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Continuous Learning and Adapting with Holacracy at Summa

How can you keep holding on to that sparkling energy that startup companies have? How do you continuously surprise customers and partners with innovations, even when you’ve been exponentially growing as an organization? The software company Summa chose for a completely new way of working as an answer to these questions: ‘Holacracy’. Holacracy is a system with distributed power through which organizations can create that startup feeling with personal leadership from everyone in the organization.

No managers anymore

In a Holacratic system traditional decision-making is removed from the top of the organization, and distributed amongst employees, who hold ‘roles’ with ‘accountabilities’. The system enables everybody in the organization to take initiatives and to show leadership for what they are accountable. When every employee is a leader, business gets done rapidly as nobody needs to wait anymore for the approval of a manager. Even more, the idea of a classical manager who sets goals and evaluates the results, no longer exists.

If you want to be a leader, you have to know in which way you contribute with your roles to the overall organization. In Holacracy every role has a ‘purpose’ (the why), which contributes to the purpose of the ‘circle’ the role is in, and the purpose of the circle contributes on its turn to the purpose of a higher circle. In short, employees can be leaders by knowing to what they are contributing and by taking initiative and decisions towards this purpose.

An evolving organization

If an organization want to keep growing and stay relevant, employees must grow in it as well. That’s why there are two different types of meetings in Holacracy: Tactical meetings for the day-to-day activities ‘in the organization’ and Governance meetings for working ‘on the organization’.

The Tactical meetings are structured around ‘tensions’, which form agenda points. A tension is defined as the difference between a current and desired situation. When you raise a tension in a Tactical meeting you have to specify what you need to address the tension: information, an action, a project or an expectation towards others. An example of a tension for HR could be that the amount of people on sick leave is increasing, and a proposal can be done to create a ‘project’ to investigate the reasons. This way everybody is stimulated to think of what is really needed in this specific moment.

Governance meetings ensure that the organization keeps on evolving by bringing in tensions about the organization. This leads to changes to roles and responsibilities. An example of a tension that one could bring to a Governance meeting is ‘the amount of people on sick leave is increasing, so I propose to create the role of ‘health coach’. The person who covers this role has the accountability of preventing the amount of people on sick leave‘.

In Holacracy every employee can make proposals for new roles or accountabilities. In this way the organization gets shaped by employees themselves who feel what is really needed in the here and now. This makes employees enjoy their work, and feel they can contribute a greater deal.

Working with everyone’s strengths

To create a hot spot with energy and entrepreneurship, it’s very important to get the best out of your employees. Of course it starts by selecting employees who fit in a company in which self-leadership is stimulated. To help that process, Summa defined values that set the ‘culture’ the company wants to live up to. During a recruitment process a so called ‘Culture Fit Check’ is done on the values. For example during an interview questions can be asked like: Are you open for feedback? Does you have examples in which initiative was taken? Or when did you try out a new approach and learned along the way? If that can be answered with a resounding ‘yes’ then there is a great chance that this employee will fit the organization and feel like a fish in water.

Continuous learning and adapting

Holacracy and the self-management that comes with it, is a culture change for Summa. It just doesn’t happen overnight. Step by step, we find the right direction, while continuing to learn and adapt. Former managers are now covering different roles and employees learn to initiate proposals and appreciate the change. They themselves are in the driver seat of their own development and that of the organization, opposite to the traditional way of thinking where an organization would blindly follow a plan thought up by management. We are convinced that that just doesn’t work anymore in 2018.

Anita Klaver, Talent Lab Summa

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