We’ve all heard different leaders and management coaches talk about the importance of fostering openness in management policy. Bosses talk about having open door policies and employees are exhorted to embrace attitudes of ownership in their companies, but what does it all really mean? Just what is the open organization? Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, one of the premier providers of Linux software and related solutions, explores the ideas of the open business model in his book ïThe Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance,ï published by Harvard Business Review Press. In the book, Whitehurst discusses how companies can encourage a culture that promotes collaboration and free exchange not only between coworkers but also between an organization and its customers, vendors and partners.
A Model for the Post-Industrial Economy
Whitehurst believes that older ways of managing a business are generally not as effective at coordinating the efforts of modern ïknowledge workersï as the open organization methodology. In a world that changes at a breakneck pace, knowledge workers may best be managed by fostering participation, communication and community. Embracing a holistic approach that differs so radically from traditional ways of running an organization requires recognition that the most important asset of any organization is its labor force, not merely because of the work they provide, but because of the critical role they play in an open organization’s leadership development and selection. To keep employees engaged, Whitehurst says that defining a value proposition championing a purpose or mission that impacts the world beyond simply providing paychecks is vital. Your people should be given things to be passionate about and that light a fire in them. That passion needs to be painstakingly tied in with your workers’ job responsibilities so they can understand how they fit into the company’s purpose and help enable the organization’s strategies.
Foster Your Thought Leaders
Whitehurst reminds that people naturally follow those who have earned their respect. In a sense, this philosophy turns traditional ideas about leadership on their head in the open organization dynamic. Job titles and organizational structures function much as overlays on top of company culture. The goal is to nurture a bottom-up approach to decision-making. Even without direct reports, anyone whose voice is heard and whose opinions matter counts as a thought leader and can greatly impact decisions. The important thing is to create an environment that allows people to talk about nearly anything. Allow your people to contribute and engage and the leaders will emerge. Once it gets going, it takes less work than you would think and becomes self-sustaining over time.
Enable the Open Organization With Open Doors
It’s important in an open-style company that the top brass gets out there and interacts with employees. Executives need to make themselves truly available. Whitehurst shares that he walks the halls and stops by his company’s offices often. To him, being open is mostly about an attitude, saying and doing things that make staff feel comfortable approaching and talking to you. Whitehurst says this level of engagement is critical because it draws people into broader conversations and eases the reluctance workers may have when it comes to talking to direct supervisors. As attitudes change, there is a practical ripple effect throughout the company. Another cornerstone of the success of the open organization paradigm is the weaving of the philosophy that the best ideas can only emerge when the rank-and-file feels comfortable sharing their thoughts into the company culture. Whitehurst takes pains to ensure workers are taught not to take rejection or questioning of their ideas as personal attacks.
When it comes to identifying and recruiting new talent, Whitehurst prefers word of mouth through employee referrals. Empowering your existing staff to evangelize your business pays off because they know what the culture is like as workers, and know who among their groups of friends would likely make good new additions. Whitehurst says Red Hat celebrates employees who have referred multiple hires. Whitehurst says his company has enjoyed a dramatically higher success rate with referrals over cold applicants, thanks to the depth of knowledge workers have concerning the people they refer, which is often much deeper than interview questions can realistically attain.
Make Everyone a Part
Helping your people feel integral to the company is a powerful tool to enable your business’ success. Help your employees see how their input and contributions drive your culture and grow the bottom line and they will embrace the role. Consult the vast resources at Mighty Recruiter for further information on the open organization method and more.