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What kind of impact can Holacracy have from an HR perspective? A former manager shares her experience.
published by , on 17/08/2017

By Gabi Krupa (energized)

This article is based on Annemieke Verhoeff’s story. When we met with Annemieke several months ago at Concept7 in Groningen, she and her peers had been driving their work with Holacracy for almost one and a half years.

On the day of our arrival, Annemieke was one of the first people to welcome us with a big smile, which made us feel at home straight away :-) After a while, we jump into a conversation about Concept7, Holacracy, and her experiences.

Annemieke has been working in HR for several years. Speaking from experience, she states firmly that she does not believe in a “holy grail” often pursued by management. But what she does believe in are people, equality, and emergence. “There is no one right model or solution, there is no one-size-fits-all”.

And so she and her colleagues at Concept7 were experimenting a lot before settling on Holacracy. Why did they choose Holacracy?

“Holacracy is just a framework that you can fill with people who are equally important for the continuous emergence of Concept7, for the creation of our own structure, and for the culture that serves us best.

I see such a vivid connection between migrating away from the command and control paradigm, and towards nurturing equality among people, allowing each person to bring their true selves to their workplace in the process. It is important to have a framework which allows for all that and it helps us build the future of Concept7 in an evolutionary way.”

Annemieke goes on to describe how it feels to be a part of a Holacracy-powered organization. For her, one of the most important aspects of any work environment is communication.

“I’ve seen a lot of patterns and behaviors, and I’m truly fascinated by the change I’ve been observing here. Having clear roles makes it so much easier to communicate work-related matters. It is easier to request an action, and address problems and blockages. All the roles that we have at Concept7 are there to take us closer to our purpose, everyone understands that and uses them to get stuff done. The realization that I can speak from my role to another role within our company makes everything so beautifully simple.

Once I finish addressing the matter connected with my work, I can be just my natural self. And that is such a liberating feeling! I don’t have to deal with judgments, egos, and all the negative things related to having blurred boundaries between one’s working relationships and friendships with colleagues. Everyone plays by the same explicit rules. Everyone knows that there is space for both role and soul in our company.

I think that this clarity allows me to be more of a colleague here than ever before. There is no fear or regret related to asking for actions because the rules are so explicit. It is like a ‘common law’ which we all follow. And you know, sometimes you need to have conversations that can put you in an uncomfortable position. This is another example of why differentiating based on context is extremely valuable for me. I can have discrete conversations and everyone understands that it is part of my role. This helps strike the right balance with my colleagues.”

“Role and soul” is a distinction between one’s roles in a Holacracy-powered structure and the more tribal (or personal) side of a team. In Holacracy, as a role-filler, a person acts purely on behalf of the role when performing work for the organization. Everyone shared this common understanding of “role and soul”. As Annemieke shares further, this separation also contributes to her performance.

“I know that the distinction between role and soul makes me work with a higher focus. In general, it makes my work-life easier, and I think also more complete.”

As we go deeper into the conversation, Annemieke develops on the decision-making process at Concept7.

“Before Holacracy, we focused our discussions on soft stuff: culture, tribe-related matters, etc. Now, we know how to handle hard decisions about our work. In a company where you have a very friendly atmosphere, it can sometimes be difficult to strike a balance between friendliness and tough decisions that have to be made. In hindsight, I think that we actually impeded not only our organizational development but our personal development too. Holacracy equipped us with the mindset and the tools to handle hard choices and make important decisions on a daily basis. Now we feel more at ease when addressing our progress, strategy, needed actions, and so on.”

As an HR specialist, one of the behavioral patterns that Annemieke observed concerns the role that ego plays in everyday company life.

“Ego is just a part of our nature. This is why we really shouldn’t have traditional hierarchies. I truly struggle to believe that it is beneficial for any company to consolidate power into the hands of few.

I experienced different types of hierarchical structures before I joined Concept7, and I observed that it doesn’t take a lot for some people to make others feel big or small. I think that ego-driven behavior can even overshadow the purpose of your organization; it can play with people’s minds and and affect their actions. I think that this messes with you a lot, as well as your colleagues and your company.”

As an observer of human behavior, Annemieke continues explaining how ego has been ‘integrated’ and serves the right purpose at Concept7.

“I find it fascinating how Holacracy facilitates purer and more mature conversations that feel much more human. That aside, it also guides us towards our purpose. Ego is still there — as I said before, it is a part of our nature as human beings. The difference is that ego in Holacracy is, how I call it, ‘integrated’. It is not about pleasing the leader and making oneself bigger. It is about processing work items and moving forward in an equal structure. I think that this process is very powerful. I also think that it is hard to explain, and is something that one needs to experience in order to fully conceive it.”

As our conversation comes to a close, we are all feeling a bit overwhelmed by the depth of the experiences which Annemieke has shared. But we are also feeling a kind of peacefulness as we realize how much good has happened here. Annemieke smiles and finishes our conversation with a short story:

“You know, I grabbed a drink with a friend the other day, and I explained a process that I was undergoing at that time. I had been analyzing how my work had evolved over the past few months and I was figuring out the next level I wanted to reach. I sensed that I had too much on my plate. To address this, I used two parts of the Holacracy framework: the governance process and a Lead Link role. I clarified a lot and gave back some of my roles. I basically initiated my own job profile in alignment with the needs of Concept7. I remember the thrill when I realized what had just happened! This was like reaching another level of self-development. There was so much beauty in it!

My friend works as an HR advisor at a traditional company. She was stunned and couldn’t believe what I was saying. “You just can’t redefine your purpose, give back your roles. If I initiated this conversation at my workplace, I would probably be greeted something like, ‘maybe you should look for another job’, and she started laughing.”

We realize that there are still too many environments out there like the one occupied by Annemieke’s friend. Environments where power belongs to few, where people are not given a chance to lead their development alongside their company’s goals, where boundaries between one’s work and personal relations are blurred, and ego dictates our choices.

(This article was originally published on blog.holacracy.org)

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