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Make Your Workplace More Democratic

Make Your Workplace More Democratic

Initiate Change from the Bottom (or Middle) Up

By Traci Fenton

Imagine a workplace where relationships are peer-to-peer, where management transparently shares financial data, where you have a say in the decisions that impact your work and you feel 100 percent engaged each day. Sound utopian? 

Actually, I'm describing characteristics of a democratic workplace, and some of today's most successful companies -- such as Great Harvest Bread Company, Whole Foods, Linden Lab and Southwest Airlines -- already operate like this. They realize it's a powerful way to attract and retain top talent, stimulate innovation and boost the bottom line.

Admittedly, organizational democracy usually begins at the top. But what about those of us who are junior or midlevel employees working in companies that aren't democratic? Can you bring democracy to your workplace, too? You may not have the power (yet) to turn your company democratic overnight, but there are some things you can do now to start creating change.

10 Principles for a Democratic Workplace

After a decade of research, here are the 10 principles I've discovered that all democratic companies practice, along with ideas for how you can implement them in your organization.

1. Get Naked

Be as authentic, open and as transparent as possible. In your next meeting, don't have a "hidden agenda." Be open and share what you might otherwise keep secret. Watch how it helps build trust with others.

2. Have a Conversation

Don't perpetuate the dysfunctional silence that characterizes most companies. Invite people to engage in a dialogue about the issues that matter.

3. Loathe Rankism

Treat others fairly and with dignity. Forget the high school clique mentality of treating people like "somebodies" or "nobodies."

4. Understand the Meaning of Life

Understand what your purpose and vision is for your life and make sure it's aligned with the work you are doing. If it's not, think about changing or finding a new job.

5. Point Fingers

Not in a blaming way, in a liberating way. Get crystal clear about who is responsible for what and then hold yourself and others accountable.

6. The Individual Is as Important as the Whole

Each person has unique gifts. Overcome the feeling of being a cog in the machine by recognizing the value each person plays in achieving collective goals.

7. One Size Doesn't Fit All

Do what you can to make sure you and your colleagues have a choice regarding the kind of work you do and the schedule you work. Choices keep people from feeling trapped.

8. Have Backbone

Integrity is the name of the game, so make sure all work is done ethically. Freedom takes discipline.

9. Be Vain

Commit yourself to looking in the mirror each day and asking, "How can I be better?" Reflection leads to improvements that help you and your company perform on a whole new level.

10. Say No to Pyramid Schemes

Although there are times where we all want to pull a power-trip, don't. Do what you can to empower your colleagues by distributing power rather than hoarding it.

Get a buddy, start practicing these principles and watch the results. The best way to win at work is to create an environment in which everyone can thrive. Find a way to make progress in a democratic direction each day, and your workplace will never be the same again.
[Traci Fenton is the founder and CEO of WorldBlu, a business design studio specializing in organizational democracy.]

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