Magazine article Management Today

Books: Creating a World without Managers

Magazine article Management Today

Books: Creating a World without Managers

Article excerpt

The author's idea of eliminating bosses may appeal to some, but in the end it's people who make businesses, says Stefan Stern

Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World

Brian J Robertson

Portfolio Penguin, pounds 14.99

Imagine there's no bosses, it's easy if you try,' as John Lennon didn't quite sing. A world without managers, top-down organisational charts, and that all too familiar kiss up/kick down behaviour might seem welcome, but is it achievable? Is holacracy the system we have been waiting for?

The term holacracy is derived from the Greek word holos, meaning whole That word was adapted by the writer Arthur Koestler in his book The Ghost in the Machine, published in 1967. In it he coined the term 'holon', meaning 'a whole that is a part of larger whole'. As an organising concept holacracy replaces conventional hierarchy with a 'holarchy', which is a connection between holons. You may have been told that holacracy introduces a 'flat' structure. This is not really true. There is still a hierarchy of sorts, it is just disguised.

This book - a kind of manifesto - has been written by Brian J Robertson, a former software CEO whose consultancy business HolacracyOne spreads the word about this new approach, for a fee. His most famous client is Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer, which publicly embraced holacracy a year ago, but only this spring saw 210 people (14% of staff) leave in a rejection of the new company philosophy.

That might seem like bad timing from this book's point of view. But Robertson does not promise an easy ride. Holacracy involves a pretty radical change in the way you do things at work. For bosses, it means giving up the conventional positional power you may have worked years to attain. Robertson describes himself as a 'recovering CEO', and says that not having to pretend any more to be a heroic, all-knowing leader who 'empowers' his staff is part of the attraction of the new way of doing things.

Holacracy is about processes, not people. It is meant to downplay the personal and instead focus on the tasks that have to be completed. And this is, perhaps necessarily, a rather abstract and theoretical book. Robertson compares life in a city with life in a business. 'If the residents of our cities had to wait for an authorisation from the boss for every decision they made, the city would quickly grind to a halt,' he writes. …

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