Whenever I’m confronted with a nutty-sounding idea from the Wonka factory that is corporate management theory, my first thought is, I’ve got to try this on my family!
Take Holacracy™, an innovative concept of questionable soundness that has taken the normally reliable shoe purveyor Zappos by storm. We won’t dwell on the fact that when you say “holacracy” out loud, it sounds like “whole lotta crazy.” After all, Holacracy™ appears great in theory: it’s a flat organizational structure that blows up the hierarchy of any group, replacing traditional reporting chains with things like distributed authority, governance meetings and de minimis allocation. Which is basically management gobbledygook for “nobody’s in charge.” Gone are the days of dictatorial CEOs! Gone, in fact, are CEOs altogether: Holacracy™ employees have no titles. They are all just “workers.” Think Oompa Loompas: mostly indistinguishable, all very busy, running around and distributing authority. Even Tony Hsieh, the person formerly known as the CEO of Zappos, is now a worker. Although he’s a worker who can order everyone around him to embrace Holacracy™, or else. Which would seem to violate the Holacracy™ constitution, but maybe I’m being too literal.
Still, can you take a radical corporate system and make it work at home? Knowing that all my sons want in life is to bike without helmets, eat Trader Joe’s frozen macaroni and cheese three times a day and play Xbox 360 until their eyeballs dry up and fall out, I was sure Holacracy™ would appeal to them. And for me, well, it’s pure exhaustion to constantly nag uninterested children in an effort to improve their lives. (They don’t care if their teeth fall out, so why should I?) Plus, like overlords and bosses the world over, I am fairly unpopular with the people under my rule. Perhaps a flat system would allow me to stop nagging, not to mention make everyone love me more. Sign me up!
Day 1: Excitement Considered calling family meeting to kick off Holacracy™ but instead sent 4,570-word email to troops as Worker Tony Hsieh did at end of March. Subject line: No More “Parents.” Hsieh gave his employees one month to either adopt Holacracy™ or take a package; I gave my family five days.
Day 2: Confusion Got off to rocky start as we spent morning arguing over what everyone would be called. Parent/child construct no longer appropriate. Sixteen-year-old lobbied for Omnipotent Hot Dude (him) and Incompetent Servants (everyone else). Had to keep explaining new system. Turns out 16-year-old did not read email (duh) and was not absorbing the concept of Holacracy™ but playing Dots on phone, which older people formerly known as Mom and Dad can no longer control. Eight-year-old crying by end of discussion because, as it turns out, he likes doing homework and being told when to go to bed.
Day 3: Euphoria Kids did not brush teeth, get dressed or eat anything not found in the snack aisle of Stop & Shop. No one answered when school attendance office called as no one thinks “answering phone” is an authority distributed in his direction. Eight-year-old still teary but beginning to see benefit of watching SpongeBob SquarePants all day. Husband and I undone by vast amount of free time created by not having to nag anyone. (Note to self: What is our purpose?!?)
Day 4: Conflict Giant dustup over who will feed dogs. Parents somehow blamed despite clear Holacracy™ rules dismantling leadership structure. Wiseacre 16-year-old claimed self-management means FIFA 14, Dots and skateboarding. Spied 8-year-old in tears again because TV has lost its charm and he’s worried he will forget everything he knows about subtraction. Attempts to reassure him that Common Core math is ridiculous anyway seemed to make things worse. Tried Holacracy™ practice of “processing tensions” but got distracted by dogs trying to turn on stove.
Day 5: Abandonment Woke up at noon to find kids had already left home. Devious 8-year-old used unlimited screen time to find home address of second-grade teacher, who appreciates structure, understands Common Core math and is younger and cuter than I am. Sixteen-year-old left house, trailed by dogs, in search of a ride to Shake Shack. Net result: significant portion of workforce took promised package. Exactly what happened at Zappos! But worse! Yes, Zappos lost 210 people, but that was only 14% of its employees.
And so we return to whole lotta crazy. While lovely in theory, Holacracy™ overlooks a fundamental fact: sometimes we just need someone else to be in charge. Maybe it’s a person making bad decisions at your office, or maybe it’s a mom nagging you to brush your teeth. But we all need someone we can disagree with, push against, complain about, resent. And roll our eyes at when she leaves the room, right before we go back to playing Dots on our phone.
Van Ogtrop is the managing editor of Real Simple
This appears in the June 08, 2015 issue of TIME.
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