Rating the Best Workplace Democracies

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Democracy and business seem to operate in completely separate worlds. But that belief is a problem for the corporate world, says Traci Fenton, founder of WorldBlu. Her company studies democracy in the workplace and came up with a list of the most democratic businesses. Dominating the list were smaller companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. The smaller companies moved faster in returning the employee surveys, which measured how their workplaces fared in 10 categories, says Fenton, who started WorldBlu in 2003.

The criteria for a democratic workplace include: purpose, transparency, dialogue, fairness, accountability, individual voice, choice, integrity, decentralization, and evaluation.

That doesn't mean larger companies won't have a place on future lists, she says. WorldBlu's recently released list is just a start. Companies should learn that "democracy is scalable," Fenton says, pointing to companies like W.L. Gore and Southwest Airlines. Top-down companies won't survive in today's global marketplace, she explains. Companies with fewer layers of bureaucracy can respond faster to changes, making them more competitive.

After studying democracy's place in organizations for almost 10 years, Fenton decided it was time for a list putting these ideas to the test. She says it took her a decade of looking at companies from Brazil to Russia to put together the 10 criteria for a democratic workplace.

Unlike lists that measure best places to work, WorldBlu's list looks at how companies make decisions and are organized. Democracy is not just about giving employees a vote or being decentralized to the point of chaos. But making it work means making employees accountable for their decisions as well. Still, Fenton says, working in such an environment does boost morale.

WorldBlu's winners of the 'Most Democratic Workplaces, 2007' award

1-800-Got-Junk? – Vancouver, Canada

AIESEC International – Rotterdam, Netherlands

Axiom News – Peterborough, Canada

Berrett-Koehler Publishers – San Francisco

BetterWorld Telecom – Reston, Va.

Beyond Borders – Norristown, Pa.

Collective Copies – Florence, Mass.

Continuum – West Newton, Mass.

Dancing Deer Baking Co. – Boston

Equal Exchange – West Bridgewater, Mass.

FBS Data Systems – Fargo, N.D.

GE Aviation – Durham Engine Facility – Durham, N.C.

Great Harvest Bread Co. – Dillon, Mont.

Guayaki Sustainable Rainforest Products, Inc. – Sebastopol, Calif.

Honest Tea – Bethesda, Md.

i-Free – St. Petersburg, Russia

KI – Green Bay, Wis.

Linden Lab – San Francisco

Motek – Beverly Hills, Calif.

New Belgium Brewing Co. – Fort Collins, Colo.

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra – New York City

Rite-Solutions – Middletown, R.I.

Roche Salon – Washington, D.C

Sedgebrook – Lincolnshire, Ill.

South Mountain Company – West Tisbury, Mass.

SRC Holdings Corporation – Springfield, Mo.

TakingITGlobal – Toronto, Canada

Ternary Software – Exton, Pa.

The Do LaB Event Creations – Los Angeles

The Russell Family Foundation – Gig Harbor, Wash.

Threadless – Chicago

Union Cab of Madison Cooperative – Madison, Wis.

Zaadz – Topanga, Calif.

Zingerman's Community of Businesses – Ann Arbor, Mich.


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small business
corporate culture

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