In order for leaders to create the inspired, participative communities essential to open organizations, they must first understand the three requirements of the open organization management system:
1. Motivating and inspiring. This is the bottom of the pyramid, the foundation of the management system. Leaders inform open organization participants why their contributions are important, ignite their passion, and build engagement.
2. Getting things done. The “how” can be described as the practices that facilitate successful decentralized collaboration. This part of the management system requires leaders to establish a meritocracy and encourage debate.
3. Setting direction. Also known as the “what,” this part of the system involves leaders acting as catalysts of directional change and involving others in their decision-making processes.
PART ONE: WHY: MOTIVATING AND INSPIRING
Purpose is not what an organization does, but rather the reasons behind its actions. For example, the purpose of the J.M. Smucker Company was not to only create jams and jellies, but to bring families together around memorable meals. Similarly, Red Hat’s purpose is to create better technology the open source way. As both these companies demonstrate, purpose is important because it provides employees with a reason to contribute to their organizations that is far more compelling than the profit motive.
Once leaders discern their organizations’ purposes, they must seek out passion–the fuel necessary to take their organizations to the next level of achievement. Without passion, it is impossible to build the participative communities necessary to driving open organizations. Consequently, leaders must dismiss the antiquated idea that being professional is synonymous with being unemotional and dispassionate; instead, they should encourage people to express their emotions, including inspiration, enthusiasm, motivation, and excitement. To create more passionate workplaces, leaders must ensure that their employees’ job functions are connected to their organizations’ bigger purposes.
There are several practices that can help leaders foster passion within their organizations, including:
*Hiring passionate people. To identify passionate people, leaders can ask potential hires to describe what inspires them and what they feel passionately about.
*Recognizing and reinforcing passion. Leaders must find unique ways to publicly celebrate their employees’ accomplishments, passion, and hard work. Red Hat does this by thanking its contributors for their accomplishments through internal messages, emails, and rewards programs. Additionally, the company creates a quarterly video called “The Show,” which often highlights the achievements of different Red Hatters around the world. Acknowledging good work and passion is an effective reinforcement tool.
*Keeping the fires in check. As emotions can cause people to lose sight of the facts of a situation, leaders must learn how to guide and balance emotions so they do not become destructive.
Contrary to popular belief, workplace engagement is not the result of perks like free sushi in the break room. Instead, it is the byproduct of leaders who are available to others for constant dialogue. Constant dialogue may seem time consuming and unnecessary to most executives; however, its benefits are too good to ignore. Not only does engagement drive innovation, but it is also the key to attracting and retaining the best talent. Furthermore, engagement enables open organization members to respond quickly to changes in the marketplace. This is because engaged employees are people who not only understand their organizations’ directions, but also see how their own work contributes to the accomplishments of their organizational goals. Therefore, engaged employees are better equipped to observe, orient, and decide if a marketplace change is a threat or an opportunity before taking action. This is crucial to open organizations, where members are expected to act independently rather than push information up the executive ladder and then wait for orders to trickle down.
To cultivate engagement, leaders must ensure their people feel listened to and appreciated. Additionally, engagement requires leaders to always communicate the good and bad news to everyone. Whitehurst learned the value of this practice when working as the chief operating officer of Delta when the airline filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He made the decision to tell the mechanics the bad news in person since they would be facing layoffs and cuts in their pay and benefits. By being completely honest with them and sharing the details of the company’s turnaround plan, Whitehurst engaged his audience. Instead of being upset, employees began asking questions about how they could play a role in Delta’s turnaround plan. This story demonstrates that in order to drive engagement, leaders must always:
*Deliver bad news in person.
*Give people context and details.
*Be accessible, answer questions, admit mistakes, and apologize to build authenticity and credibility.
At Red Hat it is believed that a culture of accountability is essential to engagement. The logic is that when people are accountable for their decisions and actions, trust and loyalty grows. As being accountable requires consistent, clear communication, Red Hatters make a point of regularly using the following communication vehicles and tools:
*Topic-specific lists: Organized discussions and debates about relevant topics.
*Blogs: In-depth, online posts about topics related to the organization.
*Wikis: Collaborative online message boards that promote structured dialogue and feedback.
*Instant messaging: Messages that provide an easy way to get a quick answer and stay in touch.
*Elluminate: A web-conferencing program that keeps recorded copies of presentations.
*Etherpad/Social Intranet: Tools that allow online collaboration on documents and notes.
*Video conferencing: A virtual meeting tool that promotes global collaboration.
PART TWO: HOW: GETTING THINGS DONE
Choosing Meritocracy, Not Democracy
Although Red Hat has an organizational chart, its decision-making process does not solely rely on that structure. This is because, like the ancient Athenians, open organizations exercise meritocracy. In a meritocracy, the people most capable of making decisions are the ones who ultimately make the most decisions–regardless of their rank. While everyone has a right to speak and equal access to the tools to be heard, a meritocracy differs from a democracy in that not everyone ends up being listened to equally. Instead, each person has to earn his or her own level of influence. The people who typically achieve the most influence in deciding the direction of projects are thought leaders–individuals who consistently contribute meaningful work and excel at getting others behind their ideas.
According to Whitehurst, thought leaders in the open organizational context can be thought of as thermostats. Unlike their thermometer counterparts, thermostats do not reflect their organizations’ temperatures–they set them. In order to create meaningful change in their organizations, leaders must identify thermostats and get them on board with new initiatives. Thanks to their insights into operations and influence among their peers, thermostats can make or break new initiatives.
To build a culture of thermostats, Red Hat:
*Respects people with consistent, selfless track records.
*Rewards those who are sincerely committed to the organization’s purpose and work to fulfill its goals.
*Provides people with opportunities to grow their scope and influence without having to change jobs.
*Enables both careers of achievement and advancement.
*Utilizes peer recognition to fuel meritocracy.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, leadership is essential to meritocracy. Managers must not only step in to build, support, and moderate a meritocratic environment, but it is also their duty to engage thermostats and determine what is the best way to harness their influence to drive innovation. To effectively lead in a meritocracy, leaders must gain the respect of others by:
*Showing passion for their organizations’ purposes and open sourcing.
*Engaging people through openness, honesty, and effective teamwork.
Letting the Sparks Fly
Contrary to popular belief, leaders cannot demand that others be creative and produce solutions to complex problems. Instead, they must embrace the fact that the best ideas occur when team members hash things out in a friendly environment. At Red Hat, debates are viewed as a productive byproduct of a collaborative culture. This is largely due to the company’s four values of freedom, courage, commitment, and accountability.
Studies show that when people are encouraged to challenge one another’s ideas, more ideas are produced. This is called creative abrasion, a process that involves disagreement, contention, and argument between people with shared values. Creative abrasion can only take place in a healthy creative culture where people feel free to share their ideas. Consequently, leaders must work to make room for spirited debates and help people not take feedback or criticism personally.
Leaders must work to remove the myriad barriers that ultimately prevent people from speaking freely. One inhibitor to healthy, creative debate is hierarchies within the workplace. Leaders can remove chain-of-command atmospheres by eliminating executive perks like designated parking spaces and corner offices. Leaders can also promote casual dress codes and ensure debates take place in neutral locations.
PART THREE: WHAT: SETTING DIRECTION
Making Inclusive Decisions
The traditional approach to decision making within an organization is often inefficient. Typically, this process requires a designated team to gather relevant information that is then channeled up the chain of command for the executive with the highest pay to eventually make the final call. This does not always lead to the best decisions. Not only is the process too slow, but the information that is ultimately delivered to the sole decision maker has been filtered along the way by the opinions of others.
It is not surprising then that most change plans developed in the traditional decision-making process have a great risk of failure. Instead of improving their decision-making processes, however, most organizations just continue to spend money on change management. The reason open organizations have higher success rates in implementing change plans is because they integrate the people who will be affected by the decisions into the actual decision-making processes. This is known as inclusive decision making. Red Hat takes inclusiveness to the extreme by ensuring that all associates are involved in developing solutions and making decisions, often using technology to reach out to those in international locations.
Although decisions are not always unanimous and there are still incidents where leaders have to make unpopular decisions, inclusive decision making is powerful because it provides leaders with the opportunity to explain their rationale and ensure that everyone feels included in the process. Inclusive decision making is about letting the best ideas win by working collaboratively and transparently. Consequently, leaders must always keep an open mind, listen to the feedback they receive, and continually reevaluate if the final decision is the right one. They must remember that although the process is slow, it will ultimately lead to stronger decisions, quicker adoption, and better execution. This has been confirmed in research as studies show that the three elements essential to the successful implementation of new projects are:
- The involvement of both management and frontline employees.
- Clearly identified contributor responsibilities.
- A widespread understanding and acceptance of the reasons behind the projects