Thursday, November 17, 2005

Democratic Corporations?

I've been reading a book from "Naomi Klein" called "No Logo". In this book a lot of criticism is made on the responsibilities of large corporations for the community and for the workforce. She documents for instance that MicroSoft hired a core of professionals on the payroll, but around 1500 temps that could be dismissed at any time. All of the departments like printing and other "non-core" were out-sourced to another company, so that "right-sizing" (as America calls it now) can be done at the touch of a button. Nobody wants to bother with workers rights, families and those kinds of responsibilities anymore, because it's a burden to the "responsibility towards the shareholders".

Capitalism is everywhere. I'm not against making money, but I am against making money at the cost of everything else. I am all for economic sustainability, but also for social sustainability and environmental responsibility.

I've been thinking lately about ideas for a "democratic" company. The management of a conventional corporation does not particularly resemble "democracy", since the workers inside the company can hardly exert influence over a company's actions, unless they organise themselves in some kind of demonstration or strike. It's a mainly hierarchical decision making policy that operates top-down, not bottom-up like some companies wish to portray themselves.

Such a company should still identify leaders and make responsibilities clear, plus give people with responsibilities the autonomy to act under that responsibility. For instance, project leaders could become 100% responsible for work and re-organise the people within the project, but forums, votes and news-casts can be used to allow people to make decisions for policy-making inside the company itself ( aligned to mission and goals ), which is more about the identity and culture of a company than anything else.

Consider a new social experiment: - Computer professionals working "away". There are some challenges to face here:
  • How to define and show the "culture" of the company
  • Quickly find consensus and defining ways of dealing with conflict
  • Fair payrolling around the globe (different holidays, economies, work laws)
  • Ensuring that people work for the hours they claim (discipline and ethics)
  • Feeling of belonging to the company and feeling connected
  • Social isolation (from perspective of work)
  • Maintaining projects on budget and time
  • Ensuring fair work (deal with the voluntary work-aholic)
  • Regular meetings and making sure these are held with people present
  • Dealing with confidential information
Especially when you are able to exert influence over how a company is run within the boundaries of mission and goals, this can be a very rewarding experience. Working "away" implies working at home, on travel, at Starbucks in the city or the public library. Anywhere you can get 'connectivity' probably and wherever you like to work most.

The benefits here for the worker are very clear. But the benefits for a customer are not yet clear. Motivation is one and tapping into a global network is another. What kind of services however can be developed in this network that are difficult to organize in a conventional corporation and will it be worth the effort?

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