Rant: "Holacracy"....Really?

So, Zappos announced that they're moving their whole 1500 person organization to 'Holacracy'.  Why?  Ironically, because of an autocratic decision by the CEO:

Last fall, while exploring ways to scale Zappos without letting bureaucracy set in, Hsieh met Brian Robertson, the founder of the management consultancy HolacracyOne. 
Ah, this is classic:  The CEO gets sold some snakeoil, the troops have to drink it.  So, what is 'holacracy'.  Is it like 'democracy,' 'theocracy,' and other terms that've been with us since antiquity? Nope. Some guy invented it out of whole cloth.


TL;DR summary of tenets: 
Decision Making by Consent: Consent is a method of decision-making whereby the arguments presented in discussing a decision are of paramount importance, and the result of the discussion is that no one present knows of a paramount reason to continue discussion before proceeding with the proposed decision.
Circle Organization: The organization is built of a hierarchy of semi-autonomous circles. Each circle has its own aim, given by the higher-level circle, and has the authority and responsibility to execute, measure, and control its own processes to move towards its aim.
Double-Linking: A lower circle is always linked to the circle above it via at least two people who belong to and take part in the decision making of both the higher circle and the lower circle. One of these links is the person with overall accountability for the lower-level circle’s results,and the other is a representative elected from within the lower-level circle.
Elections by Consent: People are elected to key roles exclusively by consent after open 
discussion (this is not a democratic majority-vote election!). Most notably, the election process applies to the representative elected from a lower-level circle to a higher-level circle.
...Please remember that holacracy needs to be understood as a whole, not as a 
collection of independent practices.

Consent is defined as: "Decisions are made once no one involved in the decision making process 
knows of a reasoned and paramount objection to making the proposed decision. All reasoned 
and paramount objections must be addressed in the decision-making process, giving everyone 
involved in the process a paramount voice in their own governance. That means the decision 
will be within the limits of tolerance of all aspects of the system for the time being." (emphasis mine)

* * *
Okay, so a few things:

You're an engineer; your language betrays you.  "Tolerance," and "Orthogonal."  (Relax, I use those words too.)  You've designed a system that assumes working parts and nominal behavior.  No social system operates this way past a "tribal" limit.  That limit is something on the order of 50 to 150 people.  Past that, pathological behavior emerges: Demagoguery, graft, fraud, etc.  We stop seeing individuals and start seeing nameless, faceless groups that are "other":
  • "Those losers in marketing..."
  • "Facilities just doesn't get it..."
  • "Development is so out of touch with operations..."
  • "Operations wouldn't spend 10 cents to make $10 million...."
See?  Much easier to deal with groups when you stop seeing them as individuals.  Moreover, there's a school of thought that we simply CAN'T see them as individuals, that we're biologically limited from doing so.  

Anyway, the best social systems not only accept the above, they use it to their advantage.  Like, say, democracy.

THAT BEING SAID....there's some good here.  The Double Linking and Elections by Consent idea don't suck.

Basically, these sorts of systems (like Valve's zero-hierarchy system and others) work great with a few provisos:
  • You're small.
  • You have superstars.
  • You're not in trouble.
Note, with the above qualities, almost ANYTHING WILL SUCCEED.  That's what irks me about all these flash-in-the-pan systems.  They depend upon the goodwill and altruism of engaged people doing the right thing in almost all circumstances.  With a small-ish number of such people, you can move mountains.  Once you double in size a few times, that simply won't be true.  You'll have Sue in accounting who wants to come to work, do her job she's been doing for 25 years, and go home to be with her kids.

And you know, what?  HR is going to mandate you keep Sue around, even if she's not pulling that 80 hour workweek you are.  Welcome to having a real company, buddy.

So yeah:  /Rant.


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