Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is Democracy The Word Of The Day?

In our last blog, I shared an article on “healthy” debate that Dave and I wrote and posted on the ECI website a couple of years ago. This idea of encouraging open and honest debate within your organization is obviously not new. Many leadership experts will tell you how important it is to creativity, follow-through, ongoing innovation, and, ultimately, your organization’s bottom-line.

In fact, one of my favorite leadership authors, Patrick Lencioni, describes healthy conflict as a key component of gaining buy-in, commitment, and accountability in his book, “The Five Disfunctions of a Team”. Lencioni explains that, without trust in the organization and each other, employees will avoid sharing and discussing ideas for fear of creating conflict. Instead, they create an environment of artificial harmony; where everyone appears to agree with the decisions and actions, but most walk away without feeling heard and without truly committing to the plan.

Last week I read about a local Colorado company, Namasté Solar, which has been named a finalist in Inc. Magazine’s “2011 Top Small Company Workplaces”. It seems that Namasté Solar truly takes the idea of open debate – allowing everyone to be heard and gaining buy-in at all levels – to heart.

The company was founded in 2004 by CEO Blake Jones, Wes Kennedy, and Ray Tuomey. The company was founded on the principals of democracy. As Inc. Magazine shares, “Namasté Solar would be flat, employee owned, transparent, and democratically managed."

The company encourages open debate on any issue or decision that needs to be made, including a recent business/life changing decision regarding a potential buy-out. Because of the company’s business model of “one person, one vote”, employees leave meetings feeling heard, well-informed, and empowered. Even if the vote does not go in their “favor”, employees are willing to buy-in and commit to the decisions made because they know that their concerns and ideas have been considered.

Now, you might be thinking that this kind of democratic business model sounds intriguing but entirely too cumbersome to use in business, especially a very large business. And you may be right. But Namasté Solar has found a way to scale their democratic culture with the growth of their company. Decision-making that started out as consensus from all employees when the company was small, evolved to operating by consent as the company grew. And, now, Namasté Solar has created committees, which any employee can join, to vote on simple day-to-day decisions. Larger decisions that affect all employees are made at bi-monthly company-wide meetings.

This type of democratic business model and culture might not be appropriate for every organization. But Namasté Solar has certainly shown that it can be successful in the right environment, if implemented correctly and diligently. And, their nomination as a finalist in Inc. Magazine’s “2011 Top Small Company Workplaces” illustrates that employees get engaged when they can be involved in the decision making process. With a little healthy debate, they feel heard and informed and can feel good about buying-in to the organization’s plan.

Take a look around your organization. Where do you involve your employees in decision making? Can you do more? Do you encourage a little healthy debate to both engaged your employees and foster creativity? Have you created an environment where your employees are well-informed, engaged in the process, and committed to your plans?

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

1 comment:

  1. Laurie,

    Interesting topic. I think many organizations would laugh at the idea of a democracy in business. Yet enlightened leaders are leveraging employee engagement by taking into account the feedback and ideas from the people on the front line and or in the field. They are closer to the action and more accurate than the analysts.

    In order to really engage the troops and get accurate feedback the organization must have a culture of trust. The inherent knowledge that even when the view is unpopular or uncomfortable the leaders have your back.

    Keep up the good work.