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.
Last month Paul Levy, CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, found his organization facing a $20 million budget shortfall caused by the economic crisis. Instead of ordering the layoffs of the 600 workers necessary to cover the $20 million deficit, Levy decided to discuss this problem with his employees and to solicit their feedback on how the medical center should respond.
Levy said the following at a meeting with employees of the medical center: “I want to run an idea by you that I think is important, and I’d like to get your reaction to it,” Levy began. “I’d like to do what we can to protect the lower-wage earners – the transporters, the housekeepers, the food service people. A lot of these people work really hard, and I don’t want to put an additional burden on them. Now, if we protect these workers, it means the rest of us will have to make a bigger sacrifice. It means that others will have to give up more of their salary or benefits.”
What followed was an enormous amount of applause by the medical center employees, the vast majority of whom expressed their willingness to take pay cuts so that none of their coworkers would have to be laid off. Over the next several days, Levy received over 600 emails from employees suggesting various ideas for reducing expenses. These ideas enabled the medical center to find creative ways to trim $16 million in expenses, which saved 450 of the 600 positions that had been originally slated for layoffs. (They are still looking for ways to keep the remaining 150 people in their jobs.)
Two of the pillars of workplace democracy are sharing information among employees and involving them in the decision-making process. Paul Levy’s experiment with these innovative management practices will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the workers’ motivation and loyalty towards the organization. Instead of facing sudden traumatic layoffs, the employees of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center were given a unique opportunity to participate in the decision-making process, and the center followed through and implemented the ideas that were generated. The results have proven to be a huge success.
I wonder how many additional layoffs could have been prevented during the past year if executive managers had been more willing to seek out and act on the knowledge of their team members….
Source: Boston Globe