51 organizations certified as ‘Democratic Workplaces’

WorldBlu, a company that helps organizations embrace workplace democracy, has certified 51 organizations as ‘democratic workplaces’ for 2013.

The 51 organizations are based in a number of countries, including the US, Canada, Mexico, the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Malaysia, Haiti, New Zealand and Singapore.

Companies that have been certified by WorldBlu as democratic include Zappos.com, Menlo Innovations, New Belgium Brewery, DaVita, Groupon Malaysia and The WD-40 Company.

WorldBlu Founder and CEO Traci Fenton said, “People would rather work in freedom-centered rather than fear-based organizations.”

View the complete WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces™ 2013 and their unique democratic practices here — http://www.worldblu.com/awardee-profiles/2013.php.


The Equal Dignity Organization

Researcher Rune Kvist Olsen has submitted another research paper in which he introduces “The Equal Dignity Organizational Concept.”

The research paper can be accessed here.


Tom Sutcliffe on pro-democracy uprisings in the workplace

Tom Sutcliffe, a columnist at The Independent, makes an interesting comparison between the dictatorial conditions that people in the Middle East are currently protesting and the similar atmosphere which we westerners willingly work under work each day.

Sutcliffe mentions that “it seems odd that people will endure, within the framework of a firm or an institution, a degree of subjection and speechlessness that would strike them as insufferable at the level of citizenship.”

He concludes by hinting that “office tyrannies” might end up becoming the target of mass uprisings not unlike those that we have been witnessing in the Middle East.

Read the entire column at The Independent


Zynga CEO Mark Pincus on “making everyone the CEO of something”

In an interview with Fast Company, Mark Pincus discussed the meaning of his philosophy of “making everyone the CEO of something.”  Pincus is founder and CEO of Zynga, a popular online gaming company whose products include FarmVille and Mafia Wars.

Here is how the Zynga CEO explained his “making everyone the CEO of something” democratic management philosophy:

When I entered the workforce, I was frustrated. When you’re starting your career, somebody else is “The Man” or “The Woman.” They go into a room and make the decision, not you. You don’t feel empowered. I wanted to break through that. I wanted to push the ownership and decision making to the people who were closest to the features, problems, and opportunities and empower them to go for it, to take risks and make mistakes.

Not everybody has a lot of real management training. One way to get around strong or weak managers is clear lines of ownership. If you have clear goals and people know they own them, it makes up for a lot. No one likes to be given a list of tasks. You want to know what hill you’re supposed to take and the fun is figuring out how.


Professor calls hierarchical, top-down management ‘outdated’

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.


Owner gives company to employees on 81st birthday

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.


Netflix takes a vacation from its vacation policy

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.”


The end of the ‘rock star’ CEO

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.

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An interview with the authors of Freedom, Inc.

Brian Carney and Isaac Getz are the authors of a new book called Freedom, Inc., which is being released today!  WorkplaceDemocracy.com spoke with them recently about their book and its connection to workplace democracy.

What is Freedom, Inc. about?

Freedom, Inc. is a book about the most important corporate movement of the last two decades, a movement that has been quietly transforming the fortunes of dozens of businesses and the lives of thousands of employees by using a source of benefits neglected by most—complete freedom and responsibility for employees to take actions they—not their bosses—decide are best.

Each of the unusual bosses and amazing leaders profiled in Freedom, Inc. have performed near-miracles in driving their companies to unheard-of levels of success, often from unlikely or disheartening beginnings. And each has something in common with the others—he believes that the key to business success is freeing up the initiative and genius of every, even the lowest-ranked employee in the firm, every day. How they set their employees free—and how their lessons can be applied to firms in every industry, of any size, anywhere in the world—is the story of this book.

After four years of research, thought and debate, we have identified three stages that each leader went through to build a radically free workplace—rejecting the command-and-control structure, enlisting employees in building a free workplace, and staying put in spite of setbacks;  and in each successive stage this leader relied on one corresponding personal strength: values, creativity, and wisdom . Among the leaders of the companies we studied, these three strengths set them apart from other executives while binding them as a group.

Were most of the companies featured in Freedom, Inc. founded as democratic companies or did their management structures evolve from more hierarchical structures?

I’ll reply to all your questions considering that “democratic” means “freedom-based”–the term we use in the book to describe the companies we studied.  We avoid “democratic” mainly because it focuses too much on the instruments (and none of our companies used, for example, formal voting for making decisions). Our companies, each with their own instruments, all focused rather on the end: freedom of action and initiative for every employee.

What inspired these companies to develop freedom-based workplaces?

Each company had what we call a liberating leader at its head, who initiated the changes.  The leader was either frustrated with command & control companies and/or admirative of the freedom-based ones such as WL Gore & Associates.

How does democracy work at these companies?

Freedom of action is achieved when an environment satisfies universal human needs instead of hampering them. These needs are intrinsic equality, growth, and self-direction, according to the most advanced psychological research carried out by University of Rochester psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan.

What have been some of the main challenges in cultivating democratic workplaces?

Workplaces struggle to evolve the often authoritarian managers’ practices into freedom nurturing practices.  Some liberating leaders had to remove certain managers (albeit keeping their salary) from the positions of authority.

Why should companies consider decentralizing their workplace?  What are the advantages of freedom-based or democratic companies?

Freedom of action is a tremendous advantage because in freedom-based companies, employees facing a sudden surge in competition, a downturn, a new government regulation, or an inadequate business process don’t simply wait for their higher ups or some new policies to tell them what to do. Instead, they take action that they—not their bosses—deem is best for the company and they do it right away—not when it’s too late. Add to that that frontline people always know better what’s going on and what needs to be done. So letting them take action is pure common sense.

What is the most important step that companies should take in order to become more democratic?

The most important step is for the liberating leader to stop telling people how to do their work and instead ask them how they want to do it.


Democratic companies profiled on CNNMoney.com

CNNMoney.com recently profiled six worker-owned, democratic companies.  These companies, from diverse industries such as software to auto parts to beer brewing, all credit their innovative management structures with having helped them wheather the current economic crisis. 

Here are the companies that were profiled:

  • We Can Do It! Women’s Cooperative (Si Se Puede! in Spanish) was founded in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, in August, 2006, to bring together immigrant women to create a women-run, women-owned, eco-friendly housecleaning business. All members have an equal vote in decisions regarding policy and operations. In addition, members work together to promote the business and meet bi-weekly for on-going training and support.
  • Full Sail Brewing Company is a craft brewery in Hood River, Oregon, United States. Founded in 1987, Full Sail was the first commercially successful craft brewery to bottle beer in the Pacific Northwest for retail sale, and one of Oregon’s early microbreweries. For years, they had been thinking and talking and dreaming about the idea of becoming an employee-owned company. Full Sail became an independent, employee-owned company in 1999, divvying up the company between their 47 employees. Of all our accomplishments, this is the one that makes them most proud.
  • Since 1980, Isthmus Engineering and Manufacturing has provided custom machinery to address the needs of first-time automation users as well as companies well-versed in the benefits of automation. From their beginning as an engineering partnership to their incorporation as a workers’ cooperative, Isthmus Engineering has evolved into a world-class builder of automated equipment. Established as a “worker’s cooperative”, the success of our employee-owned company is contingent on the performance of the entire team. Management decisions are made democratically: one member – one vote. Each member shares in the responsibility of managing the business.
  • Founded in 1994, Mushkin is best known for producing “Enhanced” memory modules. Located at the base of the Rocky Mountains in Denver, Colorado, Mushkin provides performance enhanced computer products to users worldwide. Mushkin products include an enhanced power supply line and a complete selection of memory upgrades for desktops, servers and notebooks. With customers including everyone from Apple Computer and NASA to gamers and web browsers, Mushkin knows what is important to customers – enhanced performance with uncompromised quality.
  • Pelham Auto Parts was founded in the 1970’s by Pelham Auto Service, a group of mechanics in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts who specialized in small car repair. At the time imported car parts were much harder to come by than they are today. Pelham’s founders took it upon themselves to make sure they had the parts they needed for themselves and their customers by creating a parts store. Pelham Auto Parts was born and began to supply other local garages, mechanics and do-it-yourself’ers, always maintaining a desire to sell good parts at good prices and abide by a work ethic than included more than just showing up and doing a job. Pelham is a brick and mortar parts store, owned by the people who work there, rooted in their community but accessible to the world.
  • Ronin Tech Collective is a worker-owned and operated technology collective, focused on workplace democracy and promoting a democratic society while supporting progressive businesses, non-profits, and cooperatives by providing open-source website development and consulting. Through their work, Ronin hopes to create positive change in our world by providing the best possible software and highest quality support for their customers. Ronin is located in Brattleboro, Vermont and serves clients all over the country.

Click here to read the entire story from CNNMoney.com.