Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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Australians still shun corporate democracy

Published 16 April 2013 11:00, Updated 18 April 2013 00:45

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Australians still shun corporate democracy

Run by Australian Garry Ridge, US group WD-40 distributes decision-making throughout its organisation.

Every year, the US-based WorldBlu organisation releases its list of democratically-run workplaces. And each year, the companies on the list spread to countries closer and closer to us in Australia.

As yet, no Australian companies have made the list of organisations that are committed to sharing power with their employees – but over seven years, this nascent movement has crept from the US to Europe and now to Malaysia, Singapore and, most recently, New Zealand.

Australia’s contribution, so far, has been through Garry Ridge who left our shores and has run WD-40 in the US for the past 15 years as chief executive and president.

This company, with more than $US330 million in annual sales, distributes decision-making throughout the organisation. It identifies which kinds of decisions must be made on a collaborative, consensual or individual basis and has a Global Tribal Council that addresses company-wide issues and objectives. The council’s meetings are shared with all employees.

The New Zealand entrant is web designer Boost New Media from Wellington. Democratic practices followed by this company include:

  • Voting: Annual half-day meetings for the entire staff to vote on goals.
  • Tracking: Quarterly meetings to track progress towards those goals and to address problems.
  • Contribution: An ideas and questions board in the kitchen. Everyone is expected to add to it.
  • Transparency: A “scrum board” so that everyone can see the status of strategic tasks.
  • Group hiring: Candidates are interviewed by the managing director and general manager and then the team meets likely candidates to ask questions. Later, they are asked for their views.

The chief executive of WorldBlu, Traci Fenton, started the organisation to research and encourage democratically-run organisations after her first taste of corporate life resulted in her resigning from a Fortune 500 company one month after she started. Fenton says when organisations are designed with the principle of freedom, rather than fear and control, they become world class and change the world for the better.

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