Democracy in the Workplace

WorldBlu Democratic Values and Zappos’ Culture

Research:
Core: Zappos Core Values, Democratic Values, WorldBlu Values
Supporting:  Decision Making Authority

Summary:

Point of view
There are multiple structural ways to create a democratic environment.  Aspects such as decision-making authority, collaboration, communication, visionary leadership, business orientation (not political), strategy (not just size), people/profits (not just profits), are all important to the democratic work environment.  Additionally, research suggests this can be a very effective model for achieving a mission, being profit-oriented and being innovative.

For example, within Zappos specifically, CEO Tony Hsieh gives employees at all levels decision-making authority.  His customer service representatives do not use a script when speaking with customers. This is a very unorthodox approach, as most large companies have their call center employees use scripted responses, which is often a very impersonal process. This positively impacts both the bottom line of profit, as well as employee morale, positively contributing to the culture of Zappos, ultimately aligning with WorldBlu’s democratic principles (listed below).

  1. Purpose and Vision
    A democratic organization is clear about why it exists (its purpose) and where it is headed and what it hopes to achieve (its vision). These act as its true North, offering guidance and discipline to the organization’s direction.
  2. Transparency
    Say goodbye to the “secret society” mentality. Democratic organizations are transparent and open with employees about the financial health, strategy, and agenda of the organization.
  3. Dialogue + Listening
    Instead of the top-down monologue or dysfunctional silence that characterizes most workplaces, democratic organizations are committed to having conversations that bring out new levels of meaning and connection.
  4. Fairness + Dignity
    Democratic organizations are committed to fairness and dignity, not treating some people like “somebodies” and other people like “nobodies.”
  5. Accountability
    Democratic organizations point fingers, not in a blaming way but in a liberating way. They are crystal clear about who is accountable to whom and for what.
  6. Individual + Collective
    In democratic organizations, the individual is just as important as the whole, meaning employees are valued for their individual contribution as well as for what they do to help achieve the collective goals of the organization.
  7. Choice
    Democratic organizations thrive on giving employees meaningful choices.
  8. Integrity
    Integrity is the name of the game, and democratic companies have a lot of it. They understand that freedom takes discipline and also doing what is morally and ethically right.
  9. Decentralization
    Democratic organizations make sure power is appropriately shared and distributed among people throughout the organization.
  10. Reflection + Evaluation
    Democratic organizations are committed to continuous feedback and development and are willing to learn from the past and apply lessons to improve the future (WorldBlu 2012).

Zappos Family Core Values

“As we grow as a company, it has become more and more important to explicitly define the core values from which we develop our culture, our brand, and our business strategies.”

These are the ten core values that we live by:

  1.     Deliver WOW Through Service
  2.     Embrace and Drive Change
  3.     Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4.     Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5.     Pursue Growth and Learning
  6.     Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7.     Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8.     Do More With Less
  9.     Be Passionate and Determined
  10.     Be Humble (Zappos 2012)

Audience profile
This publication will target three groups.  First, the publication will serve the WorldBlu member organizations.  Secondly, the publication will target companies outside the WorldBlu democratic sphere (which now includes over 48 organizations), in hopes of recruiting more member companies to WorldBlu.  Ultimately, the hope here is to entice bureaucratic organizations to adopt and implement these democratic principles.   Finally, the publication will include Zappos current and prospective employees, as well as consumers of Zappos.  As a side note, Zappos was purchased by Amazon in 2009 and continues to operate independent of Amazon principles.

Interestingly, many of the organizations listed as “WorldBlu” are also on lists of “Best Places to Work”, such as Money Magazine and Forbes.  Interestingly, Amazon is currently not a WorldBlu member and not on the list of “Best Places to Work” by money magazine.

As the publication will address, these are not just democratic principles listed on the wall of a corporate conference room but a cultural change across all areas of an organization, as has been demonstrated with Zappos.

Purpose of publication
The purpose of the publication is to educate and inform on the democratic business practices, principles and culture of WorldBlu.  Specifically, Zappos will be used extensively, as a profile and case study of a company employing these principles and the resulting effect of those principles.  Interestingly, WorldBlu companies are statistically more profitable than their bureaucratic counterparts.

Zappos was listed on the 2011 list for Money Magazine “Best Places to Work”, #6 out of 100, (Google being #1) and #11 out of 100 in 2012 (CNN Money).  Most companies on the list had single digit growth and decline, whereas Zappos grew 37% in 2011 and 70% in 2012 (CNN Money).  Out of the top 100 listed companies, none came close to the 70% growth in 2012.  Google is the second highest growth on the list with 33%.
    
Frequency of publication
This publication will be weekly, having a new “topic”, as decision-making authority would be the first topic of democratic workplace discussion.

List of competition
Some of the opposition to WorldBlu concepts arise from misinformation from those who see the term “Democratic” as a political affiliation, not an organizational structure.  Some naysayers are those companies who are “top-down” and heavily rooted in bureaucratic systems, like much of our government.

Style issues
Pictures tell a thousand words, as do non-static or misinforming websites.  WorldBlu is a very static site which fails to tap into an important concept of visual and emotional persuading, otherwise known as Emotional Intelligence.

Information Challenges
The audience needs to understand this is not about a political view or a hidden agenda.  This is about breaking down barriers, specifically, those of corporate America and the old school bureaucratic style.  This is about running organizations in a more productive, intelligent and engaging manner, ultimately resulting in better service to all and increased profits.

Obstacles
The main obstacle would be to attempt to have a paradigm shift in bureaucratic thinking, throwing away previous beliefs about how organizations should be managed and run.  Additionally, educating people on these democratic principles could be an obstacle, since most people are not comfortable with change.

Overcoming Barriers
Provide content in a manner the targeted entities will be willing to accept.  Redefining the meaning of democracy, its purpose and how it will help improve our current state.

Citations

CNN Money.  “100 Best Companies to Work For 2011.”  Cable News Network, A Time Warner Company. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/bestcompanies/2011/full_list/ (accessed September 29, 2012).

CNN Money.  “100 Best Companies to Work For 2012.”  Cable News Network, A Time Warner Company.  http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/best-companies/2012/full_list/ (accessed September 29, 2012).

WorldBlu. “10 Principles of Organizational Democracy.”  WorldBlu.  http://www.worldblu.com/democratic-design/principles.php (accessed September 28, 2012).

Zappos.  “Zappos Family Core Values.”  Zappos.  http://about.zappos.com/our-unique-culture/zappos-core-values (accessed September 29, 2012).

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