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Ruben Timmerman



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How to keep employees motivated: Lose the bosses


Employee engagement is a critical challenge for HR: how do you get your employees involved in your organisation in order to optimise their performance? Enabling self-direction in a transparent system seems to have positive effects.

We adopted Holacracy here at Springest in 2012, and view this new agile organisational method as the best way to get people engaged. Is your organisation ready to abandon traditional hierarchy too?

In Holacracy, the organisation puts emphasis on iterative governance, adaptive processes, and self-organisation. The term comes from ‘holarchy’, a system composed of ‘holons’ or units that are autonomous and self-reliant, but also dependent on the greater whole of which they are a part of.

Holacracy, as an organisational method, assumes that all employees are capable of working in flat teams, called ‘circles’, that are self-regulating. Authority and decision-making are distributed throughout these circles and are no longer placed on a pedestal.

Lose hierarchy, increase motivation

Getting rid of traditional top-down management might seem like a scary thing for many corporate leaders and managers, but doing so may have more of a positive impact than you would expect.

With Holacracy an organisation does not wind up in a state of total anarchy. The organisational method comes with a set of clearly defined rules and all employees do have to adhere to those rules. The system does, however, prevent the situation in which people are ‘bossed around’ and told what to do or how to do it. And being bossed around to do things you do not agree upon is a big motivation killer. Especially if your objections to certain activities or tasks are not being heard or taken into account.

Raising the levels of autonomy

One of the premises in Holacracy is that people are autonomous creatures, who can work together in teams. Springest found that high levels of autonomy are beneficial for both individual efficiency and motivation, as long as all accountabilities and priorities are clearly defined and communicated.

In Holacracy, all employees are accountable for and are ‘managers’ of their own roles. Roles are the building blocks of the structure and the accountabilities that come with theses roles serve the purpose of the organisation. They are created in the circles and the people who energise the roles are fully accountable for their own results. Everyone can see who is responsible for what and the circle regulates itself as they report their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and project updates to each other.

Everyone wants to be influential

Holacracy gives a lot of power to all employees. Not only over their own roles, but also to contribute to the improvement of the entire organisation.

Holacracy ensures the possibility to influence the organisation by involving everyone in its governance processes. At this moment, we have 33 employees and everyone gets plenty of room to express their thoughts and ideas during structured meetings. Allthough no one can tell anyone else what they have to do or how to do it, if anyone feels there is a certain tension, they can bring it up.

The system provides the space and time for all tensions to be heard and processed. Change is envisioned as a positive thing and as long as the suggested change does not cause the organisation any harm, it is safe enough to try. If it fails, it will return to the governance later on as a new tension anyway. Everyone has a voice in the organisation and they can use it as they please.

Transparency stimulates

When tensions are envisioned as fuel for the organisation, and not as a cause of anxiety or frustration, people will start to see their tensions as a chance for improvement. According to Timmerman, being open is an important prerequisite for successful Holacracy adoption.

Nothing is to be swept under the table. Everything can be discussed amongst the team within structured meetings. This seems to have a motivating effect on our workforce.

Another way we enable transparency is by using an accessible tool to keep track of every project and task that is done within the team. This way, everyone can ‘get things done’, David Allen’s GTD style, and no work will go unnoticed. People can comment on updates and nice accomplishments on our internal communications platform and express their engagement by liking each other’s efforts. The transparency is necessary to keep everyone well informed of all current activities and projects within the organisation, and it is beneficial for individual motivation.

Noticed workers, happy workers

Implementing Holacracy may not be the easiest way to work on employees’ motivation, but it may be a very effective one. There are many pro’s and con’s of the method, but the one thing all organisations can learn, is that leading-by-letting-go does in fact work and motivated employees do obtain better results.

People ‘in the trenches’ often know the best way to do the job, so trust them, or hire new people that you can trust. Clear communication about progress and set-backs is not only a way of keeping all activities aligned with the corporate strategy, but is also a great way of getting everyones work noticed and valued. And, as logical as this may seem, people tend to like to work with a clear purpose and get noticed in their organisation.

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Ruben Timmerman


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