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Workplace Democracy

Updated: Apr 3

BTW, there are companies that conduct elections and choose their CEO !! In this blog, we will look at something less progressive 😊 

Welcome back to this series on how to think progressively to take your organization forward. So what exactly does taking the organization forward mean. Well, it could mean different things to different business leaders. I take inspiration from Ricardo Semler who in the late 1980s and 1990s spoke about treating Adults as Adults.

One of the major global trends in organizational development is democratization of the workplace.

A key enabler for democratization is give respect to all employees and treat them like Adults. As one grows up the ranks, it is easy and human nature to get a kick out of “telling” others what to do. In societies with high Power Distance, this seems even more pronounced. The more a leader tells his/her team what to do, the less the team thinks on their own. The long term effect of this behaviour is that teams go into a shell and the leader becomes the single point of success/failure. And that’s too risky a proposition for any company.

Doug Kirkpatrick of The Morning Star Company spoke in a webinar where he shared the experience of how his company transformed itself into a global leader in the processed food industry. They grew into a very large company with democratization of the work place and boldly embracing “Self Management”.

Doug went on to say something profound – “Self Management is not about employees doing whatever they want but collectively deciding what to do and sharing responsibilities for execution”. The binding glue is their purpose of existence. Everyone knows what they need to do for their customers and how they need to be served. The journey is by no means easy or quick, and companies that embraced this approach grew by leaps and bounds.

If one truly believes in democratization of the workplace, the next bold move would be to bring in transparency in the workplace. The journey to transparency might have multiple stages as it’s a much bigger move than most would imagine.

Transparency would help in aligning all functions and departments in the company to work in unison as there is openness with each other and one side can see how the other side looks. 

The founders of Codewave Technologies have brought in transparency in the sales and customer acquisition process and everyone in the company knows the price point at which the business is getting acquired. As articulated by Ricardo Semler in his book "Maverick", in his company Semco, all employees in the factory were trained to understand the company’s balance sheet and P&L statements. They discuss the company’s financial position and jointly decide how they can help to meet the business goals. This is a wonderful way to take the company forward when many employees contribute rather than a few in the corner office on the top floor.

The key challenge with democratization of the workplace is not decision making. With democratization, speed of decision making actually improves and the workplace becomes extremely agile with high accountability. The difficult part is sustenance of the practices – running a self managed team, building transparency, nurturing a culture of trust, etc.

What’s the secret sauce for sustenance. Are there examples of successes? We’ll see that in the next blog of this series.

Previous blogs in this series


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