French Democratic Company Excels at Satisfying Customers

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.

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3 Democratic Companies Featured on CNN.com

Fortune Magazine featured seven small companies as ‘great places to work.’ Not surprisingly, three of these top-ranked employers are run as democratic workplaces.

Companies that have adopted participative management practices typically have more highly engaged employees who are more hardworking, creative, and feel greater loyalty towards their employer.

The South Mountain Company of Martha’s Vineyard, is a design and construction company with annual revenues of $9 million that provides integrated development, architecture, building, and energy services. South Mountain has been practicing workplace democracy for over 20 years.

Currently 17 of its 33 employees are owners, and the rest are on the five-year process to become ’employee owners.’ Employee ownership has played a big part in helping South Mountain retain its workers, who have been with the company for an average of 12 years.

Each employee owner has an equal vote in major strategic decisions, one of which authorized a profit sharing program which distributes 33% of South Mountain’s profits amongst all employees.

Similarly, the New Belgium Brewing Company credits workplace democracy with helping them become the third largest craft brewery in the US, with $93 million in revenues. All of New Belgium’s 320 employees become owners after their first year of employment, and the company’s open-book management policy ensures that all workers know where the company is going and how it’s progressing.

Another democratic company that shares financial data and strategic information with its employees is Badger Mining Corporation, which is the fifth largest manufacturer of industrial silica sand, limestone and other aggregates.

The company has been operating under a flat organizational structure for close to 25 years. Bosses are called coaches, employees are referred to as associates, and the executive management is called the advisory team. All 170 employees share 20% of the company’s profits.

Treating its workers like responsible adults and sharing information, decision-making abilities, and profits among all team members has helped Badger minimize employee turnover, which is very expensive and disruptive to a company’s operations.