The Four 'Cracies of the Future of Work

Furiously weaving away on a large chunk of the future of work tapestry are four movements ending in the suffix "-cracy", which comes from the Greek word "kratein", meaning "governing power".
01/14/2016 05:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

by Doug Kirkpatrick, US Partner at NuFocus Strategic Group

Furiously weaving away on a large chunk of the future of work tapestry are four movements ending in the suffix "-cracy", which comes from the Greek word "kratein", meaning "governing power". In the case of democracy, for example, the preceding root word, "demos", is Greek for "people". Democracy, therefore, is a state of affairs where the people hold the governing power. Let's consider these four weavers one by one, in no particular order.

Organizational Democracy. Key Advocate: WorldBlu, headed by founder Traci Fenton. Key Sourcebook: The Democratic Enterprise: Liberating your Business with Freedom, Flexibility and Commitment, by Lynda Gratton.

According to WorldBlu's website, organizational democracy is a "system of organization that is based on freedom, instead of fear and control. It's a way of designing organizations to amplify the possibilities of human potential -- and the organization as a whole."

WorldBlu is driven by an audacious vision to have one billion people working in freedom around the world. They hold an annual summit, certify participating companies as freedom-centric workplaces, develop leadership, host a boot camp and conduct research.

While founding WorldBlu (blue is the universally recognized color of freedom), Traci Fenton spent a good ten years, from 1997 to 2007, researching and reading the classics about the theory of democracy. She traveled the world, spoke with experts and attended conferences. In concert with others, she developed a list of ten principles that define a democratic workplace. Equipped with the principles, WorldBlu maintains scorecards that measure the progress of participating companies.

Traci shared her WorldBlu story in a graceful 2010 interview, located here (full disclosure: I was the one asking the questions).

Holacracy. Key Advocate: HolacracyOne, founded by Brian J. Robertson. Key Sourcebook: Holacracy, The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World, by Brian J. Robertson.

Most people who pay even cursory attention to financial and business news are aware of Zappos bold adoption of Holacracy as its fundamental operating system. Brian J. Robertson has been at the center of that adoption. As Brian describes in his book, he met Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh at a conference, where Tony expressed a desire to grow the size of the company while maintaining its entrepreneurial spirit. Thus the collaboration between Robertson and Hsieh began.

Holacracy promises better communication, meetings that work, less bureaucratic drag, and clear accountability. Its core elements include a constitution, a way to define roles and authority, and processes for decision-making and meetings. Holacracy is, as Robertson notes in his book, powering hundreds of diverse organizations around the world, including at his own company.

The lexicon of Holacracy includes the concept of tensions. Robertson describes tension as the human capacity to sense dissonance in the present moment and see the potential for change. Holacratic practices allow people to identify and process those tensions, catalyzing their natural ability to sense and respond to the environment. Roles are grouped into circles, with one circle representing the entire organization. Circles maintain structural autonomy balanced with interdependency for the good of the whole organization.

Brian recently delivered a TEDx talk called "Holacracy: A Radical New Approach to Management."

Teleocracy. Key Advocate: The Center for Teleocracy, personified by author and consultant Dean Tucker. Key Sourcebook: Using the Power of Purpose: How to Overcome Bureaucracy and Achieve Extraordinary Business Success, by Dean Tucker.

Mr. Tucker delivered an intriguing presentation at a conference I attended, and made me curious to learn more. The engineer and Boeing veteran (Project Apollo, the 747) is an articulate exponent of teleocratic principles. The term "teleos" is the Greek word for purpose. Teleocracy, therefore, is a management system based on a sense of clear purpose. Generations X and Y are not interested in remaining loyal to a company for years. They do not fear losing a job, and require a sustainable balance between work and life. At the same time, the complexity and cognitive content of work is rapidly increasing.

How to engage them? The only sustainable engagement strategy is to instill a sense of purpose. The purpose of a company is built on a bedrock foundation of meaning, instantiated in the form of three separate statements: a purpose statement, a values statement and a vision statement. The purpose statement articulates why the enterprise exists in the first place (what is its raison d'être?). The values statement describes how the people in the company are expected to treat all stakeholders, not just customers and suppliers. Finally, the vision statement describes a desired future state, something to which all employees can aspire.

Organizational teleocracy encourages self-organizing teams, open book management (where employees can read and understand financial statements, and see the impact of their activities on the bottom line), employees as a high-priority class of enterprise stakeholders, novel compensation schemas, and statistically sound, time-based performance measures that trigger conversations where employees are free to tell each other the truth. Teleocracy is designed to address the deep-seated need of people to experience meaning and purpose in their work.

Sociocracy. Key Advocate: The Sociocracy Consulting Group, headed by CEO John Buck. Key Sourcebook: We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy, by John Buck and Sharon Villines.

John Buck is a thoughtful, inquisitive proponent of sociocracy in organizations. His consultancy, The Sociocracy Consulting Group, advertises "Responsive, Effective, Adaptive, Transparent Organizations." The group offers training, facilitation, sociocracy implementation and mentoring services. Promised outcomes include improved capacity, better results, greater harmony, reduced overhead, distributed authority and a focus on work that matters.

The heart of sociocracy lies in three principles. The first principle is that of consent -- the corridor through which all policy decisions must pass. The second principle is that of circles -- semi-autonomous organs within the overall organizational structure. Circles use consent-based decision processes to establish policies within their domain of responsibility. Distributed leadership insures that everyone affected by a decision has a voice. The third principle is that of "double-linking": establishing feedback loops between circles (I won't explore the nuances of double-linking here). The principles are supported by "apps", including transparent elections of individuals to roles within circles, membership (adding or removing members of circles), and performance reviews of circle members by fellow circle members.

Sociocracy isn't new: the first sociocratic organization was founded in 1926 by Kees Boeke and wife Betty Cadbury (both educators) in the Netherlands, where they started a school based on sociocratic consent principles that still operates today.

Organizations can and will take many paths to the more vibrant, engaging, free, sustainable, respectful and high-performing work environments of the future. If history is a reliable guide, the four 'cracies (perhaps to be joined by others yet developed) will command attention from decision-makers seeking the right path to follow for their respective organizations.

Doug Kirkpatrick is the author of Beyond Empowerment, The Age of the Self-Managed Organization. He is an organizational change consultant, TEDx and keynote speaker, executive coach, writer, educator and SPHR.

He played the first season of his business career in the manufacturing sector, principally with The Morning Star Company of Sacramento, California, a world leader in the food industry, as a financial controller and administrator. He now engages with the Morning Star Self-Management Institute, Great Work Cultures, The Center for Innovative Cultures and other vibrant organizations and leaders to co-create the future of management. Contact Doug at Twitter @Redshifter3.

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