Holacracy: Is It Passing the Real World Test?

holacracy, management, ZapposManagement theories often reflect the times in which they emerge. The good ones withstand the poking and prodding that comes from people wondering if the theory works in the real world. Holacracy is one of the latest theories to emerge.

What is holacracy?

According to holacracy.org, it is described as a social technology. It was started in 2007 by Brian Robertson. While it is much more involved than I can describe here in a blog post, it has a constitution which provides detailed description about how an organization is governed, how and when to organize circles, decision-making and responding to “tensions.” The main point is to “get the work done.” It distributes authority throughout the organization via circles so there is no manager in the traditional sense. There is quite a difference in vocabulary as you dive deeper into holacracy.

Role: This is not a person. It is actually the task, function or activity involved in achieving a purpose on behalf of the organization.

Circle: A group of people organized to fulfill a function within the organization. These circles may be formed or reorganized at a governance meeting to meet the needs and aims of the company.

*Olivier Compagne of HolacracyOne was kind enough to clarify the definitions in his comment below. The Circle is not a group of people as I wrote. Mr. Compagnie explains that it is the group of roles and people can fill one or more of these roles. In my research, it was also stated that people may fill these roles in more than one circle. The people are called “partners.”

Governance meetings: These meetings evaluate how the company is operating and respond to any problems or glitches (termed “tensions”). A member of the circles, the Rep Link, can propose a change or protest changes to his/her circle. The constitution outlines in detail what procedures must be followed for the benefit of the organization.

*Mr. Compagne also kindly clarified that there are governance meetings for each circle besides the ones evaluating how the company is operating and responding. He also clarified that any circle member (partner) can propose changes

Partner: This person is a member of a circle and responsible for working a specific project, accountability and noticing problems or issues, “tensions.”

Rep Link, Lead Link, Secretary, Facilitator: These core roles in a circle are elected roles which serve to manage the project and keep it on time and organized, represent the circle in governance meetings and take care of any unfilled roles.

There is much more to this model. Essentially, holacracy provides a clear structure that supports the purpose of the organization and rearranges the hierarchy to ease the process of how the work is completed. Everyone in the organization is urged to participate in their circles, notice problem areas and respect the areas that are the responsibility of other circles. There is still a hierarchy even without the management titles but it does support all members of an organization to have a voice and decision-making authority.

Critiques of holacracy

Holacracy is probably not a clear management theory. It is really more an organizational system and tool for companies to meet their mission. Zappos is one of the most well-known companies adopting this system and it makes sense for them. Zappos has a history of adopting unconventional practices that work well for it. However, that is one company. Is holacracy a system that other companies can adopt successfully?

Might be better suited for small companies: This seems apparent since smaller organizations can act with agility and engage its employees more readily. There is less bureaucracy so a new system can be adopted and made part of the whole operation. Larger companies tend to have more institutional memory, the likelihood of disengaged workers and overlapping or duplicating systems in place.

It is a complicated system to learn: Despite a constitution that spells out how to organize and get the work done, it is not an easy read nor does it really define the terms well.

Management theories and models often don’t last: Holacracy could be a flash in a pan or even a model that only works in certain types of companies (think small, fast growing). It seems to depend on the workers being able to tolerate ambiguity while following a certain set of procedures at all times.

Buy in of the organization’s values: William Tincup expresses concerns that it could be more like a cult because you have to “hire to it, fire to it, live it…each and everyday. Bye bye values!”

Clarity of daily work and future direction of the organization: One of the areas holacracy is very strong is the delineation between the work on which each circle is focused and the strategic direction. Also the purpose of the organization is reinforced.

This is just the beginning

Holacracy is a new way of thinking about managment and it challenges one to consider how work and people are organized. It will be interesting to see over the next few years how Zappos performs once they complete the process of adopting this new system.

Are you familiar with holacracy? How do you see it operating in the real world? Add your thoughts and opinions to the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz Friday, July 11, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT.

What do you know about holacracy?

How could holacracy reduce the problem of disengaged workers?

Why would a Lead Link rather than a Manager be a more effective way to assign tasks and manage the work of the circle?

How do people design their careers in a holocratic organization?

Would you say that holacracy work work better in retail, tech companies, health care organizations or somewhere else?

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Okay, Managers, How Do You Keep Good Employees?

managers, keep good employees, stay interviews, performance coachingWhile you may be reading news articles reporting how many jobs were created in your region of the world, it is often interesting to see if this is a localized event or something bigger. According to a 2013 Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, global trends point to positive growth but survey after survey of employee engagement still report dismal numbers.

So, what’s a manager to do with the new and existing employees?

We have discussed employee engagement before on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz but we usually look at it from the employee’s perspective. But there are certain challenges for managers. There is plenty of advice to be more authentic and to act as more of a facilitator of people’s talents and personalities. There are many workplace trends that affect the nature of management. And yet, the basics tasks of management haven’t changed. Managers are still expected to plan, organize, coordinate, encourage, provide and monitor their staff. The methods may change over time but not the essential job.

But aren’t the methods really at the nub of finding and keeping good employees?

This is where the 21st workplace is something of a crucible for managers. Leaders may navigate the company as a whole through the turbulence left in the wake of the Great Recession, rapid technological changes and other factors but managers are the ones who are making sure the actual work gets done. There is always a search for more effective or efficient ways to identify the “right” employee or process that support meeting the business goals. It might be stack ranking or some other talent management system. It may even be the never-ending search for the best project management or productivity tools. But all of these tools cannot replace the most basic of managerial skills –the ability to relate and communicate. These skills are what are cited time and again in employee engagement surveys.

Two possible avenues to support managers engaging with their employees better

Keeping top-notch employees is certainly a goal for any manager. One avenue is to conduct “stay interviews.” Rather than waiting for the exit interview to find out what one of your star employees did not like, stay interviews are one-on-one conversations reviewing the employee’s career goals, rating current performance and possible action steps to maintain (or increase) the employee’s engagement.

Another avenue is to adding performance coaching skills. In a previous career, I supervised mental health clinicians and found that facilitating their learning and insight both helped them provide better therapy but it also helped me know where their blind spots were and what kinds of clients they were best suited for. According to Josh Patrick, this process is far superior to performance reviews since performance coaching conversations could be on-going brief meetings and formalizes what managers are already doing when they check in with employees regarding assigned projects.

What do you think? What tools or behaviors can a manager use to keep good employees engaged? Join us Friday, February 14, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to discuss how managers can keep good employees on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz 

What types of skills are most necessary for managing employees well?

To what degree do we act as if planning, organizing, coordinating and monitoring is not connected to the quality of the relationship between managers and direct reports?

What current management trends are getting in the way of facilitating employees’ performance?

Along with stay interviews and performance coaching, what other things can managers do to keep good employees?

About the author:  Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth, executive coach, trainer and international expansion consultant, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding locally or internationally, Ability Success Growth guides established small to mid-sized business owners and executives to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.

 

 

 

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