Our first steps in Holacratic management

  • Anton Kulikalov
    • 20 Apr
    • 5 min read

I was born and grew up in Russia, the country whose historical development has been for century driven by autocratic management systems and this management style has become part of institutional as well as social culture in Russia. There could be long discussions about the dark side of autocracy in general, but I would like to start with the reference to my feelings about it: any time I had to become part of autocratic management system I felt uncomfortably and often demotivated.

Employees that are allowed to make decisions independently and granted with freedom of self-expression is an extremely rare case in Russia, not to mention such privileges as company shares (the latter could only be offered to C-level management). This seems to be one of the reasons for business scalability issues and problems with mobility and adaptability of personnel. Nothing except top-down management architecture exists in such circumstances. In such companies every employee has his or her own boss who knows for sure what needs to be done, because they, in turn were told so by their own “bosses”. Access to financial and operational management reports is thoroughly protected from employees in the organization, even top level ones. Employees are treated as interchangeable elements of a process with no real value. Business scalability is replaced with red-tape, adaptability — with complicated systems of control and mobility is halted by rigidity of top-down decision-making.

My experience tells me that autocratic approach to company management devaluates employees’ potential and negatively affects their performance. Company Head surrounds him or herself with cohort of followers, afraid to make independent decisions outside their daily routine. In larger companies on all layers of organizational structure multiple “bosses” surround themselves with subordinates avoiding to accept any responsibility. No matter how talented and professional a company leader might be, such management system and organizational power structure doesn’t leave much choice for the one. And in time such company leader has nothing to do but to make decisions on the basis of what’s filtered up to him through this bureaucratic system. This, in its turn, leads to ineffective decision making.

Ever since I decided to start my own business — Remote Assembly — I’ve been very alert to any forms and manifestations of autocracy in our company. From the first day of operations we refused from top-down management model and did our best to make sure every employee understands the value he or she creates to the company, feels one-self an important part of the company and has a chance to influence the development of our company. At that time we knew neither about “turquoise organizations” nor about the management system called “Holocracy”.

Our first steps in business were full of experiments, we did what we thought the right thing to do.

Starting with the management basics, we refused from any rigid control of employees. Most of our developers work remotely, but no one is required to work at specific hours or on particular days. If anyone needs a day off on Monday, okay, make sure there is no urgent business and relax. If you want to sleep till noon and work at night, no one will mind.

First of all, we eliminated all forms of tough management control over our employees. Most of our developers are remote employees, we do not oblige them to work fixed hours or days. If someone needs a day off on Monday — OK, make sure there are no urgent tasks and enjoy your day off. If one wants to sleep till mid-day and work till mid-night — nobody will say a word against that schedule.

We pay per worked hours but do not have any requirements as to the number of work hours per week or so. Initially we didn’t have any time-tracking tools — employees simply reported on the number of hours worked. Now we use Hubstaff because of its convenience — no need to manually enter data and synchronization with gitlab (and, well… customers still want to control everything). Nevertheless, we do not require screen tracking to be on and allow to enter work time information manually.

One can think such an approach grants employees with excessive trust thus leading inevitably to developers cheating on the number of hours worked.

As former developer and designer I can assure you that any freelancer, even junior one can cheat time tracker easily. Therefore attempts to control employees bring more harm to the latter ones than create value for the benefit of controlling manager. We never force our employees to work more hours than they are willing to work. Such an approach may seem to create difficulties in predicting and forecasting for the volume of work done by the team. In our experience people get used to such self-managed work load and start spending fair and more or less stable number of hours at work per week. Surprisingly, but our holocratic approach allowed to reduce the number of situations when deadlines were not met. We have come up with our formula of success — “Control the quality of a product, but not process of its creation.”

It is both a paradox and a fact. Employing such a control system, we have dramatically reduced problems associated with deadlines! We came to the formula “Control the product quality, but not its creation process”.

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