In March 2017 it will be ten years since HolacracyOne started to spread the practice of Holacracy in the world. Working on a new operating system, organizations and the people in it are no longer limited to the employee-employer relationship that HolacracyOne co-founder Thomas Thomison set out to make obsolete. After ten years of maturing the holacratic practice he is now ready to take the next step with his new organization encode.org.
Encode.org started a new wave in the world of organizations that goes beyond employment and aligns the people structure and the legal structure of an organization with the heart of it: doing purposeful work powered by a Holacracy operating system.
Combining the Organization (structuring the work for a certain purpose), it’s Association (the people structure) and the Company (the legal structure) they initially created the “Self-Organizing Enterprise”. Meanwhile they already arrived at another name for this construct: the “For-Purpose Enterprise”. The wrestling with the terminology shows the dynamical evolution that is going on right now. In the middle of the Self-Organizing Enterprise is the Purpose Agent. The Purpose Agent is always part of the three containers, so via his or her financial shares , a long term legal relationship and also by being part of the Association, the collective of individual Purpose Agents sharing the same purpose.
With Energized.org we also started this journey to adjust our legal structure and create a For-Purpose Enterprise. The kind of entity described above is so new that we feel like we’re sowing on fertile land but don’t know what result we will harvest exactly. This is very exciting and we’re really looking forward to the result.
To get a clearer picture of what our organization will look like in a couple of months we talked to Thomas Thomison who supports Energized.org on this journey to become fully Self-Organizing (or living, earning and working for-purpose).
Being fully self-organized as an individual
In the middle of the For-Purpose entity is the Purpose Agent. We asked Thomas Thomison what this kind of individual is like. “A Purpose Agent is something different than an employee. Even different than an enlightened employee working for an enlightened organization. When we have a Self-Organizing Enterprise that is structured legally and organizationally for purpose, then that means our relationship to that thing changes and instead of being employees or subcontractors we actually become independent agents of purpose. We become self-organized ourselves choosing where to spend our time energy and talent towards purposes that we care about. As an individual I want to be attracted by a purpose greater than myself. I want to help bring that purpose in the world. And that’s what a Purpose Agent is.”
Being in more than one enterprise
What might be even more fascinating than the internal structure of a For-Purpose Enterprise is the way a Purpose Agent can go shopping for purpose. This individual can have multiple work relationships. It’s no longer bound to a single employee-employer relationship. A Purpose Agent is free to choose multiple purposes and multiple relationships (think “organizational polyamory”). It’s a way of making a distinction from the employee.
Thomas Thomison talks about his own way of living as a Purpose Agent for multiple entities. “When we have entities – For-Purpose Enterprises – with the same legal structure it allows individuals to be a legal partner of an entity with partial focus. I’m a living example of that. I allocate full focus to encode.org and partial focus toward HolacracyOne and one additional For-Purpose Enterprise.
So I have three relationships. These For-Purpose organizations are all operating with the same similar legal structure and we all play by the same rules; the Holacracy constitution. So nothing new for me there. And we all have an Association set of norms for a group or collective of individuals. All with a different focus and purpose.”
The future of work: purpose is key
“Purpose is key to this whole system of individuals working and living in an enterprise. And although a Purpose Agent has his or her own purpose in life; when we talk about purpose we are focussing on the overarching evolutionary purpose for the entity. It’s all about the purpose of something separate from ourselves.
That purpose gets unpacked in different ways. Organizationally it is unpacked in roles, accountabilities, (sub)circles, structure, policies. Holacracy informs us with a ruleset that guides us towards the purpose of the Organization. Legally the purpose gets unpacked by assets, property, investment stakes. In the Association are also stakes: relationships, cultural roles and behaviors.”
“The encode.org purpose ‘Going Beyond Employment. Liberating Purposeful Work’ is the overarching purpose for that enterprise. We already shifted the purpose once. By doing the work we had a better understanding from what the purpose was.
You come to understand the sense of your purpose in your work. Same comes for us individually. I understand my own sense of purpose by being connected to my work. It’s through the doing of the work that the entity comes to understand it’s purpose.”
Large ecosystem of For-Purpose Enterprises
Thomas Thomison knows what his ideal world looks like. Which is of course completely aligned with purpose.
“In the future I would like the world to be a place where we could have a very large ecosystem of For-Purpose Enterprises. With a whole community of Purpose Agents that can go shopping for purpose that they care about. So Purpose Agents can say “this is a purpose I care about and I want to contribute my talent and energy to bringing this purpose into the world.”’
“This is generational work: it took ten years for me with HolacracyOne to get where we are today. It will be ten years for this to become a thing, if it becomes a thing. So these are generational kind of moves. But that said there are huge waves in the world like peer-to-peer models, self-organization, for-purpose, evolutionary purpose, conscious business, teal organization’s, purpose driven, this is in the zeitgeist everywhere. So this is not going away. This is only getting more.”