Learnings from the 100% remote organization Convert.com
For this interview, I caught up with Morgan Legge of Convert.com, to unpack her experiences implementing Holacracy there, and her journey learning about what it means to work in a truly holacratic structure.
To introduce me to Convert.com’s history with Holacracy, she told me the story of Dennis van der Heijden, the CEO of Convert, enjoying some time off at the weekend when he got a ping on his phone. Someone needed the go-ahead from him, to spend $35 on a piece of software so they could move their project forward. In what, for many leaders, would be a non-moment, Dennis was struck by the epiphany that if he was the bottleneck for this, something in their system was seriously failing him and his employees. Why was he approving $35 for someone he hired, someone he trusts?
For Dennis and for Convert.com, this was the beginning of change, and to try to function as a company in a different way. Bolstered by Brian Robertson’s TED talk which addressed Dennis’ exact problem and offered a way to bring new structure to our ‘messy’ power relationships.
One of the things he did around this time was to call Morgan Legge.
A quick intro to Convert.com
In many ways, Convert was the perfect place for these ideas. A fully remote team spread across the globe, Convert.com are in the optimization software market: digital folks committed to living out entrepreneurial values, equality and inclusivity.
Morgan Legge — HR Champion and Holacracy Bootstrapper
“I listen to ‘us’, cultivate the common threads and celebrate the differences.”
When Morgan came to Convert.com to explore the implementation of Holacracy, she had a rich background in problem solving and experience in assessing things from the big picture perspective right down to their minute details. At this point, however, she didn’t totally know what Holacracy was…
So, what is Holacracy?
“Yes, there is miscommunication. Yes, it takes team members time to adjust to each other’s quirks and habits. Yes, there is chaos — sometimes. However, practicing Holacracy makes it easy to reacquaint with the purpose, align with the vision and identify priorities to get back on track. Without Holacracy, the massive injection of diversity (and the associated advantage of innovation) could never have been realized or leveraged.” – Morgan Legge
In Morgan’s own words, there are a lot of rules, and there is a lot of transparency: it’s a self-adapting system. One of the most important things is giving yourself enough freedom. You know the purpose of your role — how you fulfill that role is up to you, and those choices then define your accountabilities. This creates a network of leaders, leading their own roles. Personal purposes align more easily with company purpose, and everybody gets empowered.
What you end up with is not an imposed structure but rather a collection of self-identified roles — people blossom with their new found freedom, trusted to make decisions quickly and without tiresome checks and processes, others find out that they are more comfortable as team players, or dedicated specialists.
One of Morgan’s roles is being ‘HR Champion’, she knows the purpose of that role is to provide support for internal and external people in the company: she does whatever she sees fit in order to achieve that purpose. Another role she has is ‘Holacracy Bootstrapper’ — which is why Morgan is the one from Convert.com who is giving this interview to LEAP Lab (in her capacity in that role).
The Journey — how did people react?
From excitement to enactment, and all the chaos in between…
Part of what Morgan learned through implementing Holacracy at Convert.com was not to take the generic model for Holacracy and squeeze it down to fit over the existing organization, but to build a new structure from scratch using Holacracy as the tool.
“I would say that our journey has really been up and down (you get the initial euphoria and then it plummets). And when people start to see the positive aspects of how they can create change and iterate roles and have their problems (we call them ‘tensions’ within Holacracy) adjusted within the Holacracy framework, we see an increase in adoption in terms of mindset.
Anything that you learn for the first time, you’re going to hit barriers! So then there are set-backs. It’s up and down!”
It’s not a simple process, but rather an ongoing conversation. By its very nature Holacracy works in a way that’s in opposition to most working environments, and most workers’, more traditional conditioning. So there’s unlearning to do, before the real freedom Holacracy can give you starts to work.
3 Years Later…
Convert.com, now 3 years after that call, have decided to fully adopt Holacracy. After 3 years of experimenting with other tools and theories, considering maybe developing a hybrid model, they are now ‘jumping in with both feet’, to grow and scale fully within the Holacracy structure.
“Now that we have decided this is what we are doing, the decision have given us breathing room. It’s now also in our handbook. That you need to be onboarded with Holacracy to be part of Convert.com — you need to be ready for this mindset, learn it or else the fit with Convert.com isn’t the right one for you.”
Want to read more?
Interested in using Holacracy for work? You can read more about Convert.com’s 100% Holacratic approach and how it works alongside their 100% remote approach, here. Or watch Brian Robertson’s TED talk that inspired it all, here.