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3 Steps Needed Before Modelling Zappos Holacracy

August 27, 2014

holacracyThere has been a lot of media and buzz around Zappos most recent innovative move regarding culture- holacracy.

What is a holacracy and how can it be used to increase innovation, collaboration and employee engagement?

The definition of holacracy is: Holacracy is a comprehensive practice for structuring, governing, and running an organization. It replaces today’s top-down predict-and-control paradigm with a new way of achieving control by distributing power. It is a new “operating system” that instills rapid evolution in the core processes of an organization.

It is a model for ‘shared leadership’ and it requires individuals who are evolved to an integration of both ego and purpose. There has been many bloggers and writers who have negative comments about the holacracy model and who claim that hierarchy is needed in order for people to function within in an organization.

I have researched change models and the future workplace for over twenty years and I have been saying consistently that the future workplace will require teams of people who have the ability to share leadership. Before any organization can move to a holacracy model there must be a fundamental culture shift that is initiated by the senior leadership.

The culture shift that is required and the three steps needed before modelling a Zappos holacracy are:

#1- Once senior leadership has full buy in to the shared leadership model each senior leader needs to go through an assessment process and a coaching process to ensure they can and will model the shared leadership required for a successful holacracy.

#2- The entire company needs to engage in company wide meetings about moving to a holacracy from a hierarchy and what that looks like as well as the skill sets it requires from every single person.

#3- The human resources or people & performance departments need to provide the structures, the training and coaching plans required for each employee and provide role plays, video simulations, and real live examples of a holacracy team in action.

The holacracy model is used for decision making, project management and as a company structure. An article by Brian J. Robertson gives a step by step example of the process in action.

To undertake a shift of workplace culture towards shared leadership requires personal adaptability skills that go way beyond the typical skills that are associated with leadership. In the past leadership was viewed as a singular activity, self focused with an eye to others. In my opinion there are many leaders who have yet to make the successful transition from ‘me to we’.

The skill set needed of leader who thrives in a holacracy include, a deep understanding of personal motivators, understand his or her own personality style, working knowledge of his or her strengths and weaknesses, keen awareness of his or her ego needs, a strong desire to work in a team, high drive to share recognition, willingness to admit when wrong and to correct course towards ‘what is right’ based on team input.

What I love about Zappos leading the way with the holacracy model is that it brings attention to the fact that hierarchy actually diminishes innovation and competitive advantage. Once again Tony Hsieh models the future workplace today.

I predict that more and more companies – specifically those with large numbers of Generation X and Generation Y employees will move towards a shared leadership model.

In fact its already happening and even before Zappos announced their move other companies have been making the shift – check out this article on how Gore-Tex has been using the holacracy model for great success.

The great opportunity for current leaders is to develop their skills towards being completely skilled at ‘sharing leadership’ which includes the skill sets mentioned above and the most important skill of all- WILLINGNESS to change!


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