Thursday, April 21, 2016

Zappos and Holocracy

Warning: this is a long post.

Since the beginning of history, man has yearned to destroy hierarchy. This instinct has been present particularly in Western society, everywhere from Christianity to the Enlightenment to the '60's. But today, even the establishment itself - barely aware that it is the establishment - has joined the anti-authoritarianism, through corporate organization techniques and positive talk which labels hierarchy "inefficient".

After decades of softening the Organization Man with feedback sessions, ping pong tables in the break room, and other symbolic gestures, we have Holacracy. This method of organization promotes itself as a new and radical way of creating workable, changeable, cohesive, and goal-oriented groups. The scheme is said to distribute authority far more than in the bureaucratic hierarchies that dominate big business today.

Now, since I have said before that hierarchy is the only way groups work, with every other attempt turning out to be somewhere between brittle and outright lunacy, this requires a special critique. We have two questions to answer. First, is the distribution of authority real, as opposed to being just for show? Second, is the new system getting positive results?

This is relatively easy, since Holacracy has been implemented at a number of companies. The one I'm going to use is Zappos, the online shoe store known for its purposefully weird internal culture and by far the biggest company to adopt Holacracy. We're talking about an organization of more than 1,200 people and a lot of exposure to the media, largely through CEO Tony Hsieh, the anti-Bundy of the shoe salesman world. Thanks to that, the strengths and weaknesses of the system are being shown in large scale before our eyes.

This won't be entirely a negative critique. The system is quite sophisticated, with plenty of good and bad to talk about. This requires both a examination of Holacracy and a look at conventional hierarchies for comparison later on. We're going to have to simplify a lot to have a sensible conversation about this on the noob level, so bear with me.

How Does Holacracy Work?

First, a disclaimer: Holacracy does not completely throw out hierarchy and it doesn't really claim to do so. There are shades of bureaucratic hierarchy and democracy at work. It claims to be an alternative system of organization that is significantly less hierarchical, more empowering to people actually doing the work than what they envision as a traditional hierarchy.

They aren't trying to banish hierarchy and management in all forms so much as banish politics and what some people call "pathological hierarchy". You can think of good management being a matter of how command is used: are the directives clear and purposeful, with a sensible focus on the benefit of the organization and space to give the people within the organization the prerogative to do their jobs? Or is the power used to satisfy emotional insecurities, pursue an agenda contrary to the institution's welfare, and overall benefit those in power over others? Holacracy seeks the former.

There are two primary metaphors you can use when considering how Holacracy actually functions, and both come from system design outside the usual bureaucratic models.

The first metaphor is a computer system. The guy who created Holacracy, Brian Robertson, is a computer programmer, and he likes to call Holacracy an organizational operating system, like Windows for institutions.

The second metaphor is that of a city with a free market economy. Holacracy is organized, but places emphasis on giving people the prerogative to respond to opportunities in different departments, to learn things outside their department, and to otherwise act as independent nodes, the same way individuals act living in a city. They have to adapt to its structure, but they don't explicitly fall under anyone's authority.

And Holacracy is structured. It's actually structured much more explicitly than pyramid hierarchies, which when working well are constantly trading off between bureaucratic rules and the judgment of those in authority. Robertson and company were smart enough to recognize the difficulty of decision-making without centralizing responsibility and power. This system knows it has to actively fight against hierarchy, and it pulls out a lot of classic tricks to give the impression of creating roundtable dialogue instead of unilateral power.

The first is to change the terms. Some of these changes are clearly just a surface name change: problems and issues become "tensions", for example. Other changes are more concrete. Instead of departments or units, Holacracy has "circles", which are broken down into sub-circles of super-circles. You can scale this up or down however you need to do it, a sub-circle creating new sub-circles and so on. This change is more of a real change: the mechanics of a circle are specifically broken down in the Holacracy constitution, and those mechanics make those structural changes easier than in most bureaucracy-heavy corporations. Some circles, like the Anchor circle which holds the board, are not negotiable, but most can be dismissed with relative ease.

One particularly big deal is the elimination of jobs as a static position, replaces by "roles". People in the company can have more than one role here, and you can apply for different ones in different circles whenever they come up, like responding to part-time job listings in your city classifieds.

It's an attempt to make a role/job less subject to command override and more like an abstract piece of property. There is an assumption that people who hold the role are supposed to do it as they see fit, autonomously, to the greatest extent feasible. This can go wrong quickly, but Zappos specifically addressed at least one serious problem in a way I really like. More on that later.

The biggest terminology change is, of course, to authority: there are no more bosses or managers. Hsieh eliminated them and offered his employees a buy-out in the biggest publicity note of this entire experiment. Does this mean there is no more leadership within those circles? Of course not: there are now a number of positions with different responsibilities that make up the leadership, most critically the "lead link". The lead link does not have the power to fire you or determine your salary, but they do have the power to take you out of a circle they run if they don't like what you've been doing. Lots of decisions are placed in the hands of the circle instead of higher echelons, so the power has been reduced... but not eliminated.

After all these terminology changes, you get to the soul of the system: meetings. And holy hell, there are a lot of fuckin' meetings! We have weekly tactical meetings, monthly governance meetings, and semiannual strategy meetings. The last typically goes over four hours. Each of these meetings is heavily structured with check-in rounds, agenda building, and updates, and everyone is given an explicit opportunity to speak. They WANT your input here, a lot. All this is documented rigorously with Holacracy's proprietary software, Glass Frog, which also serves as the internal communication system, sending out "shards"/emails to people as appropriate to their roles and circles.

These meetings are carefully constructed in the Holacracy constitution. The point is not to get approval from an authority to act, but if there is a problem/"tension", you bring it up and make a proposal, and after the proposal is deemed rational enough to get on the table by a Facilitator, then "tensions" with the proposal then go on the table, and on this goes until there are no more tensions. Proposals aren't put up to a vote or approval from an authority figure. If no one can make a logical argument against it, the proposal is carried. This is supposedly how they banish politics from the structure.

In one article, a Zappos employee complains about five hours of meetings in one day, and you get the impression from reading about the system that this isn't entirely out of the ordinary. There's an obvious logic - time organizing your effort is typically time well spent - but if you get the impression of a lot of drudgery, you're not alone. One is reminded of early ideas of freedom from the distant past, where thinkers pronounced that free men must be disciplined, multifaceted, and possessing of good character in order to maintain their state as free men. This brand of equality is hard, and lots of people haven't taken well to Holacratic management: when Hsieh announced his buyout, 14% of the company took him up on it.

That's not a damnation, but a testament to simple differentness. This is not business as usual.

The Positives

Starting with the small details first, we can see a lot of ways in which this Holacracy thing might have some merit.

First, when they finally instituted the role system company-wide, Zappos realized quickly enough that people could end up stacking on too many roles or not enough. Attention is finite, and people can slack or spread themselves too thin, so they came up with a direct system for attention budgeting, called People Points. They run from one to one hundred, with the number of points intended to represent the percentage of time a person allocates to a role.

This is bound to be very messy. It's easy to predict that when Zappos is assigning Points to roles, it won't be getting it right the first time and that some people have radically different thresholds and levels of efficiency in their work. They're gonna have to figure that out as they go. And obviously some people will not have a clean 100% Points total on their list of roles. Allocating those roles has been messy, according to reports. Some people even end up on "The Beach", with no roles assigned, the internal equivalent of unemployment. But it's worth applauding Zappos for addressing attention budgeting so directly. I expect this points system to get refined in the future, and to make a bigger difference to pay and internal authority as time goes on.

Second, the drive to change the nature of jobs and sense of voice is based on real issues and frustrations, and lots of people will probably like it. There's a certain appeal to the emphasis on autonomy, the meetings that beg input from everyone, and "flex journeyman" system that's custom-built for self-absorbed post-boomer generations.

If you've ever run a business, you may know about the "Dreamer" subspecies of employee. You may have hired them to be a clerk or manager, but forget what you hired them to do. They want to be so much more, something creative, and since their desire to do more is a desire to also "help the business", their sense of moral self-worth gets pumped up any time they work on their passion and you can expect to play hell keeping their attention on their actual job.

Say the actual job is to help customers and keep the place clean. But they say fuck that, maybe not consciously but you can see it. Maybe you notice your floors haven't been swept in three days, because Mr. Dreamer decided he needed to redesign the business' logo, knowing nothing about branding or the cost of new signage. Maybe you notice that some customers aren't being helped for nearly a full minute after walking in, but this guy has been busy doing research and has figured out the next new products you need to stock by browsing Instagram. As they engage in all this new "work", they start to feel that they deserve a little more in the way of respect and all its indicators. They will want more of your attention, they may hope for credit for something beyond their actual job, and think you're a short-sighted ass for brushing them off when they really just want to help! In extreme cases, they can convince themselves that it's "their" business, not yours.

Yeah, maybe I've had one or two of them. In most cases, I end up having to fire these people. Which sucks. I hate firing people. But they're a bitch to rehabilitate, especially since rehab means cutting down their ego.

In any case, the prerogative to change your responsibilities regularly and have people listen to you when the time comes to make decisions sounds positive for more than just the Dreamers. Some people might really have something to contribute outside a singular specialty. Now, specialization being what it is, most of them probably won't, and a lot of time will be wasted carefully explaining why their ideas suck and they should stick with jobs they know. But something good might come of it from time to time.

Third, there is a powerful urge in holacracy to "bring it to the front" which has some value.

Zappos likes to show this chart:

Lots going on, right? The underlying message is that, beneath the straightforward structure of a hierarchy is a rash of hidden relationships and power dynamics which go unseen, ostensibly because of the threats created by unequal power and the static rigidity of specialized work. There's a lot more going on than meets the eye, and thus possibly a lot of problems going unaddressed, festering under the surface. A lack of transparency, basically.

Three of the changes discussed in Holacracy - open meetings recorded on Glass Frog with communication from everyone, the distribution of power to end reprisals, and the flexible role system - exist at least in part to stop the backalley horse trading and drama that exists in those conventional hierarchies. That's particularly true when it comes to favoritism and favors, the Gold Old Boy system, where people end up with the impression that their company is two-faced and untrustworthy, or at least uninterested in them.

Holacracy makes use of formality for purposes of creating good communication and clear expectations. That's not radical. It's actually the best kind of old school. I'm not saying that this method of going about it will work, but I do agree that people need a huge dose of honesty in the way they deal with each other.

The Negatives

The first and strongest objection that I have to all this is the accountability mechanisms: there really aren't many effective ones. Super circles have few options for affecting change below except completely shutting down a sub-circle from above or claiming the Constitution was misinterpreted. Money and resources are never mentioned, nor is disciplinary action, so evidently their use is just decided by the same tension/proposal process every other topic gets while in a meeting. This is absurd given how fundamentally political budgeting is and how hesitant most people are to punish a co-workers.

I've already posted this link, but it deserves to get another look. Notice that the People Pool and Comp circle, where employees have to make their case to get a raise, is run by Hseih himself. No wonder: that's an area where limitations imposed by the executive level are simply required, and that's where the sharpest incentive power lies. Notice it does not lie in the Lead Link or the circle's wheelhouse at all.

It's going to be the same in other avenues. You've officially disempowered the people within a group who can push, demand more, and set standards, trading their authority in for a pseudo-consensus model which is exacting in process but relies on acceptance of proposals by elected role-fillers whose priorities may not be in line with the big picture of the company. You can assume good faith, but still, the average Joes aren't going to raise the expectations on themselves. Either that authority will have to be made explicit again, or the excuses will start piling up, the standards will drop, and you can expect little to get done. Sure enough, the reporting in that article says that's precisely what's happening.

No proclamations have been made, but accountability may be one of those concepts the Zappos people aren't crazy about. Maybe they consider it a pseudonym for "authoritarian assholery". If that's the case, there's a problem, because the strongest accountability mechanism ever created is money, and Zappos still needs to make money to function.

Second, the push for openness is good in theory, toothless and arguably impossible in practice, and the result will certainly be under-the-table power playing, just like in any hierarchy. None of the measures built into the system to stop it can actually do it.

The most important aspect of this new openness is supposed to be the leveling that ends reprisals. So have the power inequalities ended?

Please. The Lead Link, despite the limitations, still has some power, including judgment calls in between meetings, assigning people to roles, and authority over working metrics, plus they can't be removed by the circle itself, only by the super-circle AKA higher level management. They have few carrots and few sticks, but they are supposed to be the motivators and will be expected to keep the circle's attention, and that's not always in their favor. If the super-circle looks on them without consistent good faith in the face of resistance, that's going to be a tough job.

More compelling is the role of Facilitator, who manages the meetings. He's elected, and you can't even get something on the table without him. This isn't a bad checks and balances effort, but the Facilitator is acting as the Judicial branch and has an awful lot of power considering they have nothing to do with the institution's big picture direction.

There are mentions in that article above about how someone - I'd venture to guess a few people - are afraid of reprisals from their lead link if they spoke up about something in meetings. This isn't always a bad thing, but given that lead links are less powerful than management, it's a no-brainer that the reprisals won't come from anything that gets recorded in Glass Frog. The leverage they do have is the leverage that gets exercised quietly. Meanwhile, those who can get an enthusiastic Facilitator to like them will have a nice time of it, while those who don't will feel burned. It's a process that's guaranteed to produce a few show trials.

More open? I call bullshit. This is top down in everything but name. The Holacracy staff can say whatever they want, but I see two options: either there was an effort to take the inequalities necessary to make an institution run and purposefully bury them in the language, or it was unintentional, a system designed by computer programmers who want to see people as without ego, reserving that damning egoistic stereotype for the bosses. Either way, this needs a lot of work to keep the formal expression in the meetings in line with the underlying reality.

There are always ways to leverage power, explicitly or implicitly, and Zappos can and will see a lot of implicit hierarchies form within parts of the company. You can say that implicit expectations hold no weight, as the Constitution does, but there's no way to avoid it. It's happened already or it will happen soon.

And just as an aside, I don't think a lack of accountability makes for more honest feedback anyway. It might make for more impulsive feedback, but honesty needs to be both well considered and protected to be worth anything, meaning more authority and accountability might help more than hurt.

Third, I find this statement in the Constitution to be strange:
As a Partner assigned to a Role, you have the authority to execute any Next Actions you reasonably believe are useful for enacting your Role’s Purpose or Accountabilities. However, you cannot exert control or cause a material impact within a Domain owned by another Role or another sovereign entity, unless you have their permission.
In other words, you can do what you need to do, so long as you don't interfere with anyone else doing what they need to do. Sounds good, as it's the Holacratic equivalent of the non-aggression principle. Since roles are built along the lines of personal property, you can do anything with it, so long as it causes no problems for others. So... has personal property and the NAP ended conflict among people in the world outside Zappos? No? Then why the hell would anyone expect it to work inside Zappos?

Everything you do affects other people in the organization. Every resource used is scarce, so others will be vying for it, which is why budgeting is always political. Every domain overlaps with others unless you spend huge amounts of time hacking out the specific what-ifs that drive people in the world of law insane. To avoid that, there needs to be a lot of good faith on the part of everyone involved, which defeats the point. Any system works when there's good faith.

The Constitution is filled with the opposite of legalese: it's a brief document using language that can be played in a lot of ways. For example, during the meetings, you can propose anything you want, so long as it "better expresses" a purpose or accountability of one of your roles. Some people are better at this than others: I could write a twenty page thesis on how increasing the stock of Bavarian Creme donuts in the breakroom better expresses any role imaginable. Morale and such, you know? The elected Facilitator makes the call as to what constitutes a "reasonable" proposal, and a reasonable objection to the proposal. If you're good at debate, you can make anything sound reasonable, or unreasonable. If you can argue others into submission, you're going to get what you want.

This isn't damning in and of itself. Organizational methodology cannot make up for a lack of respect within the group, while a group that gives a shit will find a way to get things done regardless of procedural efficiency or lack thereof. If you assume good faith, Holacracy works fine... and so does hierarchy.

Finally, I think the entire concept is directed against something that its creators don't understand, namely the relationships between hierarchy, bureaucracy, and efficiency.

A lot of what people are irritated with in their companies is not hierarchy, but the bureaucratic rules intended to limit hierarchy, created because Western civilization already distrusts authority. This obviously includes the rules for creating and destroying departments, the rules for temporarily transferring from one department to another, rules demanding approval for an action by multiple levels of the hierarchy, etcetera.

Look at the Holacracy literature, and it's almost as if they assume these rules are created arbitrarily by management to benefit management, and that's ridiculous. Bureaucratism and heavy rule structuring is typically the response to accusations of bad or unfair management. Rules work against arbitrariness: the boss can't fire you without performance reviews or recorded disciplinary notices that establish a process, which is why departmental transfers are usually hard; killing off departments is difficult because the people in them would probably be fired if their job is no longer there; departmental autonomy is limited by oversight to prevent the creation of cliquish fiefdoms that don't favor new people or people who take a while to fit in; and on and on.

Bureaucracy exists to protect people from destructive or upsetting change brought on by hierarchy. Change is hard. It requires re-adapting to the expectations of your social environment. Throughout most of economic history, people have wanted stability, understanding that they can't just have what they want whenever they want it. Stability means consistency people can adapt to, and rules have given that stability to them.

We tend to think of management as "management" and not "authority" in the modern economic sphere. Management lives on procedure and doesn't "rule" by fiat, nor do they take change lightly. Lots of people don't understand all the rules, but lots of people don't want to see things from management's point of view.

Even in the most mundane examples - the static element of having just one job - the status quo exists because it does what the roles are doing in Holacracy: it creates clear responsibilities. The consistency of having a job and one job title for what is expected of you should be obvious enough; it makes it more difficult for your supervisor to get you in trouble if you're responsible for doing quality control on widgets and the widgets are coming out top-notch.

Even the rules, implied and otherwise, which empower management are not usually evidence of corruption or necessarily a bad idea. That whole Good Old Boy system? Management promotes people they can rely on, or who fit into a stereotype of such people, with certain upbringing and character and work ethic. You think this doesn't have real value? If you had responsibilities, wouldn't you want people you knew handling the most critical parts of the work?

This obtuseness reminds me of the controversy over credentialism, and how it's affected the world of higher education: formal qualifications became the standard because hiring people based on degree and GPA was safer for modern businesses afraid of accusation of discriminatory hiring. Now, no one seems to remember that broadly accessible college education was supposed to level the playing field. It was another attempt to kill the Good Old Boy system. Everyone is too upset about how much college costs and how unfair THAT is.

The real change here is that good faith becomes more necessary at the top than at the bottom, which is complete nonsense. The people in higher positions in a hierarchy are usually the ones with more time in and a proven track record of good performance. One would assume that, in Holacracy, those in Lead Link positions and other particularly valued roles would be similar. But now they have to hope for the best from those beneath them, instead of the other way around. This is flatly irrational, unless you've been infected with a cultural attitude that assumes the worst from those who hold any formal title resembling "authority".

How Does a Traditional Hierarchy Work?

Here's the real thing that bothers me about Holacracy: it's good functioning is entirely predicated on good faith, much like any other organizational system, which is fine. But if you assume good faith, then there is precisely nothing wrong with the traditional hierarchy.

The difference is that, in a hierarchy, there is a very strong attachment between power and accountability that must be present: the supervisors evaluate but are also being evaluated. They are held responsible for the performance of their groups by higher echelons of the hierarchy, just as the people at the bottom are evaluated. The tradeoff comes in giving those supervisors authority over the group; it would be stupid to slam someone for a problem they had no control over.

There are at least three things a supervisor in a hierarchy needs to do:
  1. Act as a communication node between the group and the conditions that need to be addressed, be that environmental demands (market or physical) or demands from a higher hierarchical level.
  2. Resolve conflicts, including miscommunication and coordination issues.
  3. Judge the quality of the work and compel the person tasked with the work to change it if necessary, which means they must hold the prerogative to create incentives, to regulate how the work is done.
Just from this bland and limited set of duties, it is very clear that those in supervisory positions can't help but to wield a disproportionate amount of power. 

Supervisors are the leadership - I've called them the keystone species - and leadership doesn't just fill a functional role but, on a deep level, defines the identity and values of the institution itself. Those "beneath" them often end up defining the meaning of their lives, their personal identity, through the perspective the leadership creates. From that functional necessity comes power.

If you want a reactive, fast, efficient organization, the easiest way to get it is not to disempower the hierarchy but precisely the opposite. Empower the authority more. A hierarchy untrammeled by that red tape is not only efficient in the narrow sense but also outrageously flexible, assuming that the leadership can make changes as necessary, not only within departments but to the overall scheme of the institution. When good faith is there, this works incredibly well from the institutional perspective.

If you were told to create a business organization for maximum efficiency and lived in a society that had never heard of a pyramid hierarchy, then you developed it and got people to accept it, you would be considered a genius. The only controversy would be whether or not that efficiency was worth the rapid change, the risk, the acceptable degree of delegation, the dependence of the group's future on a handful of your best people, and occasional bouts of failure that are inevitable, even if they typically do very well. All this has to do with maintaining trust.

In a conventional hierarchy, a good idea can be shot up the chain, heard, and implemented almost immediately, without having to table it until the next meeting. Communication can be outrageously efficient in a conventional hierarchy if people trust each other. If ideas are not implemented, it's often because the idea is not really very good; we do have trouble being honest about this, but it's usually in order to prevent someone from feeling offended in the short run. Management should be tactfully honest for the sake of the long run, and some are, but it's very difficult in an emotionally sensitive culture.

I mostly put all this down because Holacracy's supporters seem to have a very narrow view of what constitutes a hierarchy, and they promote some aspects of their system by comparing them to what might be common in modern corporations but not what is elemental to hierarchies in general. For example, Holacracy touts the high level of autonomy given to people in their roles, with explicit responsibilities spelled out in the Constitution, but this is perfectly possible in a conventional hierarchy as well. It's just a question of how much the top levels delegate authority downward, and when they take autonomy away from their people, there's usually a reason. It might look like pathological hierarchy is everywhere, but a moment of genuine consideration makes this absurd. Even military hierarchies I'm involved with don't like micromanaging and only end up doing it because people learn very slowly and shirk when no one's looking. Who are these people hanging out with?

They've concocted a strawman out of bad management stereotypes. I won't say it's false advertising, and I'm sure they believe in it, but this is not a well considered view of institutions at work. 

The Ideology of Zappos

If you really want to understand what Zappos is trying to do, you should start with understanding its values, directions, goals that were in mind when it was created. Is there a teleology to Zappos' project? The answer is yes, and it's embodied by the concept of "Teal".

The concept of Teal comes from a progressive way of looking at human organizational systems and the characteristics of the people in them, created by corporate consultant Frederic Laloux. Each stage in the development of organizations is color-coded and joined with a social attitude: Red/reactive is hunter-gatherer bands, Amber/conformist is ritualistic direct hierarchies like the Catholic church, and Orange/achievement is modern numbers-driven bureaucracies like Coca-Cola. Green comes next, defined as more pluralistic and self-conscious organizations like Ben and Jerry's and the pre-holacracy Zappos itself. These companies are big on activism, talk about themselves as families, and refer constantly to a transformative sense of purpose that makes them what they are, obviously wanting to discuss that more than their daily reality of needing to make a profit to survive.

Finally we have Teal, which is rather difficult to explain without merely discussing the qualities of the people involved, because its organization is so fuzzy. Suffice it to say, the company becomes a vehicle towards self-actualization of the individual within it, and at the same time, that leap is predicated on a distancing from the self. Just a touch of Western spiritual individualism here.

To put it another way, progressive ideology has always viewed the hierarchical nature of society as a deep problem, a flaw that needs to be corrected to attain the ultimate goal of individual freedom. Teal is the realization of this, where anything that resembles a hierarchy has simply ceased to direct people and instead "supports" them with resources and guidance as needed, assuming their deepest inner motives to be aligned with the inner needs of everyone else by nature.

But since this ideal is qualitatively progressive, it is not in line with a lot of academic thought on social organization. I wrote the blog on structuralism a while back, and this type of thinking holds a few similarities to orthogenesis, the developmental theory that was trashed by Franz Boas when he established the field of anthropology over a century ago. It's a form of cultural evolutionary thinking that's directly related to the belief in Western society being objectively superior to other "primitive" forms of social organization.

I have to throw this in at the end, and I know it might seem really childish, but I've studied both this and the history and ideology of communism, and you can learn a lot with a comparison.

An organization without a ranking structure is bound to be exploited: look at Stalin in the USSR prior to his rise. He was not well liked by other members of Lenin's inner circle, and was given the job of "general secretary" because it did not make major policy decisions. The Bolsheviks did not think about how power actually worked in their organizational structure, only about the prestige of the decisions they made.

The decisions the lowly general secretary made were to assign Bolshevik leaders to regional groups and other functionary posts at the level below theirs. After Lenin died, the rest of the inner circle were horrified to find that Stalin had filled those posts with people loyal to him and could make an effective power play to run the country. He had most of them killed. They were communists and didn't want an explicit hierarchy, so the implicit hierarchy that formed behind their backs eventually bit them in the ass.

Later on, the position of General Secretary was held by Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and Gorbachev. It turned out to be the de facto highest post in the USSR, the role that gave the influence to change everything.

This isn't to knock them for not having checks and balances. Checks and balances can grind an organization to a halt if the agents in their various positions don't have the same values. If you doubt this, look at Congress. But that's the tradeoff, equality and deadlock versus hierarchy and efficiency.

Ideologically, try comparing the vision of Teal and the role of the Lead Link to Marx' vision as outlined by Bertell Ollman, with people occupying different positions at different times according to their preferences, without the need for work discipline or contracts enforced. In this "scientific" universe, laziness gets written off as an imposed condition, stemming from the association between work and coercive disempowerment. Teal and communism both relieve that association by turning work into a creative outlet, leadership more akin to a conductor leading an enthusiastic orchestra than a commanding taskmaster. At the core, this is all driven by a sense of revealed unity that makes the needs of others as important to everyone as their own needs, their best efforts rewarded by the gratification of being part of the solution to their deprivation.

Anyway, I really don't mean this as a slam. Zappos is still a good company and Hseih is obviously more sensible than sheer opportunists like Dan Price, that absurd piece of work who announced a $70,000 minimum wage to build his public persona and keep his brother from getting a claim on company profits.

And it should also be clear that holacracy and Teal are not the same, nor do they have much to do with each other institutionally. Teal organizations are not necessarily holacracies, or vice versa. It's just that Hsieh decided to operate on the assumption that they were natural complements, which makes sense enough. The two share a lot ideologically, both relying on an assumption of good intentions and innocence from those at the bottom of the hierarchy, and egomaniacal bad management at the top, and that aligns directly with the West's perpetual hatred of the powerful. There is no truly rational reason to believe these assumptions are right.

We will never get anywhere designing better human systems if we don't first accept the fact that inequality is a necessity, not a moral failure.