Imagine that you can belong and involve yourself in an organization without bosses or hierarchical org charts. You must become self-managing, evolving into new capacities and roles. In the management philosophy of Holacracy, you are becoming more present in the moment and evolving into what you truly are.
It’s a management philosophy with a deep affinity with the Integral movement, beginning with the notion (of Arthur Koestler’s adopted by both Ken Wilber and Brian J. Robertson) that reality is comprised not of parts or wholes, but holons organized into holarchies.
In the weeks ahead, I will write more about Holaracy and its role in our world, starting with a discussion of Brian J. Robertson’s new book Holacracy (which I’m reading now). By way of introduction, let’s notice the front page article on the philosophy at today’s The New York Times in “At Zappos, Pushing Shoes and a Vision”.
Unfortunately the article doesn’t dig deep into Holacracy’s intellectual influences, but there have been a slate of articles on Zappos in recent weeks. Some of them have gone there.
The NYT seems most interested in talking about the difficulties in the Holacracy implementation process: confusion, employee buyouts, and one person stuck in five hours of meetings in one day. It charcterizes the philosophy’s adoption as unenthusiastic and problematic:
Nothing about Holacracy is easy to understand. In place of a traditional organizational chart are concentric circles of responsibility. Employees get to choose which circles they belong to and what projects they work on. The jargon is relentless. At meetings, “tensions” are resolved. People don’t have one job; they have multiple “roles.” “Lead links” are designated to communicate between circles. Everyone must use the Holacracy software, called Glass Frog.
Such self-management remains the exception in the workplace today, yet its advocates constitute a small but growing movement. Holacracy has other adherents, including the David Allen Company, a consultancy, and Medium, the blogging platform started by the Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, though none of the other users are as large as Zappos.
“I feel like I’m in control without being controlling all the time,” said Ruben Timmerman, who adopted Holacracy at Springest, a 25-person online education company he founded in Amsterdam. “The team is more efficient and more creative because of the sharing, and also more accountable. It has definitely helped us.”
At Zappos, Mr. Hsieh seems to regard Holacracy as a way to revive the close-knit community feeling that made the company so special 10 years ago, when it was just a few hundred people taking on the giants of e-commerce. “Once you have that level of friendship, there’s higher levels of trust,” he said. “Communication is better; you can send emails without fear of being misinterpreted; people do favors for one another.”
If only it were so simple. Holacracy has been met with everything from cautious embrace to outright revulsion at Zappos, but little unequivocal enthusiasm.
The article does nothing to refute the adage that there is no such thing about bad press coverage. Sure there are difficulties at Zappos, the largest implementation of Holacracy that’s ever been, but now many more companies can be exposed to this important new management approach. I think the conflict adds dramatic tension to the stories that reporters hunger for, even as they are set in the context of one of the most radical and far-reaching business management experiments ever conducted.
One thing I will be looking for as I read Holacracy is how well it spells out the proven benefits of the new management style that make implementation difficulties worthwhile. Judging from today’s NYT article, it’s going to be more important than ever to tell the success stories as well as the growing pains.