Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top Small Workplaces of 2008 Are All Democratic

All the 15 businesses of the Wall Street Journal's Top Small Workplaces 2008 are proactively transparent, 86% share a large portion of profits with employees, all of the businesses de-centralize and limit managerial power, and all of the businesses inspire a euphoric purpose greater than themselves.

All of the 15 Top Small Workplaces are proactively transparent. At Integrated Project Management Co., "each employee sits down for a weekly one-on-one meeting with his or her manager in which they discuss work progress, the employee's performance, and the skills that need improvement." At Jump Associates LLC, "every morning, all employees meet for a "scrum" -- a short get-together where they're briefed on company news." And, the office is laid out so that "all employees, including senior management, sit out in the open in "neighborhoods" of five or six workers." At Lundberg Family Farms, the President hosts a monthly "Meet the CEO" event "where a small group of seven or eight employees chats with him to provide feedback and discuss any concerns." New Belgium Brewing Co., also holds monthly meetings "where it walks employees through the company's financial statements." And finally, at Rainforest Alliance, "employees can do stints in foreign offices to learn more about the organization and work on the front lines."

86% of the Top Small Workplaces share a large portion of profits with employees, and five of these businesses are 100% employee owned. This is especially impressive because employee owned businesses make up only one per cent of all American companies.

All of the Top Small Workplaces de-centralize and limit managerial power. At ATA Engineering Inc., "At least eight to 10 ATA employees are involved in interviewing every job candidate. If one employee objects to the hire, the candidate may not be offered a job unless that employee changes his or her mind." Also, employees "can pursue projects that s/he feels are good for the company or that s/he is personally interested in without needing more than one person's approval." At J.A. Frate Inc., during the only layoffs in 37-years, "the board of directors asked employees to vote on taking a 10% pay cut, promising to reinstate their normal wages after three months. The majority of the employees voted for the cut and all the laid-off employees were later rehired. At Landscape Forms Inc., "if the whole team agrees on one employee's idea, it can be implemented -- without approval from senior management." Rainforest Alliance "gives many junior employees the chance to spearhead research and other initiatives for the organization, later promoting them to oversee those initiatives." And finally, the President of Redwoods Group Inc. caps his own salary at 10 times that of the lowest-paid employee.

All of the Top Small Workplaces inspire a euphoric purpose greater than themselves. The President of ATA Engineering Inc., was "nominated for a local "Entrepreneur of the Year" award. But he turned down the honor, feeling he shouldn't take all the credit for the company's success." At Decagon Devices Inc., "employees take turns bringing home-cooked meals to work for their colleagues." At Jump Associates LLC, "a coach stops in the office a few days a month to help employees with any issue, such as improving their communications or resolving conflicts with a colleague." At King Arthur Flour Co., "even employees who don't work directly with flour are encouraged to learn about baking." At New Belgium Brewing Co., employees are enthusiastic about supporting the company's environmental cause. "Each New Belgium employee is given a cruiser bike," and each year they "dress in costumes and lead local residents on a bike tour." And, "an on-site recycling center allows employees to recycle goods." And finally, At Redwoods Group Inc., "each full-time employee is required to do at least 40 hours of volunteer work annually for nonprofits of their choosing -- on company time." In addition, the company "donates up to $300 annually per employee to charities where employees volunteer their own time."

These companies empower their employees by being proactively transparent, offering ownership, decentralizing and limiting power, and inspiring a euphoric purpose greater than themselves. Democracy is not just giving people a voice. Democracy empowers the voices that people already have.

(Quotes taken from

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How Will You Measure Your Life?

I recently read this article by Clayton Christiansen out of Harvard entitled, “How will you measure your life?” It is what he tells his students on the final day of his class.

One of the items that he mentions sticks out to me. It reads as follows:

“One of the theories, . . . . . how to be sure we find happiness in our careers—is from Frederick Herzberg, who asserts that the powerful motivator in our lives isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievements. I tell the students about a vision of sorts I had while I was running the company I founded before becoming an academic. In my mind’s eye I saw one of my managers leave for work one morning with a relatively strong level of self-esteem. Then I pictured her driving home to her family 10 hours later, feeling unappreciated, frustrated, underutilized, and demeaned. I imagined how profoundly her lowered self-esteem affected the way she interacted with her children. The vision in my mind then fast-forwarded to another day, when she drove home with greater self-esteem—feeling that she had learned a lot, been recognized for achieving valuable things, and played a significant role in the success of some important initiatives. I then imagined how positively that affected her as a spouse and a parent. My conclusion: Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team. More and more [people think] that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies. That’s unfortunate. Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people."

I’m sure you can see why it sticks out.