Who Should Choose Your Boss?
The employee-led battle to reinstate the fired CEO of Market Basket has riveted the business world. But Jim Heskett asks, who really should hire the CEO? The board? Company leaders? Rank and file employees? What do YOU think?
Recent events surrounding the walkout of many of the 25,000 employees at Market Basket, a Massachusetts-based supermarket chain, in support of their unseated CEO raises interesting questions about how leaders are chosen.
It appears the employees have engineered the return of company President Arthur T. Demoulas by nearly putting their organization out of business. It was a remarkable move, especially by a group of workers who were not represented by a union. They had to organize themselves. And they have apparently chosen their boss.
Often, an organization's board chooses at least the top executive. It's a board's most important responsibility, a task delegated to it by the organization's shareholders. Judging from outcomes, many boards are not very good at it. They don't put enough effort into the task. They subcontract much of the hard work, at least the most difficult job of winnowing candidates down to several, to headhunters. They often favor those applicants they know personally, whether they are insiders or outsiders. When they do participate directly in the process, they don't ask the right questions.
Leaders most typically choose members of their teams. There is a large body of literature that concerns a tendency of many leaders to choose those who have human qualities like their own. Not cherishing the task, many leaders leave it up to a human resource department to carry out all but the final stages of the process. And like board members, research has shown that they rarely ask questions that would enable an understanding of whether or not their interviewee will be an effective contributor to the organization in the tasks needed to be done.
Still other organizations give potential employees some latitude in choosing their bosses. At Google, reporting relationships are sufficiently pliable that a new employee has a significant voice in the choice, moving from one job to another with considerable frequency. In this case, the entire organization has been structured to create a kind of talent marketplace in which employees are "buying and selling" ideas, jobs, and associates. At W. L. Gore & Associates, manufacturer of Gore-Tex, "there are no ranks or titles … associates become leaders when their peers judge them to be such," according to management writer Gary Hamel.
Theoretically, the idea of employees choosing their bosses sounds attractive. There is little evidence, however, to support the impact of this practice on performance. It remains to be seen how well Market Basket will bounce back from a near death experience after what should be an initial fanfare around the return of Demoulas to the chief executive's office. But few organizations are structured to accommodate this practice. Perhaps most important, it assumes a level of mobility and personal security that few employees feel they have.
Some research suggests that the perceived quality of an employee's boss has a significant influence on job satisfaction. This underlines the importance of the most recent Conference Board study results showing that, for the eighth straight year, less than half of United States workers are satisfied with their jobs. Other data suggest that the malaise extends far beyond the US. It lends importance to the question: Who should choose your boss? What do you think?
To Read More:
Ben Cheng, Michelle Kan, Gad Levanon, and Rebecca L. Ray, ob Satisfaction: 2014 Edition, The Conference Board, June, 2014.
Gary Hamel, with Bill Breen, The Future of Management, (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007).