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HR and Talent Weekly Roundup: The Scoop on Holacracy

Org ChartWe've hit a new business journalism trend: when Zappos implements something new, we consider it Gospel. Reporters go wild. And suddenly there's a hot new business trend.  Such is the case with holacracy, a management technique that removes hierarchy from organizational structure to strengthen communication and remove barriers in an organization. It's not new--but it's new to Zappos. And by journalist creed, that means it's now hot. Or something like that.

Does it work? Sure. In certain organizations. Will it work for Zappos? That remains to be seen. But since it's the buzz word of the month, it's important you understand how it works, the skeptic's point of view and who's using it. This way when the boss comes knocking to see what you think, you'll be right on trend.

1)  Holacracy: The Hot Management Trend for 2014 from Mashable

"The advantage of such a structure, Robertson says, is that it "generates organizational clarity." That is, in theory at least, workers are more concerned with the task at hand than trying to look good for the boss. Robertson says he discovered this structure by trial and error while running a software start-up in the early 2000s.  Additionally, no one has to be stuck doing one thing all the time. If you're a whiz at programming, for instance, you can make your job 100% about doing that, but you can also spend, say, 10% pursuing an interest, like helping run events or marketing, if you're so inclined.

2) No Managers Required: How Zappos Ditched the Old Corporate Structure for Something New from Fast Company

"No more job titles. No more managers. No more hierarchical decisions. By this time next year, Zappos’s 1,500 workers will be organized into something called a holacracy.  Holacracy is a little known organizational management system that’s is gaining a toehold in the business world. Zappos, so far, is its biggest adopter. Holacracy takes its name from the Greek word holos, a single, autonomous, self-sufficient unit, that is, at the same time, dependent on a larger unit. Think of a human cell’s relationship to the entire body."

3) Here's Why Eliminating Titles And Managers At Zappos Probably Won't Work from Business Insider

"The fundamental issue? People just didn't self-regulate as well as the companies had hoped. Teams weren't good at disciplining themselves either. "We're human beings; we just don't do that," Klein says. "We're social beings, and social issues get in the way of logic sometimes."  Another challenge was attrition. Companies bled talent as successful managers jumped ship instead of losing their titles. At the same time, poor and mediocre managers that the companies hoped to effectively demote continued to be seen as de facto leaders.  What remains particularly unclear in the case of Zappos is how deep the elimination of titles will run."

4)  Five Misconceptions About Holacracy® from

"Holacracy is so different from how we typically think about organization, so, it comes as no surprise to me that there are some confusing things being said out there.  Further, Holacracy makes all rules and roles explicit so that no one has to guess, and everyone can be on the same page.  In Holacracy, power is held by roles, not people, and those roles gain power through a governance process, not from a boss delegating it.   Holacracy doesn’t dictate exactly how a company should do everything, but rather how it should go about organizing itself and deciding how specific processes work. Holacracy specifies how to decide, not what to decide."

5) The Next Big Thing You Missed: Companies That Work Better Without Bosses from Wired

"Can these companies really overcome the “master and servant” paradigm — an arrangement so entrenched that it’s practically synonymous with the workplace itself? Gonzales-Black acknowledges that it may be difficult. “We humans love the idea that we know where the buck stops,” she says. “That’s a perfectly natural inclination to want and to desire.” But she believes holacracy will ultimately win the day."

Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.


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Everyone Wants to Belong

One of the most important parts of the work we do at exaqueo is our work in culture. We help clients to create, build, dissect, understand, and re-build their cultures.  And it's not touchy-feel-y stuff. It drives business strategy. It explains how you get work done. And it helps employees self-select in or out. Silicon Valley is starting see the value of culture (finally) since Tony Hsieh's led the charge to share how it's affected (and hurt his business).  And Netflix and Hubspot are being transparent about the cultural nuances that drive their business. Over at HRExaminer this week, I share my perspective on what it means to be a member of a tribe, a culture. And why we should care about belonging in the workplace. Here at exaqueo we're doing the work of culture. Talk to us if you want to learn more or want to create a culture you care about.

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Please Stop Hiring Rockstars

When I think of "rockstar," I think of Mick Jagger, Slash, James Hetfield, Ozzy Osbourne, Adam Levine. I think of long hair, tattoos, decibels, backstage mayhem, and decibels. "It's Freedom Rock, turn it up."  When I search "rockstar," I get energy drinks, Rolling Stone, a gaming company and "rockstar abs." To be a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rockstar, think talent and longevity. To be inducted you had to have been in the business for at least 25 years. Your latest junior developer? Not a rockstar. This is news to many of our start-up and high-growth clients who are just looking for a hip way to say they want the best talent. Stop doing this. Now.

I'm talking to you: a search for "rockstar developer" brought me 24 job ads with this meaningless moniker.  Search for just "rockstar" and you get over 1,600 gems.  Hey, I've taken the quiz to see if I have what it takes and I don't. I rated "Roadie." But none of you punks do either (except you punk rockers, maybe you do.)

The bottom line is you're not going to get the right talent if you're looking for rockstars, ninjas, brilliance, special forces or any other breathless pie-in-the sky terms. No one you know marries the girl on the cover of Maxim. And there's a reason.

You're not looking for amazing in one, and only one way.  And if you think you are, you don't know your own company well enough. Finding talent is an exercise in self-reflection first. And by that, I mean the organization.  Look inward--who are you? What makes you different? What are the commonalities among your employees who are both high performers and stick around?

It's easy to find someone who can develop code or create a marketing strategy. What's hard is finding one who can do it:

  • in your industry
  • for your company
  • on one specific team
  • dealing with a specific project or set of projects
  • playing a certain role on that team
  • within a specific culture
  • working for a specific leader

Then, it becomes harder. Much harder. Especially if your job description just wants AMAZING.  No one person is amazing. But there's a person who's amazing for you. (Yes, this sounds like dating advice. Hear me out, here).

It's not just about the task at hand. It's about the set of criteria and factors that make a job unique. I love the conversation here about rockstar developer versus cowboy coder, but it's so much more than just a descriptor.  It's a recipe where a set of ingredients are all required for the end result to be tasty and worth cooking. Again and again.

Think about it from a job seeker's perspective. When you're brought in for an interview, it means they already think you have the skills needed to do the job. Now, it's about the fit. The same goes for the company. If you describe your job in vague terms like "rockstar" you're going to get a vague set of candidates that respond. They may be able to do the job but they'll have no idea whether they fit any of the other elements of success.

How to fix this? Simple. Encourage self-selection. The more you honestly share about all of the factors of the job, the more likely it is you'll get candidates that fit all of those aspects. Oh, and then you can actually interview and look for them. Be honest, be authentic. But most of all, be clear.

It doesn't have to be a thesis--you can be clear and straightforward in a few short paragraphs. You can also weave your culture in like Woot does. Hilarious, but for a reason. If you don't find it funny, you won't be happy there. If you think the crossword puzzle on the Zappos application is annoying, same deal. I also like Logik's honesty.

Talent is the single most important ingredient to growing a business. Let me say it again. The most important. I don't care if you have the most innovative, efficient, value-add piece of technology the world has ever seen. If you don't have the right combined team to take it to market, you will fail.

Entrepreneurs take note. Take some of that VC money and invest it in a real, grown-up talent strategy. You don't want real rockstar developers (the ones with talent + longevity) to talk about you like this.


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Get Your Learnin' On

I love speaking at conferences--mostly because it means a free pass. And I get to hear some super fab people and really listen and learn. Take MediaBistro's Career Circus earlier this year.  Before and after my musings, there were stars like Richard Cho from Facebook, Saul Colt from FreshBooks and Laurie Ruettimann, the Cynical Girl. One thing I've been working on (feedback from my Brand Experiment, more on that later) is listening. Not just hearing people, but listening. And conferences are a great place to do that. You're unencumbered by the daily stresses that follow you around your local office and you can think beyond yourself, your role, and your organization.

So here's a deal--three conferences that can help you get your learnin' on with a contest and a few discounts too! I'll be sharing some wisdom at each but check out the rest of the line-ups. They're super. Oh, and let me know if I'll see you there!

October 24, 2011: I'm hosting  ERE's Recruiting Innovation Summit at Facebook HQ with a speaker line-up that includes Zappos and Intuit..

  • If you're attending you'll get a special email, with a private contest. That's all I can say for now.

November 8, 2011: I'm lucky to be pairing up with the fantastic Steve Boese on creating a social recruiting strategy at Brazen Careerist's Social Recruiting Bootcamp webinar.

November 16, 2011: We're talking social media and talent at Social Media Plus in my hometown of Motown Philly.

  • Use the discount code SS15 for a special discount to attend.

Suggest any other great events in the comments...