The ‘Naked Organization’ Gets Nakeder

Leaders at Big Blue and elsewhere could blush a deep pink if Tom Vines is correct about where performance management, crowdsourcing and social media are heading.

You think Glassdoor is radical corporate transparency?

Just wait until Tom Vines’ vision of the future takes shape.

Vines is IBM’s vice president of technical and business leadership, where he oversees the computing giant’s leadership development and succession planning. Leaders at Big Blue and elsewhere could blush a deep pink if Vines is correct about where performance management, crowdsourcing and social media are heading.

I spoke with Vines recently for an article about what people management will look like 10 years from now. Vines argues that the sorts of comments and endorsements you see at LinkedIn and in applications like Salesforce.com’s Work.com will evolve to the point where employees will select their managers based on very visible feedback given to those supervisors. What’s more, Vines expects companies to publish this information as a recruiting tool. “It will be both inside and outside” the company, Vines says. “Companies will want to expose their managers’ ratings to attract talent.”

Wowza. Vines is talking about airing the laundry of millions of supervisors in an unprecedented display of corporate candor. Individual performance reviews these days are private, internal affairs. And knowledge of ratings flows upward in organizations rather than downward—bosses get to see ratings of underlings, not the other way around.

But already some sophisticated forms of employee feedback about firms and leaders are becoming public. Visit Glassdoor and you will see approval ratings of CEOs by the employees who leave feedback there. Yes, those reviews are anonymous. But Glassdoor has taken steps to get past the era of pure employee venting—for example, company reviews have to include both positive and negative comments.

And CEOs take those reviews seriously. I spoke with Glassdoor CEO Bob Hohman recently, and he said he’s had CEOs contact him to quibble over their published rating. The titans of industry are doing their own calculations of Glassdoor data.

This suggests an acceptance of greater corporate nakedness. It’s a trend fueled also by feedback sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, which showcase strong performance and prevent companies from hiding their mistakes.

Hohman says Glassdoor consciously chose not to publish the names of middle managers in company reviews. These folks, Hohman and crew reasoned, don’t expect to be public personalities.

But that could change over time.

As Vines argues, companies may decide to bare more of their selves as a way to win over talent. Just being willing to expose the strengths and weaknesses of managers might make a powerful statement about an organization’s commitment to the values of honesty and transparency. What’s more, there are practical considerations. Vines points out that detailed comments about managers could help job candidates apply to a job with the right boss. For example, a supervisor who gets credit for being very supportive and hands-on might be a good choice for someone at the start of his career. A manager known for giving direct-reports more autonomy might be a better fit for a mid-career worker ready to do her own thing. “At different points, you may want a different style,” Vines says.

Get ready for a very different style of management if Vines is right. The ‘naked organization’ will get a lot more naked.

Ed Frauenheim is senior editor at Workforce. Comment below or email efrauenheim@workforce.com.