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The New York Times had an interesting piece over the weekend about how e-commerce business Zappos, owned by Amazon but largely operated independently, is engaged in a shift to a "self-management system" called Holacracy, which has as its goal creating "a dynamic workplace where everyone has a voice and bureaucracy doesn’t stifle innovation ... At Zappos, this means traditional corporate hierarchy is gone. Managers no longer exist. The company’s 1,500 employees define their own jobs. Anyone can set the agenda for a meeting. To prevent anarchy, processes are strictly enforced."

The story goes on to explain that "nothing about Holacracy is easy to understand. In place of a traditional organizational chart are concentric circles of responsibility. Employees get to choose which circles they belong to and what projects they work on. The jargon is relentless. At meetings, 'tensions' are resolved. People don’t have one job; they have multiple 'roles.' 'Lead links' are designated to communicate between circles. Everyone must use the Holacracy software, called Glass Frog."

The Times writes that CEO Tony Hsieh, who sold the company to Amazon for $1.2 billion but who remained at Zappos, "seems to regard Holacracy as a way to revive the close-knit community feeling that made the company so special 10 years ago, when it was just a few hundred people taking on the giants of e-commerce. 'Once you have that level of friendship, there’s higher levels of trust,' he said. 'Communication is better; you can send emails without fear of being misinterpreted; people do favors for one another'.

"If only it were so simple. Holacracy has been met with everything from cautious embrace to outright revulsion at Zappos, but little unequivocal enthusiasm." And Zappos has even paid people who don't believe in Holocracy to leave the company, rather than have them hanging around subverting the broader efforts.

The Times also writes that "such self-management remains the exception in the workplace today, yet its advocates constitute a small but growing movement. Holacracy has other adherents, including the David Allen Company, a consultancy, and Medium, the blogging platform started by the Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, though none of the other users are as large as Zappos."

You can read the entire story here.
KC's View:
I found this story to be fascinating, in part because I tend to be institutionally dysfunctional ... I don't thrive in an organizational structure, and so reading these kinds of stories is kind of like anthropology for me.

I guess what intrigues me about this is that Hsieh is the person who would be considered a visionary sort of leader. I can certainly appreciate the fact that he wants to recapture the magic of the early days and challenge conventional corporatist thinking, but he may be underestimating the degree to which people want to believe in a brand, and how he may be seen as the personification of that brand. That said, he's looking for people in the company to feel engaged and have a sense of ownership, which is what I'm always encouraging here ... but I can't help but think he's underestimating his own importance to the enterprise.