Mimicking a Manager – Is There an App for That?

by Jennifer Miller on April 13, 2015

in Leadership, Workplace Issues

app-67760_640Apparently, there is and it can be found here on the HolacracyOne website. But before you get excited about imitating your boss via a snarky simulation you download on your phone or tablet, be warned: this “app” isn’t about mocking your boss, it’s about eliminating her job as a manager. Or, possibly giving her a new title called “Advocate.”

The Holacracy movement has been in the news again since Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh announced in an all-company email that the company was moving completely to this form of leaderless, self-organizing organizational structure. Like all things that challenge long-held beliefs about work, Holacracy has its share of detractors and supporters.

As I dig into learning more about this philosophy of looking at how people work together, I am both fascinated and skeptical. First, from an organizational perspective, I question whether people will (metaphorically speaking) approve of being compared to a mushroom or a fern.

From a more practical standpoint, can an app actually mimic a manager? This “app” that can be found on the HolacracyOne website is actually a PDF and to my way of thinking, it’s more of policy guide designed, in their words, to help “translate many talent management functions held by a traditional manager into a role called an ‘Advocate’.” So, if you were to use this app at work, the functions of a manager aren’t being fully eliminated, they’re being redistributed throughout the organization, or to people who hold the title of “Advocate.”

By the way, this app is three pages long. In less than 800 words, you have the template for responsibilities related to “compensation, hiring, firing, and other people-oriented systems.” And to think of all those college courses, management training programs and front-line leadership experiences I invested in before I became a manager. Was it all a waste of time? I could have just downloaded this app!

I’m being facetious with that last statement, but I have genuine concerns about how this app may be perceived by those making the transition to a more self-directed organizational structure. The summary of the app reads, “This app defines a structure and set of rules to handle basic partnership functions for an Organization, in a way that mimics the talent management functions of a traditional management hierarchy.” And, indeed, it does define the structure and the rules, but nowhere within the document are there any “how to” instructions. Shouldn’t an app allow you to do something? If you downloaded the latest version of Candy Crush, would you be satisfied with just reading the game’s rules?

Yes, I’m engaging in word play, but if we’re talking about revolutionizing the way people work, words matter. This app in no way allows you to “mimic” your manager (or his or her managerial functions), nor does it allow anyone to even successfully be an “Advocate” (which seems very similar to a manager.) To “mimic” means “to copy or imitate closely, especially in speech, expression, and gesture” and there is no way an 800 word document will ever help someone successfully do that.

Now, before the Holacracy supporters come at me with pitchforks, know this: I support many of the ideas that surround Holacracy, especially regarding distributed authority and self-governance. At the same time, I don’t think that “redistributing” the talent management functions will significantly change the way humans interact. It’s just shuffling the pieces of the workplace into a new configuration.

To suggest that there is an app that will mimic the countless interpersonal skills that high-quality managers enact on behalf of their team members and their companies is a simplistic approach to a highly complex issue. All workplaces (Holacracy or otherwise) deserve a more apt description of the leadership function in their organization, no matter what we call that function.


Photo credit: Pixabay




{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jennifer Miller April 13, 2015 at 8:30 am

Hi, Chery,

The app is linked right at the top of this blog post. I’d love to get your impressions once you’ve read it. Surely there’s a blog post for you in there somewhere!

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