If you live in Las Vegas…Check!
Have an interest in management and business issues… Check!
And know a number of people in the Downtown / Zappos / entrepreneur community… Check!
Then you can’t help but have heard of Holacracy.
Normally the tones of conversations about Holacracy, and in particular of Zappos’s ’embrace it or leave’ offer to their staff, mix wonder and an unbelieving shake of the head normally reserved for parents of teenagers. This new book by Brian J. Robertson aims to change all that.
The funny thing is that it actually does a pretty good job.
The first real hint that there is more here than just a new business book, is in that the author has been involved in Lean software development and it is almost a throwaway comment- which is unfortunate. Lean is becoming a highly respected way of changing how companies work (please see my review of Lean Hospitals for a better explanation) and there are some interesting commonalities that someone, better versed in both than myself, needs to explore.
At its core, Holacracy is the deconstruction of work into roles, accountabilities, domains, and polices and giving employees the freedom, and the structure, to make modifications when “tensions” arise without the formal structure of supervisors and management. Interestingly, a lot of the housekeeping of Holacracy is in preserving the integrity of the process rather than the comfort of the employees. “It is difficult to hide from empowerment when the organizational process around you continually shines a light on your hiding place.”
Of course, if you are looking for things to turn you off such as parody worthy jargon; “In Tactical Meetings circle members use a fast-paced forum to deal with their ongoing operations, synchronize team members, and triage any difficulties that are preventing progress.” then you will find it. However, it is worth embracing one of the key conceits of the author when describing the adoption or even understanding of a system such as Holacracy: The rules of any game fade into the background when everyone knows what they are doing and how they should do it. It is only when someone breaks the rules, or does not know them well enough, that the rules come into sharp relief.
For those of us who are constantly looking to upgrade our management tool box, there is a lot you will recognize from other areas and other ideas what are worth re-purposing if a complete adoption of Holacracy is never even on your mind. The structured checkins at the beginning of meetings, for example, I am already planning on adopting along with the book’s strategy definition.
Of course, a book of this length (it is a short 200 pages that I read in a morning) can be nothing more than a appetizer or introduction to the world of Holacracy. I would have liked to have seen a few more diagrams and a decent FAQ section: The idea that the CEO of a company unadopt Holacracy at any time but is not above the rules is great to know; but would have been nicer to hear on page 10 rather than page 152!
My main criticism of the book, however, is in the field of Human Resources. What does the disciplinary process look like in a Holacracy? What does termination look like? How does that jive with legal and privacy issues? There is mention of compensation models, but these are brief and experimental at best.
There is something really interesting going on here with Holacracy and it deserves a more positive press that it currently seems to be receiving; hopefully this book will help change that.
But it is not a panacea – at least not yet.
But is is worth your time to find out why!