Traditional business models continue to be toppled with the advent of new start-up inspirations that foster innovative approaches to structuring business. What it comes down to is design. We’re not only rethinking how to re-label our approach to a business lifecycle, we’re also redesigning how view we our business purpose. Enter Holacracy. Stemming from the Greek word “holon” meaning “a whole that’s part of the greater whole,” in a business environment the idea is uniformly defined as a “real-world-tested social technology for purposeful organization.” Holacratic business models fundamentally change organizational structures, impact decision making, and redistribute power away from traditional divisional hierarchies. An idea founded in the early 2000s by Brian Robertson, a software company founder turned consultant, Holacracy supports shedding official job titles and traditional managerial roles in exchange for overlapping ‘circles’ that allows for people to take on multiple roles.
Robertson came across the idea during his time as a student pilot commandeering his first solo cross-country solo flight. Hundreds of miles away from home and with no instructor present, Robertson noticed the “low voltage” flicking on his radar. Since an all-around instrument check showed nothing technically wrong with the craft, he felt confident in letting these other instruments out-vote the low-voltage light – a mistake that soon caused the plane to waiver. Robertson walked away from the experience with the realization that the low voltage light tuned into different information than any other instruments on the dashboard. In a Ted Talk, Robertson builds on this story by adding that we do this in our organizations all the time. “Humans become instruments, sensors, for the organization. We sense different things. And sometimes something is sensed by only one person, a minority, that’s critical to integrate into how we perceive, and we ignore them.”
However, to adopt this practical thinking into a corporate framework, a company will need to completely undergo a cultural renovation that places a higher value in non-managerial roles. In fact, it may even need to do away with them all-together. This of course, is easier for start-ups and smaller firms that aren’t yet rigid in their business approach. For Diedrick Janse, co-founder of Waking Up the Workplace (WUtW), an organization teaching the art of Conscious Business online, the benefit of this system is seen through the increased awareness of business needs. As Janse puts it, “Holacracy has forced us to be very much aware of what WUtW needs, as opposed to what each of us individually needs and wants and desires. There’s a feeling of being accountable, because what I’m accountable for is so much more explicit, and what’s needed to move the work forward.”
For those embracing Holacratic business models, it’s not enough to be in business. An increasing amount of entrepreneurs, investors, employees, and even customers are paying attention to how a business is structured and what that structure reflects about its corporate culture. According to an HBR blog post entitled “Why Executive Teams Shouldn’t Write ‘Culture Decks’”, culture is now a key component of a successful business, ranging from how it impacts a company’s brand to how adept it is in recruiting skilled talent. In fact, “companies are creating ‘culture decks’ to answer the question, ‘why should I work here?’” The concept of a company’s culture navigates back to the key question: what’s your organizational structure. As HBR points out, and parallel with Holacractic thought, “authentic culture is not dictated from the top down. Authentic culture emanates from people – natural expression of who they are, and arises out of shared experiences together inside and outside the office.”
Since then Holacracy has come to be associated with a few terms, including phrases like “conscious capitalism”, “mindful business”, and “conscious business.” These ideas, fused into the core meaning of what Holacracy has come to mean in a business setting, are promoting a span of new thinking in leadership and cultivating in an evolved definition of what it means to be in business.
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