Why I Run a Flat Company 为什么我要把公司做成扁平型

I’ve always kept hierarchy to a minimum. Then an employee said, "Promote me," and I was forced to reevaluate my organizational structure.

我一直在保持公司组织结构上层级体系的最小化。当有一个员工说出“晋升我吧”,我不得不重新评估公司的组织结构。

爬楼梯

Something strange happened at work a couple of months ago: We parted ways with an employee. That doesn’t happen too often at 37signals, the Chicagosoftware company I co-founded. In 11 years, we’ve lost just five people—and one of them came back seven years later.

几个月前,公司里发生了一些奇怪的事情:我们放弃了一个员工。这种事情在我创办的37signals这家芝加哥软件公司里并不常见。在过去的11年里,我们仅损失了5个人——其中还有个人在离开了7年后又回来了。

But the really strange thing was the reason this employee and I decided it was time to part ways. The issue was ambition—not a lack of it, but more of it than we could use.

但这里真正奇怪的事情是这位员工和我一起决定在此时辞去的原因。问题出自志向抱负上——不是缺乏,而是过剩,我们无法接受。

She had been in our customer service department for about three years and had always done quality work. Her smarts, initiative, and productivity had never been in question. Now, she wanted that performance to be rewarded with managerial responsibilities and a new job title. It wasn’t about the money.

她在我们的客户服务部已经做了差不多3年,工作一直很优秀。她聪明,主动积极,工作有效率,从未出过问题。现在,她希望获得管理职务、一个新的头衔,作为她这种表现的奖赏。这不是薪水待遇方面的问题。

You may be wondering how this possibly could be a problem. After all, what business owner doesn’t crave an office staffed with motivated people looking to take on more work? In fact, companies often go out of their way to create positions, responsibilities, and job titles to hang on to their most ambitious employees.

你可能感到奇怪,这种事情怎么会成为了一个问题。毕竟,哪一个公司老板不想让自己的公司里多些希望能多承担更多工作的有积极性的员工呢?事实上,很多公司都经常的想办法多发明一些职位、职责、工作头衔,来留住他们的最有抱负的员工。

At 37signals, however, we have a different position on ambition. We’re not big fans of what I consider "vertical" ambition—that is, the usual career-path trajectory, in which a newbie moves up the ladder from associate to manager to vice president over a number of years of service. On the other hand, we revere "horizontal" ambition—in which employees who love what they do are encouraged to dig deeper, expand their knowledge, and become better at it. We always try to hire people who yearn to be master craftspeople, that is, designers who want to be great designers, not managers of designers; developers who want to master the art of programming, not management.

然而,在 37signals,我们对志向抱负有不同的立场。我们对那种、我认为是“垂直型”发展的志向报复并不多感兴趣—— 那是我们最常见的职业发展轨迹——一个员工从入职开始向上爬梯子,在多年的工作中从新员工爬上经理职务,爬到副总裁。相反,我们推崇“水平型”的志向发展方向——在这种情况下,当员工喜欢他们所做的工作时,我们会鼓励他深入研究,扩展他的知识面,让他在这方面越来越强。我们一直在努力招到一些渴望成为技术高手的人,也就是那些希望成为大师级设计师的设计人员,想精通编程技术而不是管理工作的开发人员。

Instead of rewarding high performers with managerial responsibilities—which often drives people further away from the job they are actually good at—we reward with responsibilities closer to the work. We also throw in above-market salaries and generous benefits, including four-day workweeks in the summer, as much time off as they would like (within reason, of course), and plenty of freedom to make their own decisions about the projects they’re working on.

相对于给予更高的管理职位作为奖赏——这样通常会把这些人从他们实际擅长的工作岗位上移走——我们奖赏跟他们的工作相关的东西。我们同时会提供高于市场水平的薪水和丰富的福利,包括夏天每周4天工作日,假期想休多少天都可以(当然,要有理由),在他们正在做的项目上给予他们充分的自主决策权。

This has served us well over the years. But recently, as we’ve brought on more people, that model has been showing signs of strain. We’re now at 26 people. And, as many entrepreneurs have learned, once your business reaches a certain size, matters you didn’t have to consider before become difficult to ignore. In our case, HR terms like departments, managers, and titles have begun to pop up more often.

这种策略我们使用了多年,效果很好。但最近,因为我们招入了更多的人,这种模式开始显现不适应的迹象。我们现在是26个人。就像很多企业家都知道的,一旦你的公司达到一定规模,以前你不会太注意的事情现在就变得不可忽视了。在我们公司现在这种情况里,诸如”部门”,“经理”,“头衔”的人力资源术语开始平凡的出现了。

Besides being small, 37signals has always been a flat organization. In fact, flatness is one of our core values. We have eight programmers, but we don’t have a chief technical officer. We have five designers, but no creative director. We have five people on our customer support team, and no customer support manager. And because we don’t have a marketing department, we don’t have a chief marketing officer.

除了要保持小规模,37signals一直在保持一个扁平型的组织结构。事实上,扁平化是我们的一个核心理念。我们有8个开发人员,但我们没有首席技术师。我们有5个设计人员,但我们没有创意总监。我们的客户支持团队里有5个人,但没有客户支持经理。而且因为我们没有市场部,我们没有首席营销主管。

Even as we’ve grown, we’ve remained a lean organization. We do not have room for people who don’t do the actual work. Nearly everyone at 37signals touches our products at one point or another. From writers writing and updating support documentation to designers designing the user interfaces to programmers writing the code to our operations people, who make sure the servers keep on serving, we don’t have delegators who get paid to tell other people what to do.

即使我们规模扩大了,我们仍然维持着一个干瘪的组织结构。我们没有任何空间留给没有实际工作的人。在37signal的每个人几乎都跟我们产品的某些东西有直接的关系。从编写员编写和更新支持文档,到设计人员设计用户界面,到程序员给使用用户开发代码,他们都在尽自己的职责,我们没有一个拿着薪水只是去告诉别人去做什么的议院议员。

We’ve experimented with promoting a few people to manager-level roles. In some cases, this has worked out; in others, it hasn’t. But one thing we’ve found is that groups that manage themselves are often better off than groups that are managed by a single person. So when groups do require structure, we get them to manage themselves.

我们曾做过实验,把一部分人提升到管理层。在某些方面,这样做有好处;但另外一些方面,这样有问题。其中我们发现的一个问题就是,让团队自己管理自己通常比让团队受另外一个人管理要好。所以,当组织需要建设的时候,我们通常让他们自己去处理。

For example, back when we had three people working in customer service, we hired someone to manage the team. His responsibility was to review everyone’s tickets, keep an eye on tone, make sure our customers were getting prompt and proper responses, interact with our developers to let them know what our customers were requesting, and measure our overall support performance. He might jump in and handle a few tickets here and there, but his main responsibility was to step back and improve the department.

例如,当我们还是只有3个人在客户服务处的时候,我们招募了一个人去管理这个团队。这个人的职责是审查每个人的工作表现,注意他们的语气,确保我们的客户能得到迅速和正确的回复,并和我们的开发人员交流,让他们知道客户的需求,评估我们整个支持的执行效果。他也许可以投入到客服工作中,解决一些客户问题。但他的主要职责是退出前线、改进整个部门的工作。

It didn’t work out. This isn’t a knock on that particular manager (he was a great guy who knew how to run a department, and we helped him find another job). It wouldn’t have mattered who was in the role; the role itself was unnecessary. But because we expected the department to grow, we thought it would be a good idea to get some structure in place. After all, everyone knows that as you add people, you add structure.

效果不好。这并不是对某个经理的问责(他是个很棒的家伙,知道如何去管理一个部门,我们希望他能找到其它合适的工作)。关键问题不是谁在这个角色职位上;这个角色职位本身是没必要的。因为我们希望这个部门能够成长,所以我们就以为适当的调整现有组织机构是个好主意。毕竟,谁都知道,当你增加人手时,你就扩大了组织。

What we learned is that adding a dedicated manager and creating a hierarchy is not the only way to create structure. Instead, we decided to let the team be entirely self-managed. There’s still a team leader, but that role rotates among the team every week. Each week, a new leader sketches out the agenda, writes up the notes about problems and performance, and steps up to handle any troubled customer interactions.

我们从这件事情中学的的教训是,增加一个专职经理、创造出上下级关系并不是建设你的组织的唯一途径。相反,我们决定让这个团队完全的自主管理自己。仍然会有一个团队领导,但这个角色是在整个团队人员中每周轮流轮换的。每周,新团队领导会勾勒出这周的议事日程,把问题和完成的任务写成报告,进入第一线来解决跟客户交流中遇到的各种问题。

One of the things I like about the arrangement is that it frees us from the often toxic labor-versus-management dynamic, in which neither party truly understands what it’s like to be on the other side. This is where you’ll find a lot of conflict in companies. But because we rotate management duties weekly, everyone is more empathetic toward one another. When you’ll be management soon, you respect management more. Same with labor. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, by the philosopher John Rawls: "The fairest rules are those to which everyone would agree if they did not know how much power they would have." Our support has gotten better, and our customers are happier. We’ve measured the difference, and we know it works.

我喜欢这种安排的一个原因是,它解决了常见的非常有害的管理者和劳动者之间的冲突,在这样的安排中,两种角色的人都能体验到对方角色的状况。你会发现公司中的很多冲突都是因为对相互的职务不了解产生的。因为这种每周的轮流管理,每个人都更能体谅其他人的处境。当你知道你很快就会被管理时,你就会更注意你的管理工作了。这让我想起一句最喜欢的名言、哲学家John Rawls说的:“最公平的规则是让那些不知道自己该有多大权利的人都同意的规则。(The fairest rules are those to which everyone would agree if they did not know how much power they would have.)”我们的客户支持工作上了一个新台阶,我们的客户比以前更满意了。我们对比了以前和现在的不同,我们知道现在是对的。

Observing the performance of the customer service team reminds me that promoting horizontally instead of vertically can benefit everyone involved. Moving ambitious people upward tends to lock down other capable people on the team. If there are three or four people capable of managing (in a traditional sense) and we promote just one of them, the teammates might feel stuck. We would rather everyone work together in an environment in which everyone has a chance to move proudly and thoroughly sideways.

对客服服务团队的工作表现的观察,使我想到了横向激励而不是竖向激励会使每个人都受益。把有志向的人往上层推实际上是阻挡了团队里其他有能力的人。当有三、四个人都有管理能力(按传统的说法),如果只晋升其中的一位,团队气氛就会陷入困境。我们更喜欢一个所有人都能融洽相处的环境,让每个人都能有机会在横向上自豪的完全的发展。

In the end, no one here is happy when an employee leaves. But as a business owner, I have to think about the long term. Moving someone up to a managerial position just because he or she outgrew his or her current position isn’t reason enough. Adding managers to the mix sends a strong cultural statement about flatness giving way to hierarchy. We’re definitely not ready for that now. I hope we never will be.

最后我要说的是,当一个员工离开时大家都很不高兴。但作为一个公司老板,我必须去考虑公司的长远发展。只是因为他或她具有超出了现有的职位的能力就让其升上管理职位,这理由还不够充分。增设管理职位对于一个扁平型的公司来说实际是宣判了公司文化向等级制度的妥协。目前我们绝对没有这样的想法。我希望永远都不会有。

As it happens, this story has a happy ending. Our ex-employee didn’t find another job—she launched her own business. She runs the show, and she’s having a blast. We’ve even provided advice and helped her promote her new business. It definitely was the right move for everyone.

跟很多故事一样,我们的故事也有了一个完美的结局。我们的这位走掉的员工没有找到合适的工作——她创办了自己的公司。她管理整个公司,忙得不亦乐乎。我们还给她提了建议、帮助宣传她的新业务。对任何人来说这都是一个绝对正确的发展方向。

Jason Fried is co-founder of 37signals, a Chicago-based software firm, and co-author of the book Rework.

本文作者Jason Fried是37signals这个芝加哥软件公司的创始人之一,他也是《Rework》(中文版《重来》)这本书的合著者。

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