The Democratic Workplace

When we hear the word “democracy” we usually think “politics.” So how is organizational politics different? (a global network of organizations committed to practicing freedom and democracy in the workplace) explains the difference perfectly: “Organizational democracy is a system of organization that is based on freedom, instead of fear and control. It’s a way of designing organizations to amplify the possibilities of human potential — and the organization as a whole. The concept of democracy comes from the Greek words “demos” and “kratein” which mean “the people rule”. So the core of organizational democracy and political democracy is the same — allowing people to self-govern and determine their own destiny. What is different is the context — one is in the political arena, the other is in the realm of organizations.”

In a democratic workplace relationships are peer-to-peer rather than parent-child. The democratic workplace environment thrives on accountability, transparency, choice and the decentralization of power. And the result of this is that people are empowered so that their full potential is unlocked to contribute to the organization in an effective and meaningful way. (referred to above) talks about the core principles of a democratic workplace, and one of the core principles is the transparency of information – this may include the transparency of financial information, agenda and strategy. When information is transparent, employees can then have the information they need to make smart, empowered decisions – and that contributes to greater efficiency and innovation. Transparency contributes to trust and it also makes people feel that they matter – that they are valued, empowered and given a voice.

Bureaucracy often serves to hide innovative ideas and creativity whereas a transparent, democratic company is much more innovative and that translates to the bottom line – democratic companies can adjust to market changes, they have higher productivity and efficiency, and lower absenteeism – obviously making it a better strategic model for a company.

So, what are the implications for learning in the workplace?

With transparency comes conversation – and with conversation comes a more engaged organization. Effective workplace learning requires this engagement and Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business are founded on organizational democracy. Under traditional command & control management neither can thrive, and organizational change cannot take place. And organizational learning is fundamental change.

Author Peter Senge talks about five disciplines in his classic book, The Fifth Discipline (1990), which focuses on group problem solving using the ‘systems thinking method’ in order to convert companies into learning organizations. The five disciplines represent approaches for developing the following core learning capabilities: fostering aspiration, developing reflective conversation, and understanding complexity. This book dates back to 1990, yet this is still not what we see in learning organizations today. Our social systems (inside and outside the work environment) are not designed to cope with complexity and change – in other words, learning. Therefore, we need to rethink, reorganize and redesign – and adopt a democratic workplace, replacing hierarchy with a flattened organization so that communication channels are opened, employees become engaged and learning can take place.

In “Why aren’t we all working for Learning Organisations?,” the authors John Seddon and Brendan O’Donovan conclude:

“Our argument is that Deming’s statements in his 1990 review of Senge’s work continue to hold true: it is the dominance of the command and control management thinking which, 20 years on, still prevails and prevents the development of more generative learning. It is only by studying an organisation as a system and creating double-loop learning [real critical thinking] that we might finally see Senge’s ‘learning organizations’ stop being the exceptional and instead become the norm.”

By @rgogos


From information to knowledge and the democratization of learning

A changing world!

We live in a changing world. We live in the era of the ‘Information Revolution’. For the first time in history billions of people around the globe have access to tons of information digitally stored in what we already call “the cloud”. One could reasonably expect unprecedented growth and prosperity for the global economy!

So, what about the global financial crisis? What about recession and poverty in the most developed economies of the planet, the US and the EU? What went wrong?

Metanoia: The Fifth Discipline

A good explanation can be found at the amazing book “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization” by MIT’s Peter M. Senge where the Greek word “Metanoia” is introduced to describe the “shift of mind” happening when a piece of information becomes to knowledge. What Senge describes is something that most of us have actually experienced – we know that a ‘bad habit’ may harm us; however having this information does not stop us from doing it. The “shift of mind” has not yet happened – the information has not yet become “knowledge” – and often we don’t quit the bad habit before it has harmed us. Over-borrowing in the developed nations in the first decade of the 21st Century represents an amazing example of how bad it can get when you have the information but you don’t have the knowledge.

What about businesses and learning technology?

We at eFrontLearning aim to provide solutions that help turn information to knowledge – not only at the individual level but also at the workgroup level, which is even more ambitious. Since the very beginning (2003) we have been pursuing Tacit Knowledge in small- and medium-sized organizations. We try to make this informal knowledge searchable and transferable. We try to actually turn meta-information (that it “John is the person who knows how to deal with this situation“) to really useful information (that is “when this event happened in the past, John successfully faced it in that specific way“). It may sound simple, however it actually is a revolution in terms of organizational management and efficiency!

Why a “Revolution”?

For a very simple reason – small- and medium-sized organizations do not have the resources necessary to turn this tacit knowledge to Explicit Knowledge. They simply do not have the time and budget to do so. They need a lean, real-time approach to grab tacit knowledge and make it accessible to the team. This way organizations are able avoid having the same mistakes repeated over and over again. Why does this happen? Because the information was there but it was never transferred into “knowledge”, it never changed the team’s behavior. With modern, personalized, lean learning technologies for workgroups this can be achieved!

But what does this have to do with the democratization of learning?

The answer is very simple and obvious – learning technologies have been around for almost two decades, however it has been a luxury product, both in terms of capital expenditure and in terms of operational expenses. The total cost of ownership for a complete, state-of-the-art eLearning solution has been so high that only large corporations could afford it. Because of this situation, hundreds of thousands of companies around the globe have been excluded from the ability to turn information readily available on the Web into really useful knowledge. Because of this situation, the vast majority of businesses cannot really take advantage of the ‘Information Revolution’. This is where eFront comes in and disrupts the market – making a huge step towards the democratization of learning technologies, and so the actual democratization of learning.

The need for efficient, lean, accessible and easy-to-use learning technologies has never been higher. We at the eFront team bet that this need will grow over the next year at a fast pace. There is a plethora of arguments to support this:

  • The economy is changing, getting more and more knowledge intensive
  • Employee turn-over, meaning the frequency that employees change jobs, increases at a high pace
  • Because of the economic crisis resources are lacking
  • Because of globalization, competition gets more intensive
  • Multimedia content, which used to represent a significant part of an eLearning project TCO, now is gradually turning to a commodity

So, what is the eFront vision for democratizing learning?

The eFront team envisions every single business having the right to access quality, affordable, easy-to-use, lean learning technology tools that offer support in taking advantage of the information revolution and actually increasing its organizational knowledge both from a qualitative and quantitative perspective.

We aim to materialize all of this in developing value-for-money, cloud-based, mobile-enabled technology solutions targeting the huge market of small- and medium-sized organizations around the globe. No matter if your business is based in a global metropolis like NYC, London, Sydney, Ontario, or Moscow, or a rural village in Montana, Andalusia or Toscana, you can very simply access a technology platform from your browser, tablet or smartphone and experience “metanoia”, shift of mind for you and your team while taking advantage of the tons of information out there, turning that information into useful knowledge for sustaining and developing your business!