Monday, November 30, 2009

You Get What You Measure

In the Holacracy Community of Practice session today, we talked about how to align an organization around its purpose. I forwarded the idea that in organization theory today it is a common thought that "you get what you measure." This means that whatever aspect of the organization you measure and how you determine success/failure in that aspect, will determine how the organization will operate, perform and align around its purpose. This is another way of expressing "contextual thinking" as how and what you measure sets a very powerful context to operate within.

It is not only the explicit measurements but also implicit expectations and unwritten rules of operation that have a powerful effect on the organization. I have worked with organizations that explicitly express a desire for innovation and have explicit rewards for innovation, but have an implicit cultural of fear of failure to such a degree that they find it impossible to embrace anything new or different. This creates a very painful and frustrating experience for anyone wishing to innovate, thus squashing any change.

Holacracy expresses the tenet that an organization can start from where it is and iteratively change its culture and operation. This is very true as the only way to get to any destination is to start from where you are standing. But to sustain any progress, an organization must quickly look at what is measured and rewarded/punished and start changing that before anything other than superficial behavior will start to change. Otherwise, the context set by
what is measured and rewarded/punished will strongly force the organization right back into the original set of behaviors.

An organization with significant experience and investment in practicing Holacracy will be able adjust what and how they measure dynamically to align with its evolving purpose. Once a critical mass is achieved, the practices of Holacracy act as a positive feedback loop to propel the organization along its purpose defined path.

Holacracy explicitly defines a place for metrics. The practices hint at metrics and provide guidance in developing metrics. Most conventional metrics are oriented towards producing stockholder value. Holacracy refines these concepts by defining two categories of metrics, Key Performance Indicators which are similar to the conventional metrics and a new set called Key Health Indicators which reflect the health of a circle towards achieving its purpose.
But there is not yet an explicit set of "starter" metrics that that can help a conventional organization move towards self sufficiency in Holacracy. Discovering a good starter set will require many implementations and analysis.

The critical nature of the "you get what you measure" mantra in discovering the necessary metrics early in the process requires an experienced, observant and sensitive hand to facilitate successful implementation. The intensive CHP training class provides a good head start in developing this experience. In addition, support from others experienced in Holacracy is also necessary to increase the probability of a successful implementation.

Friday, November 27, 2009


In the book The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World, the psychiatrist, Howard C. Cutler, MD, is discussing with The Dali Lama which is more likely to promote happiness, Individualism or Collectivism. The Dali Lama side steps this dichotomy and responds with the answer that a balance of both is needed. A deep discussion of this is documented in the book, but I will summarize my understanding of those points and relate them to how Holacracy is structured to generate happiness.

Extreme individualism typically results in alienation, isolation, loneliness and anti-social behavior. For most of us this would be a very unhappy existence. But, individualism also engenders accomplishment and productivity as well as a sense of pride in these things which adds to the individuals sense of happiness.

Extreme collectivism leads to the subjugation of the individual to the group. The individual can lose their identity and essentially become property to the group. The needs of the individual are sacrificed to the needs of the group. However, being a part of a community has many benefits such as better health, lower mortality, less crime and corruption. This sense of connection and belonging plays an important part in human happiness.

The balance between these two poles is a system of dynamic tension that needs frequent monitoring and adjustment to maintain. Without the regular maintenance, the system falls out of balance and moves to one of the extremes with a very high probability of atrocities applied to some part of the population. We see this regularly in civil wars where neighbors who were working side by side in a friendly manner one year, end up killing each other the next.

is an organizational practice designed to maintain the delicate dynamic-tension balance between the individual and the group. It is a practice in that you need to perform the behaviors regularly to keep the system operating smoothly, thus maintaining and maximizing the happiness potential. Holacracy does not prevent pain, but, in fact, increases the awareness of pain as facing reality head on is painful. But, Holacracy does provide effective tools and processes to resolve the issues causing pain. Each painful item is processed as it is uncovered and not to fester and grow. Observing the resolution progression of these painful items leads to a sense of accomplishment and, therefor, contributes to happiness. Knowing there is reasonable resolution to painful issues will lead to a greater capacity to hold and process them.

supports moderate individualism as individuals provide the initiative and muscle to get things done. This individualism is framed within the context of the group via regular governance meetings where the group, using an integrative decision making process, resolves tensions between individuals and refines how all of the individuals will work together. This individual action coupled with an integrative governance system provides a powerful environment to maintain the cohesiveness of the community, the sense of belonging and being important to the community as well as the health and needs of the individual. The group benefits from the individuals and the individuals benefit from the group providing a positive feedback loop of general happiness.

An important feature of Holacracy meetings which fosters a sense of community is the check-in round and closing round. In the check-in round each person has the space to express their current feelings and transition into the purpose of the meeting. This allows everyone in the meeting to understand each other on a more personal level and better able to interpret their responses. This not only allows more effecting decisions but also fosters a powerful sense of connection and community as everyone is allowed to see everyone else at the meeting in a deeper more personal level. The closing round creates space for feedback and for sharing learning. This sharing or what you got from the meeting is again a powerful creator of connection and shared accomplishment. These characteristics are significant contributors to happiness.

extends the above model from an individual group to a large hierarchical organization using a a model of recursively embedding groups within groups and a double linking system of representation. In this hierarchy a sub-group will appear as two individuals in the higher group. A lead link to carry the aim from the higher context to the sub-group and report the progress of the sub-group to the higher context. A representative link to carry the heath and other needs information from the sub-group to the higher context. With these two links the sub-group can fully participate in the community of the higher context just like the individuals participate in the community of the the sub-group. Again, the higher group benefits from the sub-group and the sub-group benefits from the higher group providing a positive feedback loop of general happiness.

The tight feedback loops, the power of individual action, the space for connection, the community created by integrating information to create decisions, all work together to maintain and move forward the dynamic-tension balance necessary for the creation of happiness.