Survivors are there simply to collect a paycheck (Core Drive 4) and not get fired (Core Drive 8). As a result, they usually just work hard enough to collect their paychecks and not get fired, and then they stop exerting effort.

Survivors are not necessarily dumber or less efficient at what they do. More often than they are just not motivated or incentivized to do good work. Survivors often like to say things like, “Why should I do this? I won’t get paid more to do it.” or “Last year I did way more work but I didn’t get a bonus. There’s no point.”

Gamified Player Type: Performers

For the High Performance but Low Politics quadrant, I call them “Performers.” Performers are people who do great work and finish their deliverables in efficient and reliable manners. They are often the people that solve problems that no one else on the team can solve. However, they have a natural dislike (or ignorance) towards corporate politics, and therefore never spend the time to make friends or work on other peoples’ feelings and motivations.

Performers also don’t suck up to their bosses and would do career suicide moves like telling their VP, “I can’t go to your dinner party because I need to think about how to execute on the plan next week.” Performers usually dislikes those who are good at politics, thinking them as “phony” and “insincere.” They inherently believe that, “As long as I do a good job, I will be given my fair reward. That will show those fancy-mouth ass-kissers.”

Gamified Player Type: Politicians

Continue reading Gamifying Company Politics: Chou’s Corporate Player Types

3 Reasons Holacracy Didn’t Work for Medium: A Perspective from Octalysis Design

This post was written by Erik van Mechelen and takes the lens of Octalysis, a human-focused design framework built by Yu-kai Chou.

From first principles

Management is meant to facilitate the best use of people and their skills/talents toward productivity in pursuit of an organization’s objectives. This is what management is (in my words).

Management fits into a larger structural system, which could be flat or hierarchical or hybrid. (Big misconception: Holacracy = Flat…it doesn’t.)

I previously wrote about the Holacracy experiment at Zappos led by Tony Hsieh, which took about 2.5 years to get up and running for a 1,000-employee company. As I learn more about Holacracy itself and do more thinking about leadership and management and productivity, I can’t help thinking about why some systems work for some companies and not for others.

What distinguishes a framework that works in one instance but not another?

In this article, I’ll take a think through some possibilities in the context of Zappos’s continued experiment with Holacracy and Medium’s decision to abort it.

Continue reading 3 Reasons Holacracy Didn’t Work for Medium: A Perspective from Octalysis Design

How to Implement Gamification at Work, Part 3/4: Scaffolding, Building Toward the Endgame

This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen based on the ideas of Yu-kai Chou

Scaffolding workplace gamification

We recently asked you why you were part of the Octalysis Explorers Facebook group or joined the Kickstarter for Octalysis Prime. The largest segment of responses fell into this category:

I want to implement gamification in my workplace.

Maybe this is even a goal for you in 2017.

This is part 3 of a 4-part series (here is Part 1: Getting Buy-in from your Boss and here is Part 2: How to Onboard and 7 Things to Avoid When Implementing Gamificiation at Work).

Please note: I will reference the 8 Core Drives throughout this post: 

Continue reading How to Implement Gamification at Work, Part 3/4: Scaffolding, Building Toward the Endgame

How Zappos’s Culture Uses White Hat and Intrinsic Motivation


This article was written by contributing writer Erik van Mechelen.

Using White Hat and Intrinsic Core Drives in Company Culture

In November 1998 Tony Hsieh sold his company to Microsoft because it had a losing culture. What seemed like a success actually wasn’t one in his view.

What started as an exciting sleeping-under-your-desk startup in 1996 quickly grew to a 100-person company with a culture that had taken a turn for the worse. He even dreaded waking up in the morning and wondered if his employees thought the same.

Bad culture was Hsieh’s explanation for selling.

“We hired all the right people with the right skills and experience, but they weren’t culture fits.”

Tony Hsieh took what he learned at LinkExchange and approached Zappos differently. While other companies talk about work-life balance, Tony Hsieh focuses much more on work-life integration.

“With Zappos we wanted to make sure we didn’t make that same mistake again…so pretty much from the beginning paid attention to company culture.”

We know from Octalysis that the White Hat Core Drives are important for long-term engagement in work settings. Traditional hierarchical structures tend to layer bureaucracy and slow decision-making, removing creativity and meaningful choices from employees who might otherwise make great contributions.

In these settings, situations can develop where employees are motivated by loss and avoidance, scarcity, and money.

Smaller companies usually have the upper hand, more naturally fulfilling epic meaning, creativity and empowerment, and collaboration.

Hsieh understood the difficulties of larger companies, as evidence by a few of Zappos’s core values, which included:

  • embrace and drive change
  • adventurous, creative, and open-minded
  • do more with less

Tony Hsieh Gets Rid of Managers

This was the headline in 2013 when Hsieh rolled out his flat management structure. But Holocracy is a little different than removing management from a command and control system. Managers were out, but there were still lead links and circles and structure.

When Hsieh started to explain the how behind the system, people were forced to look more closely at how Holacracy, the patented model he’s using, actually works.

It turns out Holacracy is a little different than removing management from a command and control system.


This is from (the system Tony Hsieh is using).

Holacracy is a complete, packaged system for self-management in organizations. Holacracy replaces the traditional management hierarchy with a new peer-to-peer “operating system” that increases transparency, accountability, and organizational agility.

This is easy to understand. Holocracy provides an alternative to command and control systems. Lead links still ensure progress within ‘circles’, essentially productivity units.

Through a transparent rule set and a tested meeting process, Holacracy allows businesses to distribute authority, empowering all employees to take a leadership role and make meaningful decisions.

This appeals to CD5 Social Influence & Relatedness by giving all employees leadership roles, CD4 Ownership & Development by increasing each individual employee’s authority, and CD3 Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback by increasing meaningful choices.

A lot of people got excited about it, even Ev Williams of Twitter, who tried it with his newer company, Medium, in the early days.

“In Holacracy, one of the principles is to make the implicit explicit — tons of it is about creating clarity: who is in charge of what, who is taking what kind of decision — and there is also a system for defining that, and changing that, so it’s very flexible at the same time.”

The model didn’t work for Ev’s Medium, but Tony Hsieh hasn’t given up on the model that easily.

The Case for Holocracy at Zappos

Tony is confident that despite growing pains the model has enough benefits to play out favorably in the long run. If cities get more efficient as population levels increase, why don’t companies?

Perhaps this quote best explains Tony’s confidence:

“There is a quote that is often attributed to Darwin (whether Darwin actually said it is up for debate, but I believe the general principle to be true): ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’ I believe the same is true for companies, and especially for entrepreneurs.”

Tony wants the type of people that are culture fits, and culture fits within Holocracy, to be with Zappos for the long term.

How Zappos is Using Holocracy (and a Timeline)

In 2013, Tony Hsieh decided to implement Holacracy with a pilot program.

Then he decided to implement across the organization, but the company missed its goal of integration by Jan 2015.

Hsieh later regretted not moving more quickly with the decision to roll this out to the entire company. He ended up making employees ‘the Offer’ to either stay or take a severance package in late 2015. About 18% of employees (260 people) took the deal, while 82% stayed. Hsieh mentioned he thought more would leave.

This decision was interesting. In Hsieh’s view, the transition to Holacracy had already taken too long. This ultimatum was a CD8 technique. Some employees did end up taking the severance package and leaving.

A Mirror of Hsieh’s Personal Leadership Style

For me, Hsieh’s decision to implement the Holacracy experiment for the whole company is in line with his motivations to try new things (and echoes his city planning and development ambitions for the northern section of Las Vegas).

It also seems to mimic his own preferred management and leadership style, which is hands-off and empowering of his team.

What’s interesting is how against the grain the empowerment and authority structures seem.

On one hand, the model seems to empower employees and let them develop outside of their conventional skill sets. (A lot of the people who left would have lost their titles or worked on something completely different to their work at the time.)

On the other hand, while the model suggests added flexibility and agility, there are still inherent structures through the Lead Links and Circle system. It will be interesting to see if Zappos’s quirkiness and fun (from its 10 core values) meshes with the new system, even after three years.

A quick look at the Zappos culture site demonstrates the rigor preparing for such a model as Holacracy takes. It’s something different, and it just might be a powerful way to empower employees in the long term.

Whether it succeeds or fails will make critics reconsider or add fuel to the arguments against the model.

What models do you prefer in management and company structure? What is your startup using? I’ll see you in the comments.