Painting the World Blue, One Company at a Time
Interview with Traci Fenton, Founder and CEO of WorldBlu, on Organizational Freedom, Democracy and Knowing How to Do Calculus
Doug Kirkpatrick recently interviewed Traci Fenton, Founder and CEO of WorldBlu, whose goal is to see one billion people working in free and democratic companies by the year 2050.
Traci Fenton: Hello, this is Traci and Doug on July 26th.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Perfect.
Traci Fenton: Interviewing.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Absolutely. Well, let’s jump right into it, Traci.
Traci Fenton: Fabulous.
Doug Kirkpatrick: So tell us your story, Traci. How did you acquire your passion for freedom and democracy in the workplace?
Traci Fenton: Well, I got all your questions, Doug, and I love them, by the way. I was like, oh, my gosh, wow. All right, well, here is the story. I’ll give you the long version which you can then edit. There are basically three things that got me started on this journey about feeling so passionate about democracy in the workplace, and it started when I was 21 years old, and I was in my senior year of college, and I was invited to be the executive director of our student affairs conference.
As a student-run conference, we could come up with the topic—whatever topic we wanted. After months and months of brainstorming, the student team came to me and they said, “We think we should do the conference on democracy.” Now, I had told them I wanted the conference to be on something that was cutting-edge, that was innovative, that was going to move consciousness forward, preferably, was in line with business ‘cause that was my interest, and they came back to me with democracy, which, to me, meant government and politics, and was pretty much the most boring topic that anyone could ever suggest.
So I had a bad leadership moment, and I said, “Guys, that’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard. We’re not doing this conference on democracy.” Well, they continued to stick with the idea, and slowly, but surely, lobbied me one by one. As I spoke with them, and then, as I spoke with different professors—we had professors from environmental studies, from quantum physics, from all these different areas, I started to see that democracy was more than just politics and government, which is how most people think of it, but that it’s really about creating a system of governance, or a way of organizing people that unleashes their full potential.
I always knew, growing up, that my purpose in life was to help unleash people’s full potential. So suddenly, here I was in a moment where my purpose, my life purpose was aligning with a system that could help that happen for people. So I fell in love with this idea of democracy. We did our conference spring of my senior year, and it went very, very well. The day after the conference, I flew to Indonesia to do my last semester of college on Indonesia abroad, and this was sort of the second factor of the three that got me into WorldBlu and what I’m doing now.
This is my first time out of the country. I grew up in Iowa, so if you can imagine from Iowa to Indonesia, what a big change that was. I was there in the spring of ’97, when Suharto, the leader at the time, was being overthrown, and I got to experience what it was like to not live in a free and democratic society. I experienced what it was like to be in a country that wore the mask of democracy. I saw how people were silenced and how they were limited, and I myself was silenced and limited. I saw horrible, horrible atrocities that also happened that CNN and other news would report on. I was seeing firsthand, and that just so cemented to me how important it is that, first of all, we live in free and democratic societies, but then, what that can do in our individual lives.
I came back, I graduated, and then, the third thing—and you’ve heard this story, Doug—is I got my first job out of college, which was for a Fortune 500 Company. I went to work that first day to that Fortune 500 Company so excited, so jazzed about being there, ready to fully engage, ready to do the best that I could. Well, I walked out of there that first day feeling dehumanized, dejected, and I could very quickly see that it was going to be a very toxic work environment. I thought this isn’t how I want to spend the rest of my life, and I don’t think it’s how anyone else should either. I had already started to think about WorldBlu a little bit and after four months of this Fortune 500 Company, I just thought I can’t do this anymore. I really need to dedicate myself to this idea of WorldBlu, and that was 13 years ago now.
So those were the early stages of really launching WorldBlu. With WorldBlu, the idea was to really take what I loved and understood about democracy, and apply that into the business world. Now, when you take a philosophy, essentially, which is what democracy is, how do you explain it? How do you bring it to the world? So I spent a good solid ten years from ’97 to 2007 really digging in deep and researching. I studied all the classics on what democratic theory is. I lived in Washington, D.C. at the time, so I was able to speak with leading experts on democracy in the workplace. I also traveled all over the world. I was invited to several World Movement for Democracy Conferences by the National Endowment for Democracy in many different parts of the world—Brazil, South Africa, elsewhere, and also, my graduate studies, this is what I focused on. So I did a tremendous amount of research and study and interaction with practitioners, as well as theorists around democracy and what it is.
What I realized was that—and I’m going to answer a couple of your questions in one now. I started with a list of around 27 principles. I wanted to understand what are the principles that under guard a democratic system. You know everyone would talk about freedom of the press or separation of powers. While those things are often important, to me, there weren’t causal to democracy. They were the outcome of certain principles put into practice. So I wanted to understand what the causal principles were that under guard a democratic system because if we had those principles and we’re clear about those, then, you can scale them. Then, you can apply them in any setting, and have the expression of those principles be appropriate to the setting in which they were applied.
I started with something like 27 different principles, and once I got the clarity around them being causal, rather than the result—you know one of our principals is not empowerment. People say to me, “Is empowerment a principle? Aren’t you just talking about empowerment?”—empowerment is not causal; it’s a result of a democratic environment. People say, “Is trust a principle?” No, trust is not a democratic principle. You don’t just say to people, “Okay, trust.” Trust is what, again, comes out of an environment in which people have access to information they need, are able to have a voice, have a dialogue. Those things build trust, so those are results.
They started off trust, empowerment, principles like that started off as the core 27, and then, over the years, and countless conversations, I narrowed it down with other experts working with me. We all worked together, narrowed it down to ten principles. This isn’t rocket science. I don’t think that WorldBlu discovered some hidden gem. We just took what was out there, and really said, “Okay, here’s the basic framework that it’s going to take.” Those ten principles are on our site, but they’re principles like transparency, accountability, decentralization and choice. It’s through that framework that we’ve been able to then go on and create a metric to evaluate the level of democracy in a company, which is essentially what you are doing as you’re evaluating the design, the structural design, if you will. Just like you evaluate the structure of a home to see how sound it is, you evaluate the design of company based on these democratic principles.
So let me pause there. We didn’t expect all of these sounds, did we? All right, so let me break there. I know I answered several questions in one.
Doug Kirkpatrick: No, that’s super. I appreciate that. Well, let’s build on the idea of the principles. One of your principles is decentralization and making sure that power is appropriately shared and distributed. How do you define power and how can an organization know if it’s appropriately shared?
Traci Fenton: Well, it’s a good question and I’ll answer with my fallback joke, which is when Supreme Court Justice was asked what’s pornography, and he says, “I can’t define it, but I know when I see it.” I think sometimes people think of power as a static thing that you either have or you don’t have, but I think power is more like—it ebbs and flows and it shifts around. It’s like light or water. You know there’s perceived power, and there’s actual power. Typically, in organization, if you look at an org chart, it’s structured to give power to a few people at the “top” of a company, top of the corporate pyramid. Power, in that corporate setting, is the one who gets to make the decision, you know, gets to make the final decisions that influence the rest of the company, and other people—often times, thousands of people—and then, customers, as well.
So, typically, in a traditional organization, that power which in a corporate sense, I think, will define it. There’s many ways to define it but we’ll just talk about decision making, a specific example. That’s how it works. So in a democratic company, the principle of decentralization is about distributing that power, aka decision-making ability, throughout the organization. So rather than just having ultimate decision power resting with the CEO, for example, that decision-making power, to make real decisions that impact the company, that impact the employees and that impacts the customers is decentralized and distributed out to people who are on the front lines, and who probably have access to information that the C-Suite doesn’t have access to, and are therefore, better able to make a sound decision. We have a crisis of perception. We think that only information is in the C-Suite. While the C-Suite does often have access to information to make wise decisions, in a democratic company, that information is shared. That’s the principle of transparency.
So it’s appropriate to say okay, we need to go, for example, pick a new factory. We’re expanding as a company. We need a new factory. Who needs to make that decision? I mean, typically, you would think the C-Suite makes that decision. When they say well, you know, we’re going to write the check for it; we decide the factory. But what about the frontline workers, the ones who will be working in the factory, the ones who already know what works and what doesn’t work with their current factory? They should be the ones, probably, to make that decision, and we’ve seen that happen in cases like SEMCO, which is a world-famous example of a democratic company. That’s exactly what they did. That’s where it’s appropriate. You ask about appropriate.
It’s appropriate for the people working in the factory, dealing with the factory, the machines, so on and so forth. That they’re the ones who have the say and who are able to make the final decision. They’re probably going to be able to make a better decision in the C-Suite, however, there are times when the C-Suite will have a better decision-making opportunity and information on other things, and therefore, they should make the decision. So it’s just really understanding where this information rests, where does true power lie, not organizational perceived power, and then, empowering those people with decision-making abilities.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Very good. Well, Traci, education seems to be a significant theme at WorldBlu. How does education relate to workplace democracy and freedom?
Traci Fenton: So do you mean education like our school system?
Doug Kirkpatrick: Yes.
Traci Fenton: Oh, I love that question—absolutely. Yeah, I’ll tell you, Doug, the deeper that I get into really understanding what democracy is and really understanding what companies need, and what the world needs to progress and move forward, the clearer it is to me that we have to run our schools democratically as well. The challenge is, is that our schools still operate—our public schools is what I’m referring to here—still largely operate on that factory-based mechanistic model. We are, unfortunately, in the U.S., specifically, what I am speaking to, we are still teaching students to think in very compartmentalized ways. We’re not empowering them. We’re teaching to the test, and we’re not teaching them or creating environments where they be true thinkers, and develop the skills of a democratic citizen.
In order to thrive in a democratic company, you need to have good communication skills. You need to be able to be tolerant of different viewpoints. You need to be compassionate. These are skills that we need to be developing in school, and when you’re in school being told how to think and what to do, that’s that authoritarian command and control environment; it’s not democratic. So our classrooms don’t run democratically and our schools. I mean, if you look at a school as an organization, a principal being like a CEO—and both my parents were schoolteachers; I get how this works—the schools often run in a very authoritarian command and control way, but there are plenty of examples worldwide of alternative or democratically-run schools that give power to the students to chart their own destiny, to have a say. Why can’t students have a say in what they’re going to learn?
I realize that maybe at five years old, or six years old in kindergarten, they need some guidance, but how many students do we lose along the way, or they become disengaged just as disengaged workers because they’re not learning what they want to learn? They’re not learning things that are aligned with their talents, so we have to have a major revolution of our school system. The schools need to, number one, function democratically at the staff level. Number two, they need to function democratically in the classroom. Number three, what that’s going to do is help produce true democratic citizens who will be ready and able and prepared to step into democratically-run companies.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Great answer, Traci. So let’s segue to organizational performance, business performance. How would you describe the relationship between workplace freedom and democracy and the actual performance of the organization?
Traci Fenton: Yeah, there’s a very strong correlation between performance and a democratically-run company. You’re only kidding yourself if you don’t think there is. Just as there’s a strong correlation between a command and control environment and performance. Now, what are the major challenges that businesses are facing when it comes to the bottom line? They need to be innovative. They need to be productive. They need to be efficient. They need their people to show up to be fully engaged, to not be absent, to not be out on sick leave. They need that level of engagement, so how do you do that? How do you create the innovation and the creativity and the productivity in the engagement? You have to create an environment that does that, and that’s what democracy in the workplace does. It creates an environment in which people are fully engaged. It creates an environment where because power is decentralized, people are all levels of the organization can have a voice and a way of expressing themselves when they have an idea, when they have a thought about continuous improvement. Maybe they have a new innovation. Maybe they have got some idea that’s going to forever change the way the company works.
One of my favorite stories was I remember when I went and visited Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life, and Linden Lab in San Francisco and they are a certified WorldBlu democratic company. I went and visited them in early 2007, and their office coordinator gave me a tour of Linden Lab before I met with their CEO. I found out later that their office coordinator, whose name is Ramsey, had an idea. His idea was hey, when people go to SecondLife.com, up comes a big Second Life image. That image is not clickable. What if we make that image clickable? People can click on it and it takes them directly to the page where they can sign up to become a member of Second Life, which is how they make money. No one had ever thought of this before—simple, basic idea.
Because Linden Lab had an environment where he could express that idea—they had something called—it’s changed now, but it was called the Vote-A-Meter, I think, Vote-O-Matic or something like that. You could put your idea out on a platform for anyone to see. Ramsey was empowered. It didn’t matter that he was the office coordinator. What mattered is that he had an idea. It didn’t matter he wasn’t the CEO. He had an idea, he put it out there. An engineer said, “Smart thinking; good idea.” Made that image clickable. By making that image clickable, it resulted in an increase in $3 million to their bottom line. You have to have an environment in which people are empowered to express their voice, and then, a way to capture those ideas. That directly impacts the bottom line. What if Ramsey did not have a way to express his voice and he was pigeon-holed into saying, “You are an employee who is the office coordinator. Sit down, shut up and do office coordinator things. Don’t think about how to improve the company”? They would’ve lost $3 million in annual revenue, so imagine that over time.
So when you talk about democratic companies, you also have—you know the Gallup organization says that 70, 73, 75 percent of the U.S. workforce is disengaged at work, costing the U.S. economy over $300 billion a year. Okay, so how are you going to get people engaged? Shouting at them, creating more of a command and control structure? No way. You’re going to do it by creating an environment, again, where they can be engaged. If they’re engaged, if they feel like they matter, guess what? Fewer sick days, lower voluntary turnover, more engagement, more innovation. I mean, it just goes on from there, so to me, it’s a very clear, direct correlation between the two.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Brilliant answer. Let me ask you this, Traci, culture change can be tough to pull off, and the company can start out as a free democratic organization, or it can change from a more authoritarian or hierarchical organization. What’s the best example of an existing hierarchical organization trending or changing into a more democratic organization?
Traci Fenton: There are many examples out there, but one of my favorites is DaVita. DaVita is currently $6 billion Fortune 400 Company with around 35,000 employees. They are in the healthcare industry. They provide dialysis. I was actually just—Doug, part of where I was, I was in Orlando at the DaVita University. I sat in their two-day training that they do for their new hires on their culture, so it was really fabulous to get to sit in on that, and see it.
The story of DaVita is, in 1999, they were really failing as a company. They were structured in the command and control model. They were being investigated by the SEC. They were on the verge of bankruptcy. Their performance and their clinics, the service they were delivering was really subpar, and they had a real problem before them as a company. So what happened was they ended up bringing in a new CEO named Kent Thiry, and Kent Thiry, KT, had a real vision. He says, “We need to think of DaVita as a community, as a democratic community, before we think of it as a corporation, and we need to create some shared values, and some shared vision of where we’re going.”
That can sound like a pretty crazy thing, when you can’t even make payroll, for someone to just come in and say, “No, we need to look at the soft stuff.” That soft stuff is going to influence the hard stuff. That’s what they did at DaVita, and it took time, but what they did was they created many, many different ways of practicing democracy. They started to give more power to the people. They did town hall meetings. They gave themselves a new name that people voted on. They had actual voting in this huge company, but people were casting ballots, voting. They gave power to their 1,300 clinics across the country. They decentralized power, so that they at the clinics, were able to chart their own destiny, rather than to wait for orders on high. So they were empowered.
They created a phenomenal way of sharing and distributing information in the company. They created Voice of the Village meetings where once a quarter, the CEO and senior people get on the phone with anyone in the company to answer questions that anyone has. They did a whole number of things that moved it from that command and control to culture and design to a democratic design. As a result, now, here they are, ten years later, it’s been the DaVita Decade, they call it.
They had just moved from a Fortune 500 to a Fortune 400 Company. They’re six billion in sales. They’re the leader of their industry. Part of their mission is to be the employer of choice. Everybody wants to work at DaVita. They’ve been in a remarkable turnaround. What I like about them is we now have ten years that we can look at their progress, and look at the metrics, and really see how that change resulted in, first of all, saving the company, and second of all, significant improvement to the bottom line, and a phenomenal culture.
Like I was saying, I was just at their internal corporate training is called DaVita University. I just sat in their class called Academy, which is a two-day training for their new hires. I was with 300 new people. It was one of the most phenomenal experiences of my life. I did not expect that for a two-day training. I thought it was going to be a bunch of PowerPoints, and you know, handouts. It was literally a theatrical, spectacle of amazement. The bonding and the sharing and the—everything that went on was just outstanding.
It’s not all about being perfect. One of the things that their CEO and COO does is that once a year, at their annual big conference, they share their mistakes that they made for the year. Imagine that, CEO standing there going, “Here are my mistakes I made. I messed up.” This is, you know, CEOs are paid big money. They’re a publicly traded company. You don’t do that. When I was at the training, they were very honest. They went through their history. They talked about where they’ve been. They talked about what’s going well. They talked about using hard metrics, what they still needed to improve on, what they messed up on, you know, honest conversation. So to me, DaVita has been one of the more remarkable stories.
Another one to watch is going to be HCL Technologies. They just started to make their transition in 2005. They’ve already had phenomenal results, and they’re just about five years in, so we’ll see in another five years even, where they are.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Great examples. Let me ask you this, Traci. You mentioned your stressful experience in Indonesia. Their government adopted a veneer of democracy and maintained an authoritarian fist. Is there any risk that organizations, businesses might adopt some trappings of organizational democracy in an attempt to just maintain their existing hierarchies?
Traci Fenton: So, say that again. You’re sort of saying the—say that again. I don’t think I fully got the question—yeah.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Is there any risk that a company may try to adopt some trappings or the appearance or veneer of organizational democracy to present a face to the outside world of appearing open and democratic while, in fact, maintaining their underlying authoritarianism?
Traci Fenton: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s possible, just sort of like with corporate social responsibility. You know, sometimes, companies, you know, obviously, people have been complaining about it for years now, but that corporate social responsibility or CSR is just a PR scheme, and it very well can be.
I think the differences with a democratic company is because you know, unlike CSR where you can have a couple green programs, and still run a completely horrible work environment, for a company to be democratic and certainly, for a company to be certified as a WorldBlu company, we do a very comprehensive survey of their employees. Unless all of your employees are lying just to get certified, we found that the bar is set very, very high. So in order for them to actually be certified as a WorldBlu company as democratic, it’s a very high standard and it would be extremely difficult to have the talk without walking the walk in that scenario.
Could a company just use the word, “democracy” and say it’s democratic without it being that way? Yes, but I think people very quickly will see that that’s not the case, and will openly share that’ it’s not democratic. So I don’t think you can get very far just wearing the mask of democracy in a company. They’re smaller than countries, too. You know countries are much more amorphous. In a company, they’re smaller and so it’s a lot harder to fake it.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Yeah, hard to fake it.
Traci Fenton: Yep.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Good. Well, your website talks about needing commitment from the top to drive workplace freedom and democracy. So if someone is working in an organization that is not free and democratic, what advice would you give them? Should they try to get that commitment from the top, or should they try to promote freedom without that commitment, or should they just leave and find a better organization?
Traci Fenton: Well, you know, it might be all of the above. It really is a case-by-case basis. You have options. If you’re working in an undemocratic company, and you want to see if become democratic, and you’re not the CEO—organizational democracy does not have to start at the top, but in order for it to be effective and embraced within the organization, it needs to have the buy-in and support from the top. So it doesn’t have to start at the top, but it needs to have the hundred percent support from the top in the end.
I do know they have some examples of democratic organizations where a couple sort of forward-thinking managers decided to run their departments democratically, and that, eventually, the success of those departments or those divisions was noticed by the C-Suite, and then, the C-Suite says, “Hmm, let’s pay attention to that; maybe we should work this way.” But nine times out of ten, it does start with an enlightened CEO who says, “This is how we’re going to run the company.”
If somebody’s in a company that, you know, they want to try that out, running their department democratically, see what happens there, or if they want to try to get the CEO to buy in, they certainly can do that. If they’re not getting those results, and they really want to work in a democratic environment, then, they’re probably going to need to leave the company and go to work for a democratic company somewhere else.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Great, I appreciate it.
Traci Fenton: Yep.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Your website describes organizational democracy as both a means and an end, so my question is, is it ever possible to reach the end, and pat yourself on the back and say you’ve made it or is the end always kind of evolving? Is it always just a continuous process of progression?
Traci Fenton: Well, you know I think it’s both. It’s sort of like if you said to me, “Traci, do you know how to do calculus?” “Yes, I know how to do calculus, and there’s so much more I need to learn still.” But there’s a point in which I know how to do calculus. I think there’s a point in which a company really can be functioning as a thriving democratic workplace. It’s dynamic. It’s a means and an end, and I don’t think end in terms of the end. I just think it as this is the goal that we’re trying to reach, and we can reach it. Once you reach that place where you’re in mastery, as I call, democratic mastery, you’re always having to refresh/renew because you’ve got new people coming in. You’ve got outside forces that are trying to take you off the mark, so you always have to keep it fresh and dynamic, but I think the goal is certainly to get to a place where you can feel like, yes, this company is working democratically. We’ve got the systems and processes in place that are democratic, rather than command and control, but it certainly is a dynamic, ongoing—you never stop. It’s just like a garden that’s always growing.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Well, that’s great. You used two great analogies in one answer. I appreciate it. Calculus and gardens—I love that. So let me ask you this, University of Michigan’s Ross school related democratic organizations to more peaceful communities, so what would you say the most important ripple effect of the democratic reorganization would be and why?
Traci Fenton: Well, right, it’s very important research they did, and I know Gretchen Spreitzer well. Out of that report, they said it’s going to impact the level of the peace in the community, it’s going to help fight corruption. A democratic company helps fight corruption and community, and it contributes to economic development. But there’s a fourth thing, and I think it’s the most important thing, because I think it activates all these other areas, which is that it contributes to human development.
When a company runs democratically, it literally helps make us better people. That’s what it is at the end of the day. We become better people, and that makes us better citizens, it makes us better husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, parents. It makes us more actively engaged. If we’re better citizens, things like corruption are less likely to happen. If we’re developing as human beings, we tend to be more peaceful, and that contributes to peace. If we feel a sense of self confidence around what we can offer the world, we work harder when we’re engaged, perhaps, are more entrepreneurial, and that also impacts economic development.
So to me, that is the single most important contribution a democratic company makes to the world is aiding in human development.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Excellent answer. Your website talks about organizational democracy as being a great workplace for people who can thrive in a decentralized, dynamic environment, and that begs a question for me. Are there some people that cannot thrive in such an environment? How does organizational democracy relate to them?
Traci Fenton: Yeah, that’s such an important question because it even, in a way, goes back to our school issue. Yes, there are certain people who do not thrive in a democratic environment. It feels unsettling to them. They, perhaps through their schooling or their home environment, were raised or schooled in environments which were much more authoritarian, and they’re more comfortable just being told what to do. You hear people say that, just tell me what to do or just point me in the right direction, just tell me exactly what to do. But what we’re seeing knowledge workers, creative people in the creative space, white collar workers, and certainly, Gen X and Gen Y are less likely to want to be in an authoritarian environment, and much more likely, and in fact, need to in order to succeed in their jobs, be in a democratic environment.
So it’s certainly not for everyone, but I think the percentage of people that it’s not for is getting smaller and smaller by the day, and percentage is for it is getting larger and larger.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Great. The theme that runs throughout your organization is that the leader knows our model is ineffective, and passé but why do you think so many organizations cling to that model? You think that the success of democratic organizations and the progression of democratic organizations is inevitable?
Traci Fenton: Well, I think we cling to that model because years and years and years, decades, thousands of years, you think back to the kings’ and queens’ mentality, the mentality of—what do I want to say—monarch where we’re used to having someone rule over us and tell us what to do, we find comfort sometimes in thinking that there’s an omniscient person out there who will know all and be all and we deify them. That certainly feels more comfortable at times, than realizing that no one person can know everything, and we’re all in this together, and that’s a democratic environment.
I think there are three things that keep a company from being democratic: Ignorance, versus ignorance, they just don’t know, even though they might be willing. The second thing is greed, and the third is ego. Greed probably correlates very closely with ego. Some people, their egos are just so huge, they do think they’re God, and you know, we certainly see those megalomaniac CEOs all the time, and many of them are responsible for getting us into this global economic crisis that we’re currently in. So I think what’s happening is we live in a world where people need to learn how to self govern, and we don’t like to do that because that requires discipline, it requires work. It requires us being, living awake, being awake to what’s going on in the world, to what’s influencing us in the decisions that we’re making. It’s much easier to sleepwalk through life.
When we’re sleepwalking, that’s why we just want to a leader to tell us what to do. So I think there’s a big global awakening going on, and we’re moving into a new age of self governance, unlike anything we’ve seen before, and that’s why we’re going to see the rise of the democratic company.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Great answer. Let me ask you this. Tony Hsieh, Zappos founder spoke at your WorldBlu Awards Conference and his new book, Delivering Happiness, is a huge bestseller. So what do you see as the relationship between workplace freedom and democracy and human happiness?
Traci Fenton: Yeah, what’s great about Zappos is they work democratically, and because they work democratically, people are happy. You know while Tony Hsieh may not use the word, democracy, having been to Zappos countless times myself, and studied the company and having talked with dozens and dozens of employees there, the company has been designed democratically, and they have core values that help reinforce that democratic design, and that makes people happy. It makes people happy when they don’t feel invisible walking in doors of a company each day, when they feel seen, when they feel valued, when they feel like they have a voice. That makes people happy. That makes anyone happy.
Imagine living in a family where nobody ever sees or talks to you and they just tell you, “Shut up and do what you’re told?” I mean, what a miserable existence, and yet, that’s how many people spend eight plus hours a day, work environment. So happiness, to me, comes out of a democratic environment, and Zappos is a democratic company and that’s why they’re able to deliver happiness.
Doug Kirkpatrick: Very good. So my last question, Traci, is what’s next for Traci Fenton and WorldBlu, and what new initiatives do you have on the horizon going forward that you’re excited about?
Traci Fenton: Yeah, well, we have just—thanks for asking that question. We are moving into really taking things to the next level for WorldBlu, and we sort of have three major areas that we’re focused on, and these areas are all about moving us closer to our goal of seeing one billion people working and free in democratic workplaces. So our three areas are number one, the WorldBlu community, and this is our membership and our award, and really growing that community of companies, growing the number of companies that are certified as democratic, and growing our member base, so that we have the strength together to move this movement forward.
The second area is WorldBlu Live. This is a conference we’ve done before. You know, just for your reference, Doug, like the WorldBlu Awards was sort of a little different kind of thing than we’ve done before. What we’re doing with WorldBlu Live is, essentially, turning it into a global two-day training where anyone can come and literally be trained in how to build a democratic company. We are making it be just really cool. It’s going to be very, very, very cool. So we’re taking that to the next level. I was just talking with our global director of that project before our call.
Then, the third area is called WorldBlu Media. With WorldBlu Media, our next big project is my show, a show that I’m creating about how to build a democratic company, as well as my book. So that is where my major focus will be in this next year. So those three things, WorldBlu Media, WorldBlu Community, and WorldBlu Live, all working under the umbrella of WorldBlu, are going to be moving us further along in achieving our vision.
Doug Kirkpatrick: That’s terrific, Tracy. I appreciate you sharing with us for the last 40 minutes. We actually wound up a couple minutes early. It sounds like you’ve got so much going on that you need to probably get back to it pretty soon.
PUBLISHED BY THE MORNING STAR SELF-MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE, AUGUST 11, 2010