Workforce Democracy: Put heart back in the workplace

Mark Dowds, from Brainpark, is a leading thinker and practitioner in the emerging area of Workforce Democracy - an innovation which is beginning to radically change work places by replacing 'command and control' with self-organisation. I invited Mark to write a short intro on the subject as part of my "Think Differently" series because it resonates strongly with Bioteams.

Zombie at Work
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Workforce Democracy: Put heart back in the workplace

This article is an introduction to the concept of self-management for modern corporations in a postmodern society. You can also watch a video which identifies the 8 main reasons you should consider seriously democratizing your workplace.

Since the time of Adam Smith and the beginning of capitalism the chasm between work and life has increased. On one hand we have worked hard in the western world to develop democracy under the foundations of authority, privacy, responsibility, and justice.

On the other hand we have focused on building management systems that operate under the simplistic perception of a machine where every part (person) needs managed. This in turn has grown to become an obvious incongruence and annoyance of many 21st Century citizens who no longer want to be the slaves of business owners.

The average person spends at least one third of their life at work and the economy is sustained by their efforts, however many still permit a manager to do their thinking for them. This stems from a philosophy proposed by Frederick W. Taylor in the late 19th century which sought to carefully plan daily tasks for each worker, standardize tasks and tools, provide good pay for good work and poor pay for failure, and remove all "brainwork" from the shop floor and place it in the planning department (Rarick, 1987).

The intent of this aspect of effective management in an industrial world was held within the framework of the modern dream, where a future was being created where citizens would be freer to enjoy life eventually. This deferred hope never arrived and many hearts grew sick giving way to an unsettled craving for more of life today.

A new generation of workers are becoming less tolerant of the managerial styles of traditional corporations and are looking for something more.They want to self-organize, bring their ideas and passion and want to be treated with respect. Some leaders roll their eyes when they hear the demands and expectations of these younger workers but the last 10 years has shown what they can do when left to their own devices. They have been able to create some of the world's most innovative and interesting new businesses that are slowly displacing the old.

Organizations today need to learn how to get their companies into the hands of their people who can think and organize collectively.This process of democratizing the workplace will enable companies to become more agile, innovative and profitable. Equally importantly it will help to increase employee engagement in the workplace.


Mark Dowds can be contacted via Brainpark.


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A timely reminder, on UK Election Day, of the need to re-humanize our organisations.

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