Any organisation, be it service or product orientated, ultimately exist to meet the wants or needs of its customer base. Your relationship with your customers dictates your success and it is therefore imperative that it flourishes. But in many ways, the approach to how you lead and influence your team is just as essential to your bottom line.

The last decade has seen organisations increasingly move away from an authoritarian style of leadership, and begin to adopt a more open and democratic leadership style that allows staff to take ownership of their work and embeds trust in the relationship. But just how much workforce freedom is conducive to profit? And is there a one size fits all approach?

The Uniqlo approach and the case for control

Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo’s offering is simple; timeless basics in an array of colours that never go out of style. Yet what really sets them apart is their interesting approach to management.

Uniqlo’s approach to customer service stems from an almost gospel-like adherence to company rules, with daily meetings that see staff reciting the ‘Six Behaviours’ for service excellence in unison and strict timeframes on how long transactions should take. Their ‘Ten Accountabilities’, which must be memorised by all managers, include the phrase: “As a store manager, always follow company direction. Do not work in your own way”. Either despite or because of this rigidity, Uniqlo’s minimalistic approach to fashion has seen them reap $1129.2 billion yen (roughly AUD$12.2 billion) in sales for 2014 and establish 1500 stores globally. That’s pretty impressive growth for a store that began as a single outlet in 1984.

Zappos and the abolishment of traditional management

On the opposite end of the spectrum is online shoe and clothing retailer, Zappos, who last year eliminated traditional managers and job titles in their organisation, and instead adopted a ‘holacracy’. This involves a flatter structure characterised by several ‘circles’, or project teams, in which control is distributed based on function, rather than seniority.

Staff can be a part of several circles and the circles are relatively self-governing, allowing employees to take on more ownership of their work and drive innovation. Rather than silence individual opinion, Zappos encourages it, with the aim being to focus on eliminating tension, solving issues and maximising staff output. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, compares the holacracy to a city, where burocracy is minimised and staff operate more as entrepreneurs who self-direct their work.

Is one better than the other?

Uniqlo and Zappos, while operating in the same industry, have chosen polar opposite styles of management that work equally well for them due to a deep understanding of both their strategy, the motivations of their team and their customer base. If your strategy is to sell 5000 units of a product, then Uniqlo’s approach might work, but if you are after innovation and transformation, then its rigidity would probably be more of a hindrance than a help.

Key considerations

Regardless of the management style you choose, the key to its success is solid and consistent application. Uniqlo works because the strategy is reiterated at every turn, just as the more flexible approach of Zappos works due to its focus on 360 degree communication.