Democracy As a Business Option

By admin ~ December 14th, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been so alarmed with what is going on in the world – from our government’s politics, to global warming – that I feel a crushing need to do something. Maybe you can resonate with the fact that that seems easier to say than to do. overwhelm doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

One things is very clear to me. We need to think and act very differently from how we think and act now. These crises are turning who we thought we were and we thought the world works on its head.

Bill McKibben, in a recent issue of “Yes” talks about national policy changes. A new understanding, for instance, that national security interests can only be met by shipping China technology that will help them use less coal and not by shipping missals and arms to China’s enemies. With the planet dying who is our enemy? Everyone? That’s a pretty hopeless scenario. We are all in this together and we will only get out of it together. In fact that’s one of the ways of thinking that has to change. The fear of others that makes them enemies instead of reaching for the understanding that will make them friends. The whole terrorism issue is interlaced with that.

Togetherness – community – these have begun to surface as the real keys to the survival of life on the planet. For Americans this is a huge challenge. We’ve been indoctrinated in the illusion of individualism. This has never been true about our country. Historically it was through community (barn raising?) that we “conquered” the frontier. Holding onto the illusion of separateness is an illusion that will kill us.

Russel Ackoff, of MIT fame, was moved over 12 years ago to inquire into the lack of Democracy in our organizations. Democracy can only flourish in community. Democracy is all about having people involved in governance. It takes real conversations by real people with free and easy access to information to make Democracy work. This is why the founding fathers supported public education. Only an educated person can find and use the information necessary to make informed decision about the Country’s future, their future and the future of others.

How different would your organization be if it was run democratically? Does that send shiver down your spine? What thoughts are running through your head? Are you afraid of what the employees might do? Do you think they would not know what to do? Do you think they would take all the money? Would it take too long to make decisions? What, exactly do you think would happen?

Now why do fear what we are fighting so fiercely for in Iraq? Why do we think that governing democratically in our organizations would cause them to fail? What about democracy do we not trust? What is it about us as individuals that resists the sharing and openness that is needed to act in concert with our “cherished” beliefs?

Ricardo Semler, a Brazilian businessman, wrote Maverick, the story about his success building a successful business whilst inflation was running at up to 900%. He writes about his epiphany when his employees wanted to take the business in a direction he didn’t what to go. He realized that he need to act in concert with the beliefs he had been proposing for years, the beliefs that had made a stunning success of his company, he needed to let go. He did, and it worked very well.

Jack Stack, of Springfield Reengineering, learned much the same lesson. After buying a business the employees (including him) realized they did not know how to run the business. He, however did an amazing thing, he created a process where everyone had access to the information they needed to make decisions (now called The Great Game of Business) so everyone could help in running it effectively. It worked and he now teaches other organizations to follow suite.

For both of these men the process was slow. People were educated, everyone underwent personal growth, trust was acquired on day at a time, risks were taken and great leaps of faith were made. Jack faced a situation where, early in the process, they lost their biggest customer. He was looking at layoffs. He agonized for days – then he did an amazing thing – he told the employees the news, he asked for their ideas. They had ideas – they all took pay cuts, they all marketed and they came out of that year ahead of where they would have been if nothing had happened.

Ben Franklin said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” He was a wise man, yet that is exactly what we do. If we treat people as if they don’t know what they are doing, if we treat people as if they wouldn’t understand, if we treat people as if we are afraid of them, then why should we be surprised when that is how they act? This is one of the prime lessons of parenting. What you expect is what you get. Yet we keep doing the same things over and over and expect different results. When those results don’t come to pass – we blame others and use that experience to reinforce our beliefs. What a silly set of circumstances – if it weren’t so sad.

Here’s your chance to set a different tone. I’m hear to tell you that increasing the participation of your employees is a transforming experience. Nothing will generate improvements faster. Nothing will cut costs, increase innovation and make work a more enjoyable and personally satisfying experience, Nothing! Over the years make techniques have been developed to allow people to have input quickly and satisfactorily. When ever you get people together to make decisions, plan, or think together, there is a technique that will work, often in surprising ways.

Keys to success are: get the right people in the room (you may have never talked to them before), follow a process that has been designed for participation, take the time to do it right (no one hour meetings), Be clear on the purpose and needed outcome, make sure all the needed information is easily available. I’ve used Appreciative Inquiry, Future Search, Dialogue, the Four Tools Process, ACI/ToP methods, all to great advantage.

Using Future Search with the Juvenal Justice system in Sacramento, California we brought together judges, lawyers, parents (of both victim and perpetrator), legislators and others to spend two day talking about changes need to the system. It was an astounding success. People learned things they never knew and gained a new perspective on the role and purpose of juvenal justice.

You CAN do this. It is not rocket science. All it takes a willingness to try something different. This is one step we ALL can take to begin to make the changes we need to make to shift our world. If we want to survive we need to learn to work together. That doesn’t mean that we all do what I want. It means using the brains and experience of everyone who is involved or impacted by the choices we are making. If you want to learn how to do this, you can begin to enlist everyone in your firm’s success. Call me – Google the techniques, there are tons of resources.

Everything needs to shift – changing how we work together will allow us to think differently about the pressing issues of our time. We Can Do It!

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