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Bye Bye Bosses: 5 Things to Know About Zappos’ Move to Holacracy

Zappos' move to holacracyQuick, stop what you’re doing and imagine what your company would look like if there were no managers or job titles. Would it be total chaos or would there be an even more increased level of efficiency? Zappos is betting it’s the latter, as the company moves toward converting its entire workforce to what’s known as a holacratic model.

The online shoe and clothing shop, an independent unit of, has never been one to shy away from unconventional business techniques and is widely regarded as a corporate culture trendsetter. Now all eyes are on the company as it banks on the New Age leadership style to break down barriers and increase employee productivity and entrepreneurship.

With that in mind, here are five things you ought to know about the company’s transition to this model.

  1. What IS holacracy? Is it new? Holacracy, the brainchild of entrepreneur Brian Robertson, is a practice aimed at radically shaking up organizational structures, decision making and distribution of power. While holacracy as a concept itself isn’t brand new, you’re probably hearing whispers about it now because Zappos is the biggest company to date to adopt it.
  2. When are they expected to complete the transition? At the moment, roughly 10 percent of Zappos’ employee base currently adheres to this structure, but the goal is to roll it out to all its approximately 1,500 employees before the end of this year. And that’s probably all they will be known as — employees. Because as of the end of 2014, none of them is expected to retain a job title.
  3. What’s the point? The idea behind holacracy is to prevent growing startups such as Zappos from becoming bureaucratic, a trait typically associated with larger organizations, by eradicating management and injecting transparency. The idea is to focus an employee’s attention on the task itself rather than on trying to impress the boss.
  4. Who makes decisions? Who’s the boss, you ask? No one — and that’s the point. Instead of going up the chain of command, decision-making is entrusted to groups of employees, also known as circles. Workers assume whatever roles they want within these circles. Who decides which tasks to distribute? The group as a whole does.
  5. Do people get promoted? Or fired? Seeking a promotion in a holacracy sounds counterintuitive. In terms of expanding one’s professional scope, however, an interesting caveat is that employees don’t have to focus solely on their area of expertise; they are also encouraged to seek out other functional areas that may be of interest and pursue those simultaneously as well. Apparently, if someone proves to be incompetent at a number of different tasks, the group can decide to let the person go.

Interesting questions to consider

There are other questions for which we don’t have easy answers. For instance: How do you advertise for an opening without a job title? How do you effectively convey job roles and expectations to candidates? What does career pathing or career advancement look like in a holacracy? Or is there simply no upward movement available? Do all groups or circles operate under the same rules and, if not, what standards are people judged by? What do performance appraisals look like? How is pay determined? Who will take the blame if there’s a big oops? Who do you go to if people problems or tensions arise? How big is too big for holacracy to work effectively in a company?

Tell us what YOU think. Do you see holacracy as a trend with the power to challenge our traditional notions about hierarchy and revolutionize the way we’ve always approached leadership? Or does it sound like a management nightmare? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @CBforEmployers.

Deanna Hartley

About Deanna Hartley

Deanna Hartley is a senior copywriter and community manager on the creative services team at CareerBuilder, where she writes about issues that are top of mind for employers and recruiters – including talent acquisition, employee engagement and retention. An avid social media user, Deanna is the face behind @CBforEmployers on Twitter as well as CBforEmployers’ Facebook and Instagram pages, so it’s easy to stay connected with her. Prior to joining CareerBuilder, Deanna was a senior editor for the Human Capital Media Group, publishers of Talent Management, Chief Learning Officer, Diversity Executive and Workforce Management magazines. Deanna holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She loves caffeine, social media, pop culture and dogs – though not necessarily in that order.

Quoting from this site:

"""Holacracy is a process and a structure to distribute authority within an organization. It's important to note that the basic structure of Holacracy is a hierarchy, and that leadership roles are assigned from the top down.""

Note that the Zappos announcements are whooping it up about no titles, no hierarchy. So, which is the truth?"


Hi Deanna - Fortunately in Holacracy the vast majority of decisions are not made by a group, as that would indeed be a nightmare. What's actually going on is that there is a group process for defining the roles and accountabilities that are needed within a circle. Then there is a special role within the circle called a Lead Link who decides who fills what roles. Once a person is filling a role, they have full authority to make any decisions that are required to fulfill their accountabilities, and what's really interesting is that nobody else in the company has the authority to override those decisions. I'm oversimplifying it a little bit here as there are some boundaries on the actions and decisions people can take, but overall people have a tremendous amount of autonomy and autocratic decision making ability.


@johnabuck  Hi John - It's really interesting once you get into the fine print - I suppose it's not uncommon for an organization to adopt a model or practice and then customize it to suit their particular needs, which is why this article focuses specifically on Zappos' move to a holacracy.


@ebabinet Hi there - thanks for sharing; it's interesting to learn about the intricacies of holacracy.


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