Imagine we voted for the managers of our teams at work. Imagine our workplaces worked as democracies should.
Today’s episode has a bit of an activist and culture war tone about it, as I suggest that one possible future for corporations is being more democratic. You see, here’s the problem: while the corporation is the cornerstone of Western democratic capitalism, there is almost no democracy in our workplaces at all. We don’t vote for who our managers should be. We don’t vote for how much we should be paid. We are hardly even consulted about strategy or what products and services we should sell to clients.
In a democratic world that glorifies individual freedom and the rights to self-determination, why is the corporation so authoritarian, class-based and anti-democratic?
I really do believe that this is one of the keys to building the organisation of the future. I hope this video gets you thinking about ways you can change and improve your workplace today.
Welcome to the future. It’s 2042 and you join me just in time to discover who the next manager of our team will be. You see here in the future, we vote for our managers. We voted yesterday and they’re about to announce the results and we’ll find out who our new manager is. The manager that we, as team members, chose.
My name is Graeme Codrington. This is ThrowForward Thursday, where we jump into the future and see what might happen. And today I warn you that this is a bit of an activist episode because I want to pick on what could possibly seen as a bit of a culture war issue. And it really is about capitalism.
Capitalism is the heart of the economic system that dominates Western countries and politics and economics. The heart of that is the corporation. The corporation which is this independent entity that can gather capital and allocate it effectively, and it’s the company as you know it, and the company that you probably work in. But the heart of that company is very anti-democratic.
For most people who support and defend capitalism, they see it as the pillar of Western liberal democracy and freedom. And in that environment, they say that the capitalistic and democratic system is the best that human beings have created, where people can be free and they can be individuals and they get the right to vote and to choose their leaders, and very proud of the democracies that exist around the world. Except that democracy doesn’t exist at all in those corporations. The heart of the capitalistic entity is not democratic at all.
There are very few organisations where people get to vote for anything meaningful. They don’t get to vote for what salaries they are paid, they don’t get to vote for who their leaders will be, and they don’t get to vote for the products and services that they offer to clients. These organisations are very, very autocratic, very, very authoritarian in their approach. And yet everybody who will defend capitalism to the hilt is probably also defending freedom and democracy and seeing that as the best way of life. There must be a little bit of cognitive dissonance when you think about this.
What if we were to apply some of the principles, we say we believe, the principles of freedom, the principles of allowing people to choose together, how they want to organise themselves, and who they want to be the leaders? What happens if we allowed people, not just the shareholders, not just the minority, wealthy overlords of the capitalistic system, but what happens if we allowed people in their organisations to have more of a choice and more of a voice in how things are done and how things are run?
Now some of you might be thinking that this would cause chaos if we had a manager leaving or retiring and now, in terms of replacing that manager, we ask the team to take responsibility for choosing who the next manager might be, either promoting somebody from within the team to that position, or selecting somebody externally to come in and be the manager.
What if we let the team make that decision? It wasn’t a top-down appointment, but it was a democratic selection by the people who would actually be led by that person. You might be thinking, this would cause chaos in my business, and it probably would cause chaos given the way that your business is currently structured. But go with me on this thought experiment and say, what environment would you need to have created in order for that democratic selection of a manager to actually be successful?
You would have had to upgrade the skills and insights of the people in the team, the people in the team would have to have a bigger picture perspective of the organisation, they would have to understand the strategy, the future plans, and the goals of the business, they would have to have a clear idea of what type of skill set is required in leading a group of people, they would probably have to have sight of the salaries and the financial information that would make sense of what they are paid and what the manager would be paid so that they can make a good offer to that manager.
There’d be a lot of information and a lot of insight that they would have to have in order to do that selection process successfully. And my suggestion to you is all of that information, that system and structure, would make your business a much better business than it is now, you would have upgraded your people’s level of ability, your people’s insights into the business, and you would definitely have improved their engagement and their commitment to the business.
I really don’t see any downsides, except for the fact that you would have woken up your people, and if you are nervous that if your people were woken up, they might move and work for somebody else instead of you, then you’ve got very big problems, probably problems bigger than I can solve in this video.
So, let’s go back to 2042 and say that I’m very excited to find out who our new manager will be because we went through quite a process as a team to make the choice and to vote together. In fact, in the end, we didn’t need a vote because we came up with a consensus view of the type of person, in fact, the exact person we wanted to lead us. And it’s going to be exciting to get the announcement made officially today.
That’s the future, and I think that it is one of the ways in which companies can begin to think about stepping out of the current state that companies are in, and I think companies are in more of a crisis than they believe, and more of a crisis than they know in the current day. Maybe this idea of democratising the workplace is one of the paths that leads out of the current crisis into a bold, exciting, and brave new future.
If our team at TomorrowToday, or myself, if we can help you to think about the future of work and to find the paths out of your current crisis, whether you recognise that crisis or not, into a bold new future. Well, please make sure that you connect with us, and contact us. This is what we do. We love to help people not just dream about the future, but build tomorrow’s world today. Be in touch and I’ll see you next week in the future again. Bye.
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For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.