Stanley D. Truskie, a program professor at the Fischler School of Education, Nova Southeastern University, and author of Leadership in High-Performance Organizational Cultures, wrote an opinion in the Miami Herald where he called for a new, “enlightened” style of management.
Truskie recommends the following leadership practices to help companies quickly adapt and stay at the forefront of their industries:
- Lead from the center.
- Focus on culture.
- Implement 3-C planning.
- Move swiftly.
Truskie argues that “old-style, top-down” management is outdated and that rigid, hierarchical organizations run the risk of falling behind in today’s rapidly changing competitive environment.
Click here to read the entire opinion article.
Bob Moore, the owner of Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods celebrated his 81st birthday by giving the company that he founded to his employees. Moore announced the new Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) at an all-company meeting at the headquarters office in Milwaukie, Oregon.
Moore said, “It’s been my dream all along to turn this company over to the employees, and to make that dream a reality on my birthday is just the icing on the cake. To me, this is the ultimate way to reward employees for their contributions to our ongoing success and growth. We have many loyal and long-time employees who I expect will be joined by many new faces over the years to run the company.”
Operations VP Dennis Vaughn, said, “The partners could have sold this company many times for a lot more money, but to them this company is about so much more than the money. I’m just proud to wear the Bob’s Red Mill logo because anywhere I go in this country people say nice things about the company.”
Bob’s Red Mill, a leading provider of whole grain natural foods, has averaged an annual growth rate of 20%-30% over the past 10 years and in that time their mostly North America distribution has expanded internationally.
Contrary to most companies, the vacation policy at Netflix is quite simple: “there is no policy or tracking.” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings referred to vacation limits and face-time requirements as “a relic of the industrial age.”
Several years ago, employees had argued that it wasn’t logical for the company to track vacation days since employees’ hours worked per day or per week were not being tracked.
Netflix executives agreed and did away with vacation policy after the legal issues were taken care of. In a presentation that was leaked to the media, Neflix realized that they “should focus on what people get done, not how many hours or days worked. Just as we don’t have a 9-5 day policy, we don’t need a vacation policy.”
Netflix employees are encouraged to take as much vacation time as they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with their work.
To executives who might worry about such a policy vacuum being taken advantage of by employees, Brian Carney, the author of Freedom, Inc., responds “In a large enough organization, there might be a couple of people who would take two or three months’ vacation–but if a vacation policy is the only thing holding them back from that, they’re probably ‘vacationing’ at their desks anyway.”
In his Management 2.0 blog, Gary Hamel shares some thought-provoking questions about counterintuitive, yet common, IT policies that seem to discourage productivity and innovation:
- How is it that companies are willing to trust employees with their customers, their expensive equipment, and their cash, but are unwilling to trust them when it comes to using the Web at work or loading their own programs onto their workplace PC?
- Do IT staffers really believe that conscientious, committed employees turn into crazed, malicious, hackers when given a bit of freedom over their IT environment?
- If leading edge IT tools are, as many claim, essential to unleashing human creativity, why would any company force all of its employees to use the same computers, phones and software programs?
Hamel recommends giving employees more freedom over their IT tools. We agree. One of the best ways to cultivate innovation and engagement is to empower people with the ability to decide how they can best do their jobs.
A story published earlier this month on the Economist discussed the recent trend of companies preferring “anonymous” bosses to the “rock star” CEOs who were popular in previous decades. “The corporate world is increasingly rejecting imperial chief executives in favour of anonymous managers.”
We believe that this shift represents another stage in the ongoing evolution in the typical organizational structure – from a top-down, hierarchical system to a decentralized, democratic organizational model.
“The fashion for faceless chief executives is part of an understandable reaction against yesterday’s imperial bosses, many of whom were vivid characters. Some, such as Jeff Skilling of Enron and Tyco’s Dennis Kozlowski, broke the law and helped inspire a dramatic tightening of government regulation, in the form of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. Others, such as Home Depot’s Bob Nardelli and Hewlett-Packard’s Carly Fiorina, paid themselves like superstars but delivered dismal results.“
Talented, motivated, and innovative professionals are no longer willing to work for arrogant dictators in exchange for a sizeable paycheck. Instead, employees are becoming more and more selective about the quality and type of work environment that their employers offer, and they are increasingly seeking award-winning employers that share decision-making powers and that do not tolerate workplace jerks.
Capitalism: A Love Story, the 2009 documentary movie directed by Michael Moore, criticizes the current economic order in the United States and capitalism in general while covering the financial crisis of 2007–2009 and the recovery stimulus. In his movie, Moore highlights workplace democracy as an alternative model to capitalism.
Many would argue that workplace democracy should not be considered a replacement to the capitalist economic system. Instead, workplace democracy is a highly effective management strategy that helps enable companies to engage and motivate their employees and to maintain a competitive advantage in their industries.
Workplace democracy is not limited to a specific type of company ownership structure. Democratic companies come in all shapes and sizes and range from high tech start-up companies such as Brainpark, to small worker-owned cooperatives such as South Mountain, to large privately-held companies such as W.L. Gore and Associates, to large publicly-traded companies such as DaVita.
Workplace democracy is an innovative management strategy where company information and decision-making powers are shared and distributed among employees so that customer-facing workers (who are closest to customers and usually know them best) are aware of the company’s goals and performance and have the ability (and motivation) to make smart decisions quickly, which is essential in today’s fast-moving and hyper-competitive marketplace.
WorkplaceDemocracy.com conducted an interview with Peter Leeson, economics professor at the University of Chicago and author of The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates. The Invisible Hook is a fascinating book that explores why and how lawless and violent pirates organized themselves into what may have been the world’s first democratic workplaces.
The Invisible Hook shows how pirates’ search for plunder led them to pioneer remarkable and forward-thinking practices. Pirates understood the advantages of constitutional democracy–a model they adopted more than fifty years before the United States did so. Pirates also initiated an early system of workers’ compensation, regulated drinking and smoking, and in some cases practiced racial tolerance and equality. Revealing the democratic and economic forces propelling history’s most colorful criminals, The Invisible Hook establishes pirates’ trailblazing relevance to the contemporary world.
What is the “invisible hook” and how does it relate to workplace democracy?
The “invisible hook” is the piratical analog to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” idea, which describes how individuals’ self-interest seeking guides social cooperation among legitimate persons. My argument is that, similarly, criminal self-interest seeking guided social cooperation among pirates. As my book describes, in pirates’ particular economic context, rational self-interest seeking led pirates to socially cooperate through a kind of workplace democracy in which pirates were more-or-less equal shareholders in their ship and its proceeds and democratically made important workplace decisions.
How did pirates’ organizational structure differ from that of law-abiding merchant ships?
On pirate ships, crewmembers democratically elected important officers, such as the captain, and enjoyed similar perquisites of crew membership. Further, power was divided among multiple officers, such as the captain and quartermaster, who checked one another’s authority. In this sense, pirates’ organizational structure was ‘flat.’ On merchantmen, in contrast, the organizational structure was much more hierarchical. The captain wielded the lion’s share of the power and the ordinary crewmembers were subjected to his largely uncontrolled authority. Authority was much more concentrated and ship-board governance mirrored governance in landed legitimate society in being much more autocratic.
Why did pirates organize their activities democratically?
Pirates organized their ships democratically becuase this organizational arrangement maximized profits in pirates’ particular economic context. Unlike crewmembers on merchantmen, where a very different economic context dicated a different profit-maximizing organizational structure, crewmembers on pirate ships were owners and employees of the ‘firm.’ It therefore made economic sense for each man to have a say in the firm’s enterprise–to make decisions democratically. Democratic organization was ‘cheap’ for pirates to adopt (in contrast for merchantmen for reasons discussed in the book) and yielded large benefits in the form of effectively preventing officer predation, which plagued merchant ships.
What effects did the pirate organizational structure have on the crew?
Pirates’ democratic organization had at least two major effects on the crew. First, it empowered pirates to popularly elect and depose important officers, which gave pirates great control over their ‘leaders.’ This in turn created strong incentives for pirate ‘leaders’ to wield their power in the crew’s interest rather than against the crew’s interest for personal benefit. Second, since pirates’ democratic organization extended to their method of pay as well–each pirate received a roughly equal share of the booty–it created several “collective action problems” for pirates that they needed to solve. For instance, this method of payment encouraged crewmember shirking, which pirates overcame by instituting a system of social insurance and bonuses.
What lessons can today’s managers learn from pirates?
Among the most significant modern management lessons from 18th-century pirates is the importance of letting the pursuit of profit determine ideas about a firm’s organizational features rather than the other way around. It’s tempting to conclude from pirates’ success with workplace democracy that this highlights the desirability of this organizational form more generally. But that would be mistaken. In pirates’ particular case–a relatively small ‘workforce’ operating a firm that required no external financiers in which information about each laborer’s contribution to production was difficult to glean by observation–workplace democracy was profit maximizing. And for other firms that also satisfy these economic conditions this will also tend to be true. But for firms that don’t satisfy such conditions, for instance large firms, or those that require lots of external capital to function, or those in which it’s relatively easy to measure laborers’ contribution to team production–which is the vast majority of firms–workplace democracy won’t be a profit-maximizing form of firm organization. Workers would be better off under a different organizational arrangement. Thus what pirates teach us is the desirability of letting profit dictate the particular organizational features a firm adopts rather than the universal desirability of particular organizational features across firms.
Matthew E. May wrote an article called “How to Design a Flat Organization” for the IDEA HUB at Amex OPEN Forum. May profiles FAVI, a French autoparts manufacturer with sales of more than $100 million and over 400 employees. In the early 1980’s, FAVI replaced its hierarchical, bureaucratic structure with a flat, team-based model that focused their efforts on customer satisfaction and innovation.
“Accountability is to the customer and to the team, not a boss, so FAVI people are free to experiment, innovate, and solve problems for customers. They’re known for working off-shift to serve customers or to test out new procedures. Equipment, tooling, workspace, and process redesign all rest in the hands of those doing the work. FAVI people are encouraged to make decisions and take quick action to improve their daily work and respond to the needs of their customers. Control rests with the front lines, where it adds the most value.”
Click here to read the entire article.
Zappos, the online shoe retailer famous for its quirky company culture and unconventional management practices, recently announced that it is being acquired by Amazon.com for $847 million. Founded in 1999, it took Zappos less than a decade to achieve revenues of over $1 billion, and the company has been profitable since 2006.
Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ CEO, credits his company’s meteoric rise in a highly competitive market to the company’s laser-like focus on providing excellent service and support.
As many democratic and decentralized companies have realized, the key to offering fantastic support is to enable employees to rely on their instincts and to trust them to make their own decisions. At Zappos, customer service call center reps are not required to read from scripts. Instead, they are encouraged to use discretion in making their own decisions without seeking approval from their supervisors.
Zappos has worked hard to blur the lines between managers and employees that are common in traditional organizational hierarchies. The company’s goal is to develop a fun, playful work environment where coworkers and bosses feel more like friends. Managers are required to spend time socializing with their employees.
Inc.com provides a detailed look at ‘the Zappos way of managing’.
Last week, WorkplaceDemocracy.com spoke with Steve Shuster about what it’s like to work at one of the nation’s largest and most successful democratic companies. Shuster is part of the enterprise communication team at W.L. Gore & Associates, his employer for the past 27 years.
With more than $2.5 billion in annual sales and 8,000 employees in over 50 facilities worldwide, Gore is a leading manufacturer of thousands of advanced technology products for the electronics, industrial, fabrics and medical markets. Gore is one of only 12 companies that have been on the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work list since it began.
What is it like to work at Gore?
You feel like you’re part of a family. I have been working at Gore for 27 years, and I still get excited coming to work each day. There is a sense of being among family, and this creates a special bond between associates and a connection with the company.
Everyone is an owner in the company and shares in the good times and in the bad times. Everyone works in teams, and there is very little hierarchy at Gore.
How would you describe Gore’s company culture?
The company culture at Gore gives people a sense of belonging and gives us a sense that we are making an impact on society via our products.
There are four principles that are the foundation of Gore’s culture: fairness, freedom, commitment, and waterline. The waterline principle means that it’s ok to make a decision that might punch a hole in the boat as long as the hole is above the waterline so that it won’t potentially sink the ship. But, if the decision might create a hole below the waterline which might cause the ship to sink, then associates are encouraged to consult with their team so that a collaborative decision can be made.
Our culture is based on integrity and a high level of ethics. The organization operates as a flat, or ‘lattice,’ organization, where all employees are referred to as ‘associates.’ There are no bosses, only ‘sponsors’ who are similar to sports team coaches. Sponsors are responsible for leading the teams and who are mainly focused on their team members’ growth and development. The process of becoming a sponsor is through followership, and each group chooses their own sponsor.
Do team members have the power to remove or replace their sponsors?
In the event that a sponsor is not doing a good job, the team members speak with the sponsor about the problems. If they are unable to resolve the problem, then the sponsor or team members might suggest an alternative team member to become the team’s new sponsor This type of situation happens fairly often at Gore, as the teams are fairly fluid and adapt to the changing environment and market. Often when associates change commitments, they will seek out a new sponsor.
Do team leaders have the power to remove members of their team?
If a leader doesn’t feel that a certain team member is contributing sufficiently but the other team members disagree, then the team will first meet to decide about how to make the decision. Most often, the decision will be made collaboratively with all of the team members being able to voice their opinions and vote on the outcome. Leadership at Gore is defined by followership, not by being given a title.
Gore has been described as having a democratic workplace. Can you give us a few examples of innovative and unique HR/management policies that Gore has implemented?
Gore’s lattice, team-based organizational structure and the opportunity to provide feedback about other team members are two of our innovative work practices. Associates get to manage what type of projects they are working on. Also, associates’ compensation is based in part on their contribution to the enterprise. All associates rank each of their colleagues according to what they feel their contribution has been to the enterprise.
What is the hiring process at Gore? How does it differ from the hiring process at other companies?
The main difference is that Gore looks for individuals who fit Gore’s unique culture. We look for people with an entrepreneurial spirit who are not focused on titles and hierarchy. We conduct behavioral interview questions to help determine whether candidates fit our culture. Gore includes several team members and representives from the business in the interview process to ensure the right candidate is selected. Gore is not for everyone; some people don’t mesh with Gore’s culture because they can’t work without a title, or because they want to be directed.
How does Gore encourage its associates to be more innovative?
The innovative culture, which started with our company founder Bill Gore, helps foster innovation and gets people working towards a common goal. The company culture makes associates feel that it’s ok to take risks and make mistakes. For example, Gore asked me early on how many mistakes I’ve made so far. He then told me that if I’m not making mistakes, then it means that I’m not taking enough risks and trying to innovate as much as I should be.