Holacracy Community of Practice Archive, 2015-2019 Community Holacracy Web Site

Advice Process - Antithetical to or Aligned with Holacracy?

Folks - 

At about the same time that our original team made effort ultimately resulting in us adopting Holacracy, we read The Decision Maker by Dennis Bakke and Reinventing Organization by Frederic Laloux.

Our leader types at that time may have conflated some concepts, but urged us to begin using the "Advice Process" as newly-empowered Decision-Makers now that we had the distributed authority provided by Holacracy.

Before I'm accused of being too prosaic, the question:

Is use of - or better asked, is required use of the "Advice Process" for operational decisions in opposition to or in alignment with the concepts in Holacracy?

The short - my interpreted creation, as there is no crafted process in the Bakke materials:

How to choose a Decision-Maker / How to use Advice Process

The Leader leads by choosing a decision-maker

  • PROXIMITY.  Who’s close to the issue?  Are they well acquainted with the context, the day-to-day details, and the big pictures
  • PERSPECTIVE.  Proximity matters, but so does perspective. (objectivity)  Sometimes an outside perspective can be just as valuable.
  • EXPERIENCE.  Has this person had experience making similar decisions?  What were the consequences of those decisions?
  • WISDOM.  What kinds of decisions has this person made in other areas?  Were they good ones?  Do you have confidence in this person?

The Decision-Maker then uses the Advice Process.  In a decision-maker culture, the decision-maker makes the final call but must ask for advice.  Deciding who to get advice from can influence as successful outcome.  

Get advice from:

  • EXPERIENCE.  Has this person had experience with this problem?  There’s no teacher like experience.
  • POSITION. People in different positions see different things.  The decision-maker asks
    • a leader
    • a peer
    • someone below them in the hierarchy
    • and if circumstance warrant, experts from outside the organization
  • RESPONSIBILITY. Decisions have consequence - and decision-makers should be held accountable for theirs.  At the same time nobody is right all the time.  The most important part of any decision is that the decision-maker fully engages with the advice process, not just that he or she gets it ’right’
  • OWNERSHIP.  When people are asked for advice they start to feel ownership.  Ideally, everyone who offers advice works for the success of the project as if it were their own.  The advice process isn’t just about getting the right answer.  It’s about building a strong team and creating a process of communication that will improve all decisions in an organization.

Accountability: After the decision is made, the decision-maker follows through by communicating and measuring the results of the decision.

Your input greatly appreciated!!

9 Replies
Keith Jarvis

One clarifying bit - instead of 'Choosing a Decision-Maker', in our hybrid approach that part would be replaced by whoever has authority via domain or governance interpretation.  Then additional some adaptation might need to be made re: 'a leader' and 'someone below them in the hierarchy'.

Our inquiry is more about the concept, and whether it verges on consensus-building or majority-approval vs entrepreneurial responsibility (Brian's 'Be A Ferrari').

I believe the idea or request to include Advice Process is itself well-intentioned, but I am a bit concerned about the ideological disparity and then also about the potential logistical drag that required incorporation of this methodology might bring into the mix.

Brian Robertson

Hey Keith,

I think your instinct of concern here is spot-on.  While I think the advice-process approach is a leap forward from conventional management, I think it actually pulls backwards on the paradigm Holacracy aims for.  At least, it does when required as a blanket policy, without some more distinctions (e.g. which decisions require it? There are a hundred decisions I make every day, from tiny to big, and from easy-to-change to stuck-with-for-awhile - which require seeking advice, and why?).

That said, the wisdom behind requiring an advice process still seems very relevant in some contexts in a Holacracy-powered organization.  I just wouldn't require it by default, and instead let tensions drive what's needed.  Perhaps certain roles need an accountability for seeking advice - if so, great, figure that out and add an accountability.  And perhaps there are some decisions that you always want to require getting advice for (or more than just getting advice: integrating objections) - if so, great, define a policy to cover those, based on real tensions.  As just one example of how we've integrated the wisdom/value I see in the advice process, without the pull backwards you're sensing, see this policy of HolacracyOne (and note it came from real tensions, not theory):

In any role, before you implement a major decision that will be significantly difficult or expensive to reverse, you must first share your intent to do so with any role that may reasonably be significantly impacted by the decision. You must then delay your decision for a reasonable timeframe to allow those roles to consider the potential decision, respond to any clarifying questions, and consider any reactions shared. If any role so impacted raises a valid Objection to your intended decision, you must further integrate that Objection before proceeding, unless a relevant Lead Link (or another duly authorized role) issues a prioritization decision that indicates the Objection would be a significantly lower priority for the circle to resolve than the tension behind the proposal.

Finally, let me add a question:  This proposal your colleague is making to require an advice process; where is it coming from?  Is there a real situation that has surfaced a concrete tension for a specific role?  Or is it coming from theory - from the abstract idea that an advice process is a good thing?  If the latter, kill it with the rules for testing proposals - it has no place in a Holacracy-powered company.  If the former, that's awesome - get the concrete example you're trying to solve for on the table, and figure out what policy or accountability would effectively dissolve that one tension.  In other words, keep it evolutionary...

Hope that helps!

- Brian

Keith Jarvis

Brian -

Very appreciative of your thorough response.  So here's the real scenario, as briefly stated as I can.

The Tension arises from a few of our Areas/Centers - consider it from a business model sort of like local operating entity (just don't say the word franchise!).  The institutional history includes long-held distrust of a board/excom making demands of the local units re: operational policy and procedure - and in particular about those units being somehow unable to ask for or get what they want.

The specific request comes from a new 'Area Steward' who, in request to sign the 2016 annual agreement, balked at the idea that MKP USA Support Services can make changes in operational policy that affect Areas.  That of course, has been true for years, that the Board could enact change during the course of the year that affected the local unit in dynamic response to conditions.

In discussions with the individual the idea of getting Area approval was discussed, but the local units do not in fact any have operational authority beyond putting into action what the central organization allows.  Getting an approval from the Areas, in democratic-style voting is a concept I think even this individual saw as troublesome.

Hence, the colleague bringing up the advice process and somehow requiring all authority-empowered Roles to have to use it when making any operational change regarding the local units.  Which of course is a great majority of what operations does, and finding a way to parse out the grey areas would be challenging.

Bernard Marie Chiquet

Hey Brian,

That's funny, one of our clients just asked me about the same subject "willing to code with Holacracy the advice process as defined in Laloux's book" and I answered the same way you just did.

Within iGi, we've looked carefully to this process and immediately rejected it as there was no tension behind.

Brian Robertson

Hey Keith - Hmm, that definitely leads to some more thoughts and questions, though more than I can engage with in writing at the moment - happy to share more though if you join our next coach office hours and ask real-time (I'm hosting the one later in January), and maybe others can chime in here to help in the meantime!



At our 17-person custom software development company we've been working on our Holacracy practice for a little over 2 years now. Last year, based on multiple tensions (mostly about spending money), we adopted a variation of the Advice process. So, anyone can make a decision, but everyone expects you to consider who will be significantly affected by it and that you confer with them beforehand.

In practice, this works well for us and is basically an implicit policy in the style of what Brian says H1 has. This got me thinking that we should definitely make it explicit in our governance records  


Karilen Mays

I think spending decisions could be a great case to experiment with codifying a version of the Advice process. I hope you will let us know what you come up with Dadi!

Koen Veltman

Hi Keith,

just sharing a thought.

What I like about Holacracy being an "organizational design language" is that you can design the decision making and interaction process you need to solve a tension. Way more explicit and specific than just adopting the advice process.

For example the Brand strategy role in H1 has an accountability "Distilling and capturing cohesive strategic guidance for the expression, conveyance, and protection of the Holacracy brand by relevant roles, and integrating Objections from all General Company Circle and Outreach roles before enacting major proposed changes to this guidance".

Hence making extremely explicit what type of "advice" to seek, from whom, and how to integrate before making a decision within a role.


Jeff Kreh

Keith et al,

Is the tension that some in the organization do not trust others to make decisions either within or outside their roles' domains? If so, one proposal might be a probationary period during on boarding where a specific advise process is used. However, a better proposal might be strict adherence to the agreed upon rules of the constitution and allowing the emerging culture to defend itself against any residual command and control mentality that may be present. Over time, I imagine trust issues will either be replaced with well-merited trust or that those still clinging to command and control thinking will self-remove from the organization in favor of an environment more tolerant of that mindset.