Holacracy Schmolacracy - Please Pass The Kool-Aid

I have to wonder why no one is saying this is scary, this is cultish, and this is crap.

Teal Organization? Get it for $6.99!

Teal Organization? Get it for $6.99!

If this wasn’t so disturbing, I’d just ignore it. But I woke up this morning to this Washington Post article, then went on to read Zappos CEO, Tony Hseih’s, manifesto to his employees, captured by FastCompany (which I quoted extensively here) with the lovely title of ZAPPOS CEO TONY HSIEH: ADOPT HOLACRACY OR LEAVE.

I’m just a blogger and certainly don’t have the street cred to have an “official opinion” worth publishing. But that’s what is so cool about the Web. Any hack like me can write about anything. As long as I don’t lie, and break other rules that could land me in the slammer or in debtors’ prison, I can speak my piece. You just can’t make up shit like this.

At least I’m not messing with people’s heads.

I have churned about this post all day long. I had to put it off until late in the day because, oh wait, I had work to do. And since I’m self-employed, I guess I do fall into that self-directed team category. However I am the owner, only employee and pretty much run my organization with Teal in mind. (more on that later)

The thing that bothers me the most is that Mr. Hseih is seriously f*king with peoples’ lives. Around 1500 of them. Most of us spend most of our awake hours at our jobs. If the current group of employees, and even more so, managers don’t get 100% on board, then they are G. O. N. E.

I’m sure there are many Self-Directed Employees who are very, very happy there, because evidently they’re showing up for work and shipping shoes out every day, or something like that. But they're required to espouse Holacracy too. Anyone who doesn't accept it and all of its mystical jargon is welcome to leave.

Of course rules, expectations and consequences exist in any company. Break the rules, get a pink slip. But there is such a dense strata of nuanced cult (I said the c-word) in this structure, which requires absolute compliance, it’s downright scary.

These managers, who soon must choose to either buy-in completely (to quote Mr. Hseih’s notice: “simply abiding by the rules of Holacracy does not equal self-management or self-organization”); or leave, are faced with the daunting moral choice of total acquiescence to the latest in snake-oil management fad, or go through the Exit Gauntlet for severance pay that is quoted here:

  • Be an employee in good standing
  • Watch video of talk by the author of Reinventing Organizations https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcS04BI2sbk
  • Read Reinventing Organizations by 4/15/15 (here is a private link for Zappos employees only to download a digital copy) or email a statement of non-intention to read to Arun and Hollie
  • Give notice of your intention to leave anytime during the month of April 2015 if you intend to take the offer (exact last day of work TBD)
  • Ensure a smooth transition of your prior responsibilities and accountabilities (as approved by Arun please note that if you are working on a critical project, a longer transition time might be required)

So, on the chance that a manager chooses to stay (and not run as fast as possible from this madness): Again from the Leader’s Dissertation: All former managers who remain in good standing will still keep their salary through the end of 2015 even though their day-to-day work that formerly involved more traditional management will need to change. A new circle called Reinventing Yourself has been created to help guide former managers to new roles that might be a good match for their passions, skills, and experience.” [emphasis mine]

And what does “in good standing” mean? One can only imagine the de-programming and therapy folks will need if they choose to stay but just don’t cut it and get canned.

Yeah, what then?

Well, there’s the rub that is Las Vegas. We are finally getting out of staggering unemployment. And no matter what the media tells you, we still have thousands of unemployed folks who just don’t look for work anymore, and thousands more who are severely underemployed.

No one wants to face that. A job is like a gift in this economy. But the decree is out there. You gotta really embrace Holacracy or go. This is truly sad.

Now, the fact that my opinion will have no effect on the outcome of the social experiment that is Holacracy At Zappos, I’ll just outline a couple of the most disturbing ideas I’ve read. As if I hadn’t already hinted at them. . .

A. Reliance on Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. It always starts with some idea that is supported by some sort of science. To be fair I haven’t read the book, I’ve read about the book (okay, it’s an article by Mr. Laloux himself, Misperceptions of Self-Management). Which Mr. Hseih included in the tome to his, uh, self-directed peeps. Working toward a Teal Organization.

What is a Teal Organization? Here’s a starter for you:
1.      Self-management: driven by peer relationships
2.      Wholeness: involving the whole person at work
3.      Evolutionary purpose: let the organization adapt and grow, not be drive

Sounds yummy doesn't it? Then we have this. . .

B. Creating Peer Pressure. (This is my personal favorite.) In his dictate from the bridge (based on a skype call he had with Mr. Laloux): He suggested simply asking employees for their ideas on how to create the peer pressure and to give them the antibody analogy/framework and encourage employees to figure out the antibody systems themselves rather than try to design it from the top down”

C. Requiring input on everything to Glass Frog including this quoted text [emphasis mine]:

  • What’s the right method for implementing the advice process as described in Reinventing Organizations?
  • How is the contribution of each employee assessed and what are the compensation framework/processes in this new world of no managers?
  • What is not currently captured in Glass Frog that we should make sure is captured?
  • Should we update our purpose statement, and if so, what should our new purpose statement be?
  • In light of these changes, should we delay and/or modify the next zPrize competition? (Prize-based competition is an example of another tool that can help accelerate self-organization.)
  • What are the peer-pressure "antibody" systems we want to implement for the different types of job functions?
  • What is the right conflict-resolution set of processes for Zappos?
  • How do we support employee development and growth as a Teal organization?
  • How do we ensure that we continue to meet our financial and Super Cloud commitments to Amazon for 2015 and beyond?

Okay, I can buy into getting all client-related info in one place to share. But this is personal. This is about performance. This is about antibody systems. For someone my age, this just seems so familiar and just plain wrong. 

Then there’s this nugget quoted from a website about the book:
One of Laloux’s conclusions is on the necessary conditions for success with the Teal model. It comes down to only two factors:

  • The CEO must drive the change
  • The Board must believe in the change and support the CEO

Wait, I thought there was no hierarchy.

So the CEO is the leader, everyone else is self-directed, equal, responsible and must have the proper antibodies to survive.

I get it. But why would any CEO experiment with their hard-working employees?