Is The Question of Who Should Choose Your Boss Becoming "A Little Irrelevant"?
The remarkable events at grocery chain Market Basket over the summer stimulated a range of responses to this month's column about who should choose a boss. Several reminded us that in many parts of the world choosing a leader for an organization is a primary responsibility of a board of directors. But others tempered that judgment with a variety of cautions.
Richard Belloff made the base case by saying "The Board should choose the CEO of the company and it is their fiduciary duty to do so." Carl Meyer added, "Clearly the board! … The danger of favoritism among employees would be far too dangerous."
Others figuratively said "not so fast." As Joel Koblentz put it, "The bottom line is that The Board is ultimately responsible but in carrying out its fiduciary duties, it is wise, as part of its selection process, to seek inputs from those who will 'live' daily with the next leader." Mike Flanagan commented: "The more buy-in from a broader range of people the better (the) choice and the easier for the chosen one to get consensus on later … decisions." Mason Oghenejobo said that the solution lies in selecting the leader who will meet or surpass the aspirations of key stakeholders. "Board members need not be the only persons involved."
According to Karen Caswelch, "the person that the board likes the best as the CEO isn't necessarily the best team leader, because a lot of board members don't value the team leadership aspect of the position." Clifford F. Baker put it this way: "Having worked for a living… in a corner office of a corporate ivory tower, completely removed from the real world, I've come to conclude that business leadership would be wise to push past pride and the false sense of self importance, and include within the decision making process those in the enterprise who know the actual nuts and bolts of the business."
Several respondents described alternatives designed to widen the range of inputs to the decision-making process. For example, Yadeed Lobob commented that a dual board structure that included workers' representatives would help alleviate uncertainty around choosing an authentic leader. "Germany has such a structure but the context of German culture should also be factored in." Walter P. Blass noted that in academia the search is usually run by a search committee, but the nomination needs the approval of the next level to that position. "That way, you get input from affected constituencies, but allow the selectee's boss to choose from the recommendations…."
Gerald Nanninga posed an interesting question: "Today's workforce is evolving ever more closely to a 'contract employee' model…. So, if you think of yourself as your boss and your supervisor as your client, then the question becomes a little irrelevant."
Is this where we're headed? If so, is the question of who should choose your boss becoming "a little irrelevant"? 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).