Introducing “Holacracy”

holacracyNew organizational buzzword for 2015 – Holacracy.

It comes with a catch tagline:

“Zappos just abolished bosses”

Given the growing decrepitude of traditional hierarchical organizational models, the inability to communicate effectively across the intransigent silos, bloated bureaucracies, and the knee-jerk defensive responses like “that’s not how we do things here”, “if we didn’t build it, it’s worthless” … that are so toxic to innovation, it is not surprising that more radical approaches are now the vogue.

In one regard, it’s the technology that’s forcing enabling this.  Social technologies, super-computing grid infrastructures, cloud services, platforms and ecosystems all lend themselves to anomaly responses which call for immediate access to *that* person who knows how to address *that* problem, not tiered escalation paths designed to funnel and optimize problem resolution for 1000s of *that* problems that used to occur over and over and over again. And designing the next add-on or upgrade, can no longer be performed by the one or two application leads.  It needs the input of multiple SMEs from widely different areas of operations.

Another impetus that’s driving inspiring this change – be it Zappos full-blown reorganization or restructuring (perestroika in Russian!), or less dramatic moves like Agile, Centers of Excellence, DevOps – is undeniably economic.  Hierarchical structures with multiple management layers need constant mobility to stay vital.  When these structures become sclerotic, especially when upward movement stops, corporate vitality grinds to a halt…and so do all the key financial indicators.  For awhile the enterprise continues forward propelled mostly by inertia and illusions of change like layering more and more rungs in the hierarchy to give people the impression they’re getting promoted.  But in time the culture observable among rats on a sinking ship inundates the whole organization.

Yet “holacracies” are actually not new and have existed at many times over the course of human history across the full spectrum of social organizations — they are actually a fully-embodied expression of the Creative impulse.  And our unbounded desire for Freedom.

Holacracy recognizes and rewards that person walking upstream against the flow of traffic, the system breakers, the original thinkers.  They take away places to hide from the messy yet joyous business of living life, delivering service, building things.  They recognize everyone has value, everyone needs a voice, the whole organization (community) is richer for each and every person’s contribution… full contribution.  Holacracies really embody Personalism:

The major distinction is that an individual represents a single unit in a homogeneous set, interchangeable with any other member of the set, whereas a person is characterized by his uniqueness and irreplaceability.

The person alone is ‘somebody’ rather than merely ‘something,’ and this sets him apart from every other entity in the visible world”[1]

In Russian spiritual philosophy, these concepts were embodied in the term sobornost’ which means, basically, communities of equals come together freely, in love.  We’ve seen this shift (return?) recently with Dan Price’s decision to raise the minimum wage @ Gravity Payments to $70,000 per year by cutting his own $1 million salary as CEO.

So here, without further ado, is an excellent article from CIO magazine about the Holacracy experiment at Zappos and other IT department perestroikas!


[1] Williams, Thomas D. and Bengtsson, Jan Olof, “Personalism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

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