#Nextchat: Can Holacracy Work at Work?


Look at this chart. Does it resemble your employer’s organizational chart? 



Now envision this: No pyramid. No managers. No directors. No vice presidents, senior vice presidents or chiefs.   

Say hello to holacracy. It’s the latest method of operating an organization that removes power from a traditional leadership hierarchy and distributes it to every employee in an organization. In a holacracy there are no titles. Employees chart their own course, choose their own specialties and pick the project teams on which they want to work. 

Scary thought? Removing cubicle walls and converting to an open floor plan was traumatic enough … now we’re removing titles, too?

The latest and most popular holacracy experiments have occurred amongst startups that tend to attract young professionals who prefer flatter organizational structures.

Zappos was recently in the news as CEO Tony Hsieh converted the company to a holacracy and said good-bye to 210 employees who don’t think the idea will fly.

But Hsieh is convinced that holacracy is the way to go for a more contemporary and effective way of running an organization in an era dominated by digital technology. In the Wall Street Journal article “At Zappos, Banishing the Bosses Brings Confusion,” Hsieh “concedes that holacracy ‘takes time and a lot of trial and error’ however, he still has faith that the system empowers employees ‘to act more like entrepreneurs’ and tokes faster ‘idea flow,’ collaboration and innovation.

On the flip side, there’s the argument that humans cannot manage themselves without inevitable confusion and failure. According to Janice Klein, senior lecturer at MIT, the “problem arises when the incapacity of the teams to self-regulate becomes evident. As human beings, we tend not to have the necessary discipline required to manage ourselves, which invalidates the self-management effort at the base of the holacratic revolution.”

Additionally, if employees can’t climb a management ladder within a holacracy and progress in title and experience, how can they advance into a higher position at another organization? 

Holacracy is a big experiment and won’t work for every organization. However, it’s important that all employers embrace the seismic changes that are occurring in the workforce and workplace and look for ways to update their operating models.

Please join @shrmnextchat at 3 p.m. ET on June 17 for #Nextchat with special guest Kevin Mottram (@kevydmottram), HR manager at Microsoft and a member of the 2015 SHRM Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC), and Vice President of SHRM Research Alex Alonso (@shrmresearchvp). We’ll also be joined by other SHRM YPAC members as we chat about the future of organizational operations and whether holacracies can work at work.

Q1. Holacracies are a big workplace experiment now. What are the unknowns of a holacracy?

Q2. Humans have the necessary discipline required to manage themselves as in a holacracy--true or false?

Q3. What are the advantages of a holacracy model in the workplace?

Q4. What are some major problems that can occur with a holacracy model in the workplace?

Q5. When implementing a holacratic workplace model, what should be the most important considerations for HR?

Q6. What recruiting, performance management and other HR challenges do organizations with holacracy face?

Q7. What principles of holacracy can be applied to smaller teams in larger, more traditional organizations?

Q8. Is holacracy the key to fixing low levels of engagement in the workplace? Why or why not?

Q9. Would you want to work for an organization with a holacracy operating model? Why or why not?



The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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