Holacracy, Zappos and Standard Work

According to the Holacracy.org website, it is a social technology for the agile organization, one that bakes adaptability and responsiveness into the core of the organization. One of my favorite authors, Joseph Michelli describes in a blog post, A Case Study for 2014 – Learning from the Legendary Leaders, as:

Holacracy has been best defined as a social technology or system of organizational governance in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a fractal holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested at the top of the hierarchy. Holacracy

Zappos has made the word very popular in the last few weeks with their announcement that they would become a much flatter organization by using this organization structure. The structure in several bloggers opinions are about overlapping and shared responsibility; it is about frequent contact with your other team members; it is about taking responsibility, and it is all about culture.

Is Holacracy and Zappos on a path to failure or success? If you been around this blog for a while, you have heard about Standard Work more than once. When I look at the definition and what Zappos is trying to accomplish with Holacracy, it reminds me a great deal of Leader Standard Work. Leader standard work is a concept in Lean Management, popularized by David Mann in his book “Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions, Second Edition”, that creates standard work for managers.

For many in the Agile community, the notion of “standard work” brings a repellent idea of standardization and work standards, and the oppressive boot-jack command culture that comes with that. And yet, the way that Toyota implements standard work, it is much more akin to coding standards or working agreements, where you record the current best agreed upon way of the workers in the system for doing something, rather than an oppressive regime of Quality Checks.

Leader Standard Work creates the internal collaboration structure needed for learning. The organization must develop as a whole, and this can only be accomplished by developing their personnel by providing the necessary resources and opportunities. Standard Work promotes individual differences. Instead of teaching the way to do some things, you step back and determine the key points that are required, as Simon Sinek says the “Why” while leaving the how alone (Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action).

When developing Leader Standard you address three items;

  1. Clarification – Minimum standard is explicit
  2. Commitment – Level of commitment is expected from the individual
  3. Connection – A path for support through conversation is provided.

Not sure if Holacracy is the new Lean term for Leader Standard Work or not. I asked a similar question a few years back in a blog post,  Is Zappos the Next Toyota? I do think whatever spin we try put on it, Holacracy or Leader Standard Work, it certainly is a structure worth considering. Zappos, CEO Tony Hsieh, may even want to review Deming’s 14 points for Management while he is at it.

Several Leader Standard Work Blog posts:
Structural Lean and Leader Standard Work
Can the Lean Knowledge Worker cope with Leader Standard Work?
Lean Sales and Marketing works because of Leader Standard Work

2 thoughts on “Holacracy, Zappos and Standard Work”

  1. Joe – I find your definition of standard work interesting. Its certainly not the interpretation had reading other sources, I will have to reconsider.

    There is a bigger reason why something like Holacracy might work at Zappos. They’ve spent years creating a very agile culture, one that adapts to changes and promotes individuals thinking for themselves. As a result the organizational culture might be ready for a bigger change.

    Thanks for the thought

  2. Thanks for the comments. I have to give a lot of credit to David Mann and especially Michael Balle on my view of Standard Work. I am a firm believer that it creates the independence needed in today’s work.

    Yes, I think Zappos has the agile environment or culture needed to pull off Holacracy. The real question might be does that type of culture make money. – J

Comments are closed.