Workplace Democracy at DaVita

Last week, WorkplaceDemocracy.com spoke with Lisa Joins to get an inside look at one of the nation’s largest and most successful democratic companies.  Joins is a director of people services at DaVita, a FORTUNE 500 company and a leading provider of dialysis services in the United States. 

DaVita has serves approximately 115,000 patients in over 1,500 outpatient dialysis facilities and acute units in over 700 hospitals. DaVita has been selected by FORTUNE as one of the World’s Most Admired Companies for the past 4 years and has been ranked by Modern Healthcare as one of the 100 Best Places to Work in Healthcare.

DaVita has been selected to the WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces.  Can you talk a little about DaVita’s history and how the workplace democracy idea began?

The idea of workplace democracy began when DaVita was formed in June 2000.  Kent Thiry, our CEO, saw that the company was in need of a different level of leadership with the team concept as its driving force, so he decided to make the company culture one of the areas of priority.   He made a concerted effort to ensure that everyone had a voice promoting full buy-in to our new strategy and direction.

How does democracy work at DaVita?

Each local area of the company is managed independently by its local leadership team. And it is that team’s responsibility to be creative to meet and maintain the company’s strategic goals.  Each area gets to decide on how to best achieve its goals according to their local market.  This philosophy includes not only the senior leaders but those who sit on the front lines of the organization.  DaVita is unique in how we communicate with each other, and this speaks to all levels within our organization.  Our CEO is very active in communicating with the teammates about the company’s progress.  Virtually every large team meeting provides an opportunity for a question and answer session.  For example, we conduct local town hall and homeroom meetings.  We also host ‘Voice of the Village’ calls where all teammates in our Village are invited to call in and to receive company updates  from our core senior leadership team.  Anyone participating in these calls can ask the CEO and the core team any questions about the business, policies, etc.

Another example is our profit-sharing program, which is given on a regular basis multiple times per year.  At many other companies, the top managers determine the specifics of their profit-sharing programs.  At DaVita, each leadership group together with the help of their local teams chooses their goals of measurement.  These goals are used as the key factors for measuring the success of the team and profit-sharing payouts are tied to those accomplishments.

There is a village atmosphere here at DaVita which helps people feel as though they are part of a community and less like they are part of a large company full of “red tape”.  Local teams are given the opportunity to name themselves and create identities.  Ongoing communication plays an important part in helping the teammates connect with each other and to the company.   And this feature is critical in keeping a company that has 30,000 plus teammates alive and full of energy.  There are daily ‘Homeroom’ meetings that are hosted in local clinic/office environments and weekly ‘Village Voice Communications’ go out in email to all teammates.  These venues give teammates the opportunity to receive valuable real-time information regarding policies, company updates, items of recognition, etc.

There are a number of village-level programs that help enrich the lives of teammates.  For example, there is a program called the ‘DaVita Village Network,’ where people can donate money to emergency funds to help other village teammates in times of need.  There are also educational funds which are given to teammates and their families, and there are vacation award programs that our CEO personally donates to reward teammates for outstanding work and service to the Village. We also have many programs that reach out beyond our company such as the Bridge of Life.  The Bridge of Life program gives our teammates an opportunity to participate in starting dialysis clinics in several under developed countries around the world.

What is the hiring process at DaVita? How does it differ from the hiring process at other companies?

First of all, DaVita places a great deal of importance on promoting from within.  We are constantly evaluating our internal talent and looking at these individuals for promotional opportunities.  DaVita offers ‘stretch assignments’ where people can learn and apply new skills.

Prospective job candidates often have the opportunity to interview with a team of representatives from the department so they can meet all levels with the team and learn more about the company from those who hold different levels of roles.  Job interviews at DaVita are very interactive, and we encourage candidates to ask questions about the role, team, the company and culture.  During the onboarding process, we make strategic efforts to ensure that our new teammates receive an in depth acclamation to DaVita’s philosophy, culture and our “village-like” way of operating. 

Is the process of firing an employee different at DaVita than at other companies?

Yes, we do our very best to ensure that every teammate who is performance managed receives every opportunity to improve, receive “on time” feedback and get back on target in their role.  We have a multilayered progressive discipline process that includes not only reviewing performance but also evaluating whether or not a teammate who is not successful has the right attributes for the requirements of the position.  Often times, we will consider looking at other roles within the organization for teammates who we find are great teammates who add value but are not in the right role for their levels of experience.

What is it like to work at DaVita?

It’s the best company I’ve worked for.  DaVita is a fun, energetic company that stresses collaboration and a team-based environment.  The company offers tremendous opportunities to its teammates for growth and development.  This is the first company that I’ve had the opportunity to work for where the culture resonates throughout all facets of the organization.

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Workplace Democracy at Brainpark

Imagine a rapidly-growing startup company where the CEO answers not only to his board of directors but also to his employees.  Mark Dowds, who founded Brainpark about a year and a half ago, decided that he only wanted to lead a company if the employees accepted his leadership.  As a result, any of the employees, including Dowds, can be removed by a vote of their coworkers.
 
WorkplaceDemocracy.com spoke with Dowds to get an inside look at how this innovative company is embracing innovation in its management practices.  Brainpark has made it a priority to democratize its policies and culture in order to develop a transparent and engaged work environment. 
 
The company conducts off-site meetings every six months to discuss Brainpark’s performance and recalibrate their strategy.  As opposed to many company strategy-setting meetings, where the CEO determine the agenda, Brainpark has adopted an ‘open agenda’ system, where each employee writes down their concerns, interests, and goals on papers which are posted on the wall.  Everyone reviews the papers and votes on which of the items are most important and will be included in the off-site agenda and strategy discussions.
 
Any of the team members can suggest potential candidates for open positions.  The job candidates are interviewed by two coworkers, and the new hires are selected collectively by Brainpark employees. 
 
Managers at Brainpark choose not to exercise their power to fire employees.  Instead, if a manager is having problems with one of their subordinates, then a team is put together to make a decision about whether the person should leave or stay with the company.
 
If anyone, including the top managers and CEO, is not pulling their own weight and delivering value to the company, their coworkers can talk to them to dicsuss the problem and to give them a chance to improve their performance.  If the person in question fails to change by a certain period of time, their colleagues can then decide to find them a replacement.
 
To help facilitate better decision-making throughout the organization, Brainpark has adopted an open book management policy, where company financial data is shared among employees, who are all granted ownership stakes in the company through a stock option program.  
 
New employees are usually very surprised when they learn about Brainpark’s innovative workplace policies, but most adapt quickly and can’t imagine working anywhere else.  The company’s outside investors strongly support its democratic practices after having witnessed their impact on the employees’ engagement and motivation levels. 
 
Brainpark, which has been named to the WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Companies, is proof that employees act like owners when they are treated like owners.