Awhile back I posted a little overview of organizational democracy in Democracy at DreamHost. Now, less than 5 months later, we have the honor of appearing on the WorldBlu Most Democractic Workplaces List for a second year in a row. WorldBlu’s entire purpose is to educate people about organizational democracy and encourage organizations and companies to adopt it. It’s a great list and we’re happy to be able to be part of it. Now that we have been on this list for two straight years, we’re going to let a few of our workers tell you in their own words what it means to be democratic. These comments come from all parts of our organization from recent hires as well as from people who have literally helped us build the company.
Some people like it just because it feels more relaxed:
“I think that working in a democratic work place like DreamHost makes it an easier environment for me to work in. Specifically, the rules and regulations are more relaxed and that makes it easier to do my job.”
We still have rules, but when everyone has a say in the rule making process it doesn’t feel like the rules are there for no reason. That in turn makes things feel more relaxed overall.
Other people really appreciate being able to make their voices heard by the top management:
“To me, working in a democratically run organization is about being valued by your leaders. It’s not about the majority always getting their way; it’s about being heard, and considered, even if you are in the minority.”
Another person elaborates on that idea:
“The great thing about working at DH is that at all levels the employee’s voice is heard. From the front line techs to the founders of the company, everyone is able to open a line of communication with anyone else.
Coming from other places where I’ve fought my way up the ladder and still had no real voice to speak of, it’s a refreshing change of pace to be able to talk to anyone in the company without any of the red tape that so often stymies a thoughtful suggestion or a more efficient mode of working.
It’s been my pleasure to work in an environment where change is never negated by a lack of open discussion and work flow is never relegated to grandfathered, outdated methods.
By empowering each employee with his or her own level of input, DH has created a comfortable atmosphere where all elements of the company are integral.”
One important aspect of organizational democracy is that workers have a high level of control over their jobs. The job needs to get done, but when a person has a say over how that job is handled, that person will take more personal responsibility for the outcome. The result is more quality work from everyone.
“A democratic work place means you as the worker can have more of a say over how your own performance is rated, and that can help increase your productivity. For a while we had a floating quota system for tech support tickets. The more tickets you completed each day the higher your quota would go. Normally that sounds like a great idea as it pushes you to continuously improve your output. However in reality it was actually causing people to stall at what they felt was a moderate number so as not to trigger the increase. Some tech support members suggested that they would do more tickets if they weren’t penalized by having their daily quota increase and management put an end to that system. Thus through feedback and open communication on all levels of the organization there was an overall net increase in productivity.”
“Working in a democratic environment makes me feel more connected to the work that I do because I feel like I can take ownership of the tasks that I do. I know if I have a better way to do something, I can do it instead of mindlessly doing something the way someone thinks it should be done.”
In a similar vein, this system programmer takes advantage of the personal freedom we provide whenever possible. He does have one complaint, though.:
“The sheer amount of trust afforded to each and every employee in the company is what amazes me. I can go forward with an idea on a small scale without having to jump through bueraucratic hoops to do so. We try hard not to get in the way of people doing their jobs. We basically hand everyone the keys to the company and trust them to do the right thing.
If I don’t like something about how we’re doing something I have the ability to change it, or at the very least make my opinion heard.
My only real complaint is that nobody listens to my suggestions! I’ve put in the suggestion box that we need more license plate frames a million times and Brett just won’t order them! :(“
I think we may have to get some more license plate frames ordered!
Several people told me how much they love the sense of teamwork and communication they get from our democratic processes:
“We have a very open workplace in terms of social interaction – while there is a necessary hierarchy in place to keep things going everyone has an open door policy and is accessible, friendly and helpful. This results in employees feeling that they can talk to their supervisor about pretty much anything and empowers them to tackle all sorts of challenges – help is available just down the hall or over instant message. It also creates a strong social bond – employees tend to be friends outside of work without any deliniation along lines of rank/power in the company. It makes for a very satisfying work experience!”
I work with many of my best friends, and we’ve managed to stay best friends for the last decade so I totally agree with that sentiment.
“Having worked in other companies in which you are merely an employee number, it’s refreshing at Dreamhost to know that you are valued first as a person and then for your work and input. It’s not just the numbers you produce.”
We treat everyone as individuals and value their input. We actually expect input as part of everyone’s job. To make that process easier we added question/suggestion boxes a few months ago. It’s a good old-fashioned paper and pencil anonymous way for anyone to say anything or ask any question of the management. It’s already been really insightful and we’ve made a few significant changes that were requested.
“I really appreciate the fact that not only is there usually an open forum for discussion (i.e. venting) about problems facing the company (even from the “grunts” on the front line), but that suggestions are listened to, and even if not implemented, are responded to in a thoughtful way. That makes me, as an employee, feel my concerns are being heard and addressed.
I don’t expect everything to be done my way, but I do know that people are listening, and if I make a suggestion that doesn’t involve a rubber chicken it will be honestly considered. Also, the suggestion box has blown me away…the sheer amount of suggestions that are not only considered, but actually implemented without hemming and hawing is amazing to me. I almost feel guilty when I see how far out of their way management will go to keep everyone happy. Dreamhost has truly ruined me for any other employer.”
Aww, now you’re just making us blush!
To sum things up, I’ll leave you with one choice quote:
“Working at a democratically run organization means I can respectfully proclaim “(BLANK) blows donkey c**k because…” without fear of retribution or political backstabbing.”