Does the CEO Need a Door?

Brooklyn City Hall
(New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s desk is in the middle of “the bullpen” in City Hall.)

These days with all the news of corporate bonuses, it’s hard for CEOs to avoid the stereotype of an over-privileged megalomaniac who boasts vacation homes in Vail and Maui, a 150-foot yacht, a Rolls and, of course, a cushy corner office.

The stereotype might be unfair for many chief executives, but that doesn’t mean the average American worker doesn’t feel a little bitter about the separation between “us” and “them.”

After all, it hardly seems fair that one little person can get so much square footage when the rest of the office is squeezed into cubicles, nary a private moment to be found.

Some CEOs are bridging that divide by foregoing the posh, wood-paneled executive office altogether. Instead, they’re setting down their briefcases and sipping their coffee with the rest of their employees — in (gasp!) cubicles.

An article in the Nashville Business Journal detailed how Healthways, a disease and care management company, ditched the traditional office layout.

thumb_ben_leedleIn the new floorplan everyone, including CEO Ben Leedle (pictured at right), works out in the open, allowing for greater collaboration.

“We’ve found from research, companies where the CEO is out in the open have almost a 65 percent higher rate of retention and higher rate of people feeling they can be more productive,” Dennis Jackson, Healthways vice president of procurement and real estate, told the Business Journal.

OK, so, “people feeling they can be more productive” is probably just code for “people feeling like their bosses are watching their every move,” but still, the arrangement does give offices a more democratic feel.

And Leedle isn’t the lone CEO in cube land.

meridee_mooreMeridee Moore (pictured at left), the founder of Watershed Asset Management, talked to the New York Times about why she preferred working in one big, open room.

“It was more fun, more energizing, and I realized that you do better work if you get input from people around you,” she said.

At Watershed, everyone has the same size desk. Moore told the Times that there are no office hierarchies and a lot more back and forth between employees.

But what about the times when a CEO needs privacy to discuss sensitive issues with other employees or customers? Well, just like everyone else, they can duck into a conference room.

headquarters(Pictured is the headquarters of ICG Commerce in King of Prussia, Pa., where the company CEO works in a cubicle.)

1903“People often ask me, ‘How do you protect confidential information when everyone can hear you?’” Carl Guarino, CEO of ICG Commerce (pictured at right), told Forbes in a 2010 article. “Companies shouldn’t design for the 2 percent of information they need to keep confidential. They should design for the 98 percent of information flow they want to have happen.”

Joining the masses can be a symbolic “we’re all in this together” gesture. But beyond creating a team-like atmosphere, there are plenty of practical benefits, including giving executives a window into the world of the average employee and giving them the chance to offer immediate feedback on projects.

Other heroic managers who want to be just like the rest of us include:

  • eBay’s Meg Whitman
  • Travelocity’s Michelle Peluso
  • Zappos’ Tony Hsieh
  • Morningstar’s Joe Mansueto
  • New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg

We think it’s pretty darn cool that some many CEO’s have kicked their doors to the cube – err – curb.

(First photo: glassdoor.com; Second photo: http://cache.daylife.com

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