Chapter 2: Democracy, So what does Democracy at work look like?

Hi contributizers,

Thank you for your help so far – here’s a list of people who’s changes have helped push the work forward (and will be thanked in the book!)

As always, please comment or send me your thoughts.


So what does Democracy at work look like?

To make this practical and helpful we need to break this down into four sections:

• Ethos and principles
• Decision making approaches
• Underlying motivations

Ethos and principles

Firstly, to really make this work you have to believe in some basic principles. And the fundamental principle is this: ‘I believe that we can getter results by involving more of the right people’.

If you cannot believe that, you will get stuck here. It really is that simple. You have to believe and to see that opening issues and decisions up to more of the right people will lead to a better end result. Like anything new, it is a leap of faith. And once you’ve leapt, you’ll get the rewards. But to take that first leap you must believe that it can be better.

Secondly, you must put your power into the process and then be willing to live with the consequences. Until you have sat with a decision that is close to being made, that is no longer in your hands, and that is tantalisingly close to being the very opposite outcome to that you had hoped for, you have not truly empowered and fuelled this approach to decision making. It must be real, and every individual must throw themselves into making it real. If there is any hint that you either may not fully back the decision that is made by the group or that you are only chucking soft, easy unimportant issues into group decision making processes then you will fail. It’s gotta be real! That’s where the huge potential lies – in the reality and the excitement and the shared power of carving real decisions together.

These two requirements are by far the hardest, because they are the highest order. Everything else is just detail. Easy, right?

Empowerment is a lighter touch

However, for those that feel scared off by suddenly handing over the keys to their unruly internal mob there are intermediary steps that can be taken on the journey.

In my own company’s experience we have graduated from making relatively unimportant decisions together like ‘shall we shut down the office between Christmas and the New Year’ through to much more impactful and meaningful decisions like ‘shall we reject this potential new client on ethical grounds’ and ‘what should the CEO’s rewards package be this year’.

There is no right or wrong way to go about this. No approved approach. As we go further, you will find ways to take the organisation you are involved with on their own journey.

Decision making approaches

There are a number of decision making approaches that are well evolved and described elsewhere including:

• Democractic
• Sociocratic / Consensus
• Empowered individuals or groups

We will look at how to begin implementing these in more detail after looking at some of the companies leading the way in this area.

Underlying motivations

When you’re operating in an environment where the idea of participation in decision making is the very last thing on anyone’s mind it can be hard to connect with why on earth other people in the organisation might be motivated to get involved in more decision making. From that cynical mindset, it can sound or feel a bit like this: ‘why on earth would our employee want to do that – surely they just want to come in to work, go home and have an easy life’. For some people that may be true, but wouldn’t you say that most people want to enjoy their work and achieve things that they can be proud of?

We have trouble in the business community remembering that there are broader motivations than money alone. Real trouble.

In People, this is something we look at in more detail and in particular the work of Professor Steven Reiss and his 16 basic desires theory. Looking at this list, I believe that at least seven of those basic desires can be powerful motivators to get involved in participative decision-making:
• Idealism, the need for social justice
• Independence, the need for individuality
• Order, the need for organized, stable, predictable environments
• Power, the need for influence of will
• Status, the need for social standing/importance
• Tranquility, the need to be safe
• Vengeance, the need to strike back/to win

‘This is my chance to try and make this unfair company policy so much fairer’. ‘This is our opportunity to exert some control over what goes on around here’. Wouldn’t it be good to tap into deep motivations like these in yourself and the people around you?


This is just a short section before looking in depth in the next extract at some case study/company examples, but really keen to hear whether it works or not – can you let me know?

I am listening in the comments here, on twitter @willmcinnes / #cltrshck and

Thank you.

4 thoughts on “Chapter 2: Democracy, So what does Democracy at work look like?

  1. Hi Will,

    This is great. The first section of this chapter really resonated with me. It’s interesting – when you speak about believing in better results being generated through involving more of the right people, it seems obvious, almost ridiculously so. I mean, who wouldn’t? But genuinely, how many times have I seen lip service paid to ‘democratic’ decision-making by people who will do their very best to railroad the conversation toward their world-view, or have the power to make a unilateral decision after the process. It’s possibly the industry in which I work, but narcissistic tendencies don’t always assist in a democratic environment! There’s too much ‘not my idea’ going on.

    Good work mate.


  2. Will

    Just catching up. Looks like good stuff so far.

    Do you need to at least mention Employee Ownership?

    I am reading David Erdal’s Beyond the Corporation which I would highly recommend.

    As he points out capitalism is based on the idea that people will work best when working in their own self-interest. The irony is that shareholder capitalism as opposed to stakeholder capitalism excludes most people from benefiting from their own efforts.

    As you know I agree that believing in people is essential. But it also seems *essential* to let them benefit from their own natural motivation.


  3. Looking good my friend! Let me know if I can help with examples etc. May also be worth defining the difference between principles and practices – there is the democratic design based on principles and then the HOW would be the practices.

  4. You say break it down into 4 sections but only list 3

    Getter= get better, but I vote for adding it to the English lexicon

    Be good to know how to identify the ‘right’ people to open it up to, that seems fundamental as opening it up to all people creates painful overhead

    I’d move underlying motivations before decision-making. As for the basic desires, people will look for ways that they can be satisfied whatever the environment and the extent to which they can be satisfied will depend on the amount of autonomy/ facilitiation/ support etc they have. Maybe this is the point you are making but I would say that participation can be encouraged by making clear, overt links between basic desires and how they are being satisfied. I’m not sure that satisfaction of these desires necessarily leads to a more democratic workplace. Rather, and this sounds a bit Machiavellian, how can each of these desires be used to foster a more democractic company environment?

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