I've spent more than a decade studying organizational democracy and have come to realize that businesses have an ethical and moral responsibility, as well as a fiduciary duty, to operate democratically. And it's time we close the gap between demanding democracy as the way we want to – but not the way we get to .
As business leaders consider the prospect of establishing democratic practices, they'll undoubtedly face obstacles – some real, some invented. Size shouldn't be one of them. Think about it. In the spread of political democracy, countries ranging from a few hundred inhabitants to more than a billion people have all embraced it. So why should corporate giants fear it?
Democracy isn't perfect, of course, nor does it guarantee prosperity. And anyone who has ever lived in a democratic society knows that more people increases the complexity. But with the right systems in place, democracy is not only scalable and effective, it also creates the kind of communities – and workplaces – in which most people want to live.
Organizational democracy doesn't mean that business leaders give up all control. It simply means that a company is committed to a system that empowers people – rather than just the CEO – to generate solutions and make decisions.
Take DaVita. Today, the El Segundo, Calif., company is the largest independent provider of dialysis services in the United States, with more than 30,000 employees and annual sales of nearly $6 billion.
But back in 1999, the situation was bleak: The company was functionally bankrupt, under investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, being sued by shareholders, and the majority of senior executives had left. Its new CEO, Kent Thiry, understood that changing course meant embracing a fresh, democratic approach. So he and his team implemented the following: