Zappos head of people happiness Hollie Delaney has revealed she “absolutely hated” holacracy when it was rolled out at the online shoe retailer.
Speaking at the HR Directors Business Summit in Birmingham, Delaney described Zappos’ unique workplace culture and its transition to holacracy – a flat democratic management style that replaces the traditional hierarchy.
Holacracy distributes power across clear roles, removing the need for micro-management and increasing autonomy. Delaney described it as “organising around the work, not the people” and making the concept of the “hero leader” irrelevant.
Zappos’ HR team was the first function to pilot the new approach. Delaney said that although she was “optimistic when [she] went into it”, at first she “absolutely hated it”.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. I gave all my roles away,” she added. “At one point I felt like I had no job and that I might be fired.”
However, eventually Delaney said she was able to look at her job and “propose new roles and do new things”. “Leadership became more fulfilling,” she explained. “I was no longer the boss who people had to listen to, I was the person people came to because they respect what I have to say. People were coming to me, seeking me out. It was a much more valuable experience.”
Other benefits of holacracy include breaking down bureaucracy, giving everyone a voice, and increasing efficiency, she added.
Delaney also spoke about other elements of Zappos’ workplace culture and the HR processes that support it such as ‘The Offer’, where every new hire is offered a month’s salary to leave the organisation after one month. “You have the opportunity to decide if you fit in,” she said. “It’s a crazy place – loud and fun – but it’s not for everyone.”
Additionally, Zappos has replaced performance reviews with “culture reviews” that are made up of behavioural-based questions that link to the company’s 10 core values. “Embracing culture is everyone’s job,” she said. “No one person can carry culture.”