the fast and furious way to organizational shrapnel

Kris Dunn over at HR Capitali$t (you should be reading his posts daily) recently posted Is Giving Employees a Yes/No Vote in Firings a Better Way to Go? It’s an interesting piece about software company Valve’s unusual practice of terminating through employee vote.

It got me thinking about the danger of copying innovative pieces from other companies without also using all their supporting systems. Removing the key leadership responsibility of performance management from leaders and putting it into the hands of peers is a very good plan for disaster. It’s not too hard to imagine the workplace devolving into the Lord of the Flies anarchy of a 6th grade popularity contest.

It’s also pretty easy to make the mistake of off handedly dismissing it as “it’ll never work”. Remember Puttnam’s Law: It is more acceptable to fail in conventional ways than in unconventional ways. The reward for succeeding in unconventional ways is less than the risk of failing in unconventional ways. Us humans like to downplay and ignore innovative success despite evidence that it seems to be working.


My only knowledge of Valve is from reading their Employee Handbook and their organization is completely unlike  99.99% of the companies out there. It is as flat of organization as you will find so the management structure as most of us know it simply doesn’t exist. In their structure, the employee vote doesn’t undermine performance management, it supports it. And it works because all the supporting systems work together. Analyzing or adopting this one component in isolation of the rest of the system is futile.

Consider it this way. Highly modified cars often have giant turbochargers, use nitrous oxide, run on exotic fuels (not available at your corner mini-mart) and can put out 4,5, or even 10 times the original power. But, installing a huge turbo or filling the trunk with nitrous bottles in your economy car after a marathon weekend of The Fast and the Furious is a quick shortcut to turning your engine into very expensive shrapnel. Yes, turbos, etc. can provide big-time power, but all the supporting systems (engine block and internals, transmission, differential, axles, etc.) must also but upgraded. Radically changing one component of interrelated systems rarely works.

What thinks you?



  1. HI Broc –

    thanks for the shout out – good thoughts.

    I’ve got another post in me about org leaders who come up with all their management ideas from other companies or the hot management book of the day. Weak. Keep up the writing!



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