ADVANTAGE ; SHIH Giving employees freedom without a framework can cause major problems, as was the case for Alaska Airlines. Back in
the early 2000s, the airline’s Whatever It Takes campaign gave employees total autonomy in what they could do to keep customers happy. But
HarvardBusiness Review found that after a crash, when the company increased its focus on safety, those same workers didn’t have the structure
in place to prioritize two things at once. Alaska lost considerable market share as delays increased and customer service lagged.
DISCUSS Should You Let Employees Set Their Own Goals?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to being a manager, but there are several schools
of thought on just how hands-on you should be. Inc. talked about it with two CEOs—Clara Shih, who
came up in Google’s adult playground but believes employees crave structure, and Ksenia Yudina,
who trained at JPMorgan but prefers a less buttoned-up approach. —AS TOLD TO ZOË HENRY
Can setting goals
make them feel
like you don’t trust them?
How do your
ences influence your approach to
setting goals for
How do you find
employees who can
be trusted with
; CLARA SHIH
Co-founder and CEO of Hearsay Systems,
a software company for insurance and
Founder and CEO of U-Nest, an app that
helps parents save for their children’s
How do you strike
a balance between
“I decided to sell my kidney.”
—Lisa Q. Fetterman, co-founder and CEO of Nomiku, upon coming up $20,000 short
for her first sous vide cooker prototype
Without clearly defined goals, employees
can feel they aren’t getting enough
support, especially junior ones. It’s like
telling someone who’s never played tennis,
“You can go pro.” There are foundational
skills; there is a right way to hold the
racket. Training is not micromanaging.
You often have to make a bet on people
who are early in their careers. They’re
just as smart but have less experience.
Making those bets—and setting the goals
to guide them—can really work out. One
of our first hires has since become VP of
engineering. And our COO started as
a customer support rep.
Google and Salesforce, where I worked
after college, both strike a balance
between clear direction and the autonomy
to experiment and make mistakes.
I replicate that at Hearsay. The manager
provides clarity on the “what” and the
“why”—they set the goals—and then
it’s up to employees to figure out how
to execute them.
Just because you set alignments and give
directions, it doesn’t mean people can’t
disagree. Our employees disagree all the
time. So we listen and adjust.
Company culture becomes demoralizing
when management is too hands-on.
I’ve seen it time and time again.
If you micromanage, it takes away from
the big picture.
I hire people who are smarter than I
am—who have experience in areas that
I don’t. I need to make sure that whoever I
put on the team can work independently.
That way, to Clara’s point, I don’t need
to teach them how to hold the racket;
they already know.
At JPMorgan and Capital Group,
management set individual employee
goals and awarded cash bonuses if those
goals were reached. But as a manager, I
prefer to set high-level company mile-
stones, and then let my employees figure
out how to get us there. When people
help us reach those milestones, I reward
them with equity in the company.
People have different skills and potential.
Some work nonstop and others just
want to have their work-life balance, to
spend more time with their family. And
that’s OK. I’m in a position where I know
every employee, what they value, and
what incentives work.