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Zappos and Holacracy: How to Negatively Recruit Against This Org Structure...

Every play the Zappos drinking game?  Every time an HR person talks about Zappos, you have to drink.

Get ready to drink a lot.

In case you missed it, Zappos is making the move to to an org structure called Holacracy.  Here's the definition of that org structure from my friend Paul Hebert at Fistful of Talent:

"Holacracy is an organization structure that seeks to replace the traditional, hierarchical organization structure with governing “circles” focused on specific work outputs—not titles or functions per se. Each circle operates autonomously and without job titles for its members. Members of circles (employees) can be part of multiple circles and can do different things depending on the focus of the specific circle."

Go read Paul's post, because it's a good one.  Then, read this post by William Tincup at FOT as well.  We like talking about this stuff.  I'm thinking of starting a blog called 99problemswithHolacracy, because we could fill that sucker up.  

But back to the point. You and I both know that if half the world went to something like holacracy, we'd pick off recruits like vultures.  Here's how you and I would negatively recruit against anyone that deploys this org structure:

1. You have no title.  How's that working out for you?  Tried to put your resume together lately?  Every month you remain without a meaningful title, your lifetime earnings are going down.

2. Managing people is the excepted path to greatness.  You don't have a path to that traditional view of greatness.  Tick, tock, my friends.  Lifetime earnings going down.  Tick. Tock.

3. You're tired of people who aren't as smart as you having the same voice in decisions.  Is this Russia Danny?  No.  I think you're smart too.  Better jump now, Danny.

4. You say tomato, I say committee.  Whether you call them teams, circles, whatever - the real name for the structure you have is "by committee".  Where are committees that handle management decisions strongest?  In government.  How is that working out? 

The ability to negative recruit against a holocracy basically comes down to whether you believe in the individual or the group/pack.

Last time I checked, we lived in America.  I choose the individual.





Where'd your career go?
Right in the lumber yard, Danny.

The world needs ditch diggers too.

Scott Allison

I guess you're probably being deliberately provacative with this post, but you're far off the mark this time. I have no first-hand experience of holacracy but have done a fair bit of research into it recently. As far as I can tell the fundamental concept is of "distributed autocratic authority". This is in no way comparable with communism, which I assume why you brought up Russia. In a holacracy, decision-making is distributed to individuals. It is supposed to be explicit who has the final say on a particular issue. In most organisations it's entirely opaque who is responsible for a particular area. This results in a lot of things getting left undone. By the way, each circle has a "lead link", who I guess is a more senior and experienced person, so once again not everyone is equal.

Your third point, where you say "You're tired of people who aren't as smart as you having the same voice in decisions" is therefore misunderstanding holacracy, but it also is disingenuous about the nature of most orgs. Big companies are packed full of people who have been promoted beyond their competency and others that no one has the balls to fire. These people are deadwood, but because their responsibilities are vague they are never held to account, so carry on in the shadows drawing a pay check and pissing everyone else off! So don't pretend that standard management structures are without fault.

All this said, I am slightly sceptical of holacracy myself, and the main reason for that is how complex it sounds. The simpler the structure the better, and reading the holacracy constitution it sounds pretty complex. I'm intrigued to hear more about it though and how Zappos and others fare with it. I wonder if another untalked of benefit of Holacracy is in succession planning? More to find out about this I think!


Wow, Kris, appreciate the attempt at critiquing Holacracy, but I'm afraid Holacracy has nothing to do with what you're describing...

I'm all with you about decisions by committees that suck, the danger of everyone having the same voice, etc. The irony is that everything you're criticizing about Holacracy is actually issues that Holacracy is designed to address. See "Five Misconceptions About Holacracy"


Just like a bad fantasy football draft: "Oh your team has RB by committee, hope that works out for you"


This article convinced me of the merits of a system like holocracy - I'd rather work in an inspiring environment than run an endless race towards higher earnings or more prestige.


"1. You have no title. How's that working out for you? Tried to put your resume together lately? Every month you remain without a meaningful title, your lifetime earnings are going down." I have no title, or, whatever goddamn title I want to give myself.

"2. Managing people is the excepted path to greatness. You don't have a path to that traditional view of greatness. Tick, tock, my friends. Lifetime earnings going down. Tick. Tock." I am managing. I am a manager of the entire comapny. Sure that managership isn't permanent, but I'm not putting that on the CV.

meh. And the other two are just wrong.

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