A Factor for Your Next Job: Organizational Democracy?
By Caroline M.L. Potter
Are you as disenchanted with your employer as you are with the economy? Tired of working for top-heavy companies with antiquated management principles and an inability to anticipate and respond to a crisis? Consider searching for a job with an employer that embraces democracy in the workplace.
Traci Fenton, founder of WorldBlu, a company that focuses on democratic business design, describes organizational democracy as "freedom within a business framework." She says, "We are in an age of participation and cooperation and influence that we've never seen before. This requires a new, democratic style of business."
Qualities to Look For
While not every company embraces identical values with regard to organizational democracy, Fenton advises professionals to look for several of the following characteristics:
- Leadership happens at every level of the organization, not just at the top.
- Employees are paid for the value they bring to the organization, not their job titles.
- Everyone knows to whom and for what they're accountable.
- Transparency isn't considered scary.
- Formality and polices are avoided in favor of informality and principles.
- Humor and having fun is actually encouraged.
- Change equals life, not death.
- Incentives aren't used to motivate employees -- meaningful work is.
- Failure is seen as a right-of-passage to success.
- Thinking differently and challenging assumptions is encouraged.
Questions to Ask
When interviewing with a company, ask plenty of questions about the organizational philosophies it practices. "Inquire about democracy," Fenton says. "Ask, 'Will I have a voice here? Will I have a vote? Will I have a say as to who is on my team? Does accountability go both ways?'"
Look for answers that will indicate decentralized power and a transparent culture in which you'll have a voice. Have a discussion about the company's purpose and vision to make certain it is compatible with yours. Believing that the best indicator of a democratic workplace is when a company practices open-book management, she recommends, "You should be able to look at real-time financial information about your organization's performance anytime you want."
Before you begin targeting companies, Fenton urges doing a bit of homework. "The most important place to start is with purpose," she says. "Ask yourself, 'What is my purpose for my life and how can I express that professionally?' Then write down what you want to express at work every day. Use your conclusions as a homing device to begin searching for an employer with similar values."
Putting in the time to identify what matters most to you will pay off: "More enlightened individuals who have a clear sense of purpose and values will get in the door to democratic organizations," Fenton says.
Few companies are entirely bulletproof in a recession, but Fenton says if a company is being democratic, there aren't any surprises. "And if there's that feeling that you're all in it together, you'll figure it out together," she says. "You'll innovate and everyone will help come up with ideas for survival." Conversely, at many organizations, employees can't see what is coming and, thus, cannot prepare -- or contribute.