I had several exciting conversations over empowerment lately. Here is what I have learnt in relation with holacracy.
Empowerment is a magnet for talent and ambition, therefore it strengthens the competitiveness of the organization by bringing those in who have intrinsic motivation. The same time I see negative consequences in empowerment done inconsistently and without system. At times the expected motivation does not evolve or drops, people leave or stay and become resigned. Why does that happen? Leaders and followers are people, people are complex and extremely different. Agreeing in values, principles is a solid basis, but we also need practices to be consistent. So how could we do it better?
When I argue pro holacracy I always highlight that in holacracy empowerment happens a structured and balanced way at the same time to everybody when the Ratifiers (legacy leaders) sign the constitution. No misunderstandings, nothing like "I meant it the other way". Empowerment happens equally and at once with every Partner. (Partner is the term used for people working in a holacratic organization).
But equality stops here. The real measure of power, influence and accountability a Partner may have depends on the number and type of roles he or she holds in the organization.
Empowerment in holacracy is written in concrete terms in the form of specific actionable practices for every Partner:
- Generally held accountable over a domain for a purpose aligned to a greater purpose.
- Duties regarding operative work: planning, prioritization, cooperative decision making, respecting policies of domains and other circles
- Duties regarding governance as a Core Circle Member
- Duties when holding Elected roles
- Duties when elected or appointed lead Link
- Duties as Ratifiers, former legacy leaders
- Duties after proactively taking on an individual action
The most unusual part happens with legacy leaders. Holacracy empowers the subordinates to be peers to the former legacy leaders. To give them feedback, to raise their awareness about their compliance to the shared understanding of the rules. Meanwhile holacracy empowers the legacy leaders to be simple humans again instead of being a savior, a superhero or an infallible icon.
Empowerment is sustainable in holacracy because
- It effectively eliminates micromanagement, that could weaken empowerment. Roles do their own job. Roles are home only in one circle, elected roles have accountabilities in two circles.
- It decomposes traditional leadership, so there is no chance to concentrate all power in one hand to weaken systemic empowerment.
- It defines 'Individual Action' as a way to act for the good of the organization, that may be a seed for later governance
The bottom line is. Empowerment is effective because it builds on intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from purposeful work, achievable challenges, and learning. In my opinion this is exactly what you may experience when you hold and energize roles in a holarchy.