Zappos HR team pilots holocracy


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Zappos' HR team has piloted an ‘holocratic’ approach to OD, becoming the first function in the online retailer to do so.

Holocracy is a flat democratic management style, which replaces the traditional hierarchy. Zappos, which has a history of unusual management, is the first big company to roll out the model, where “everyone is a leader”, according to HR director Hollie Delaney.

She told HR magazine that as the “best way to help people is to lead by example”, it made sense for HR to trial the new approach before it was rolled out more widely.

“We thought it best to start with HR as we are guardians of our culture,” Delaney added. “Leaders go from directing work to inspiring people. People need to pick up that authority and run with it.”

Holocracy has now been rolled out to half the company, with all 1,500 employees set to be practicing by the end of the year. 

The importance of trust

Delaney added that trust is a huge component of Zappos’ success in people management. “You need to figure out what you want to be as a company, hold to that and trust people to carry that vision out,” she said.

Delaney said she "grew up" in a more traditional HR structure before joining Zappos eight years ago.

“In other HR jobs, we’re always looking for the 5% who are going to mess things up,” she said. “Don’t manage for that 5%; manage for the 95%. Do what’s right for the majority of your company. Don’t worry about the 5% that may do something wrong; worry about the 95% that does things right and set up an environment that helps them thrive.” 

Delaney is speaking at the Global Trust Conference in London on 11 September. It is the only conference that is focused on the impact of trust in transforming businesses. For more on Zappos’ experience with holocracy, see the September issue of HR magazine.

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