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Democratic principles making businesses more transparent

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After graduating, Fenton took a job with a division of a Fortune 500 company in Iowa. "I went to work that day all bright-eyed, ready to give," she says. But she was quickly disillusioned, sensing that she would be told what to do and how to do it. "My potential was not going to be tapped at all," she says.

She left after four months. Later, a two-year stint at the Nasdaq stock market convinced her that technology was creating a new model for business. In 2003, she established WorldBlu.

"The Information Age has brought us into a democratic age, an age of participation and influence," Fenton says. "People have influence because they have information. Because of the Internet, we have the ability to connect with others and engage with others about that information, and to mobilize and act on it."

A backlash against the greed practiced by companies such as Enron and Tyco has also sparked interest in a more participatory workplace, she says.

The need for change becomes apparent in statistics showing that 40 percent of employees say they don't have the decisionmaking authority they need to do their jobs well. And nearly two-thirds believe that decisions in their company are usually not made at the appropriate level, according to Bruce Katcher, author of "30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers."

"Employees should be encouraged by senior management to exercise more decisionmaking authority," Mr. Katcher says. He wants workers to feel free to say to their bosses, "Look, I can do that work, you don't need to do it."

Many supervisors don't delegate, he finds, because they cling to a false assumption that they need to amass as much power as possible. "The truth is, the more you empower others, the more power you'll actually have, and the whole organization will be more powerful. There will be more work being done," says Katcher.

Even companies with a top-down structure can improve employee productivity by training managers to delegate, he says.

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