Empowering communities through co-ops

A great video on building economic democracy through co-ops:

Key points from the video:

  • Empowerment through cross training, having a voice
  • You can’t start a worker co-op with the mindset that money will flow in immediately, there needs to be a greater vision
  • Not overlooking the idea of managerial talent (or competent managers)
  • Open and honest discussions
  • Building capacity to build both people and the business
  • Learning how to have democratic conversations
  • Reinvesting in the business and the community
  • Seeking technical assistance from those who may know more outside the organization (e.g. other co-ops, labour lawyers)
  • Learn from others. but figure out what works for your specific company
  • Co-ops can be businesses of scale (e.g. employing 50-100 or more people)
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Are Employee owned companies the way of the future?

I watched this great video on worker cooperatives and all I can say is that I personally would be a lot more fulfilled by working in an environment where everyone’s voice counts. There are certainly challenges to worker owned companies. For instance, collective decision making can be challenging, it has it’s ups and downs, but I would argue this is a lot better than being controlled by other individuals who may not even have their stakeholders best interests at heart. We live in a world that is focused on maximizing profits at all costs and what this has in turn is created greater inequalities. If I may add, as things stand, it is not a world I would be proud to live my children in. I would rather live my children in a world that embraces diversity, values diverse opinions, organizations that are committed to leaving this world better than they found it and it seems to me that cooperatives may be the way forward.

Middle management and organizational change

It has been noted that one of the most difficult challenges for a middle manager during organizational change occurs when middle managers are not involved in the entire change process and are simply expected to communicate to their staff what top management requires. In other words, being in a position where they are unable to question answers (as pointed out in class). Conversely, a fair and competent manager may be able to challenge bureaucracy by being transparent with change recipients and encouraging collaboration within the department. Certainly not an easy thing to do is top management is rigid and set in their ways. It is no wonder some organizations have taken a whole different approach to management by introducing self-managed teams, worker owned cooperatives which are a lot more democratic and often tend to operate in the best interests of the workers and the community at large. I will explore cooperatives in my next post.

Union organizaing and multiple generations within the workplace

Today a fellow student in class made an interesting point about the generational differences when it comes to union organizing. I found an interesting article that attempts to make sense of these generational differences. Kovary (2013) argues that:

When Gen Xers and Gen Ys join unions, they often find that they don’t have sufficient numbers to be influential. They also find it difficult to navigate the structure of the union given its rigor and formality.

Gen Xers are typically less inclined to be “political” and they tend to get less involved in unions and organizations. While members of this cohort are quite vocal about their own issues and expectations, they tend to be less vocal when it comes to issues regarding the group. Members of this generation typically look after their own self-interests first.

While Gen Ys are more collective and oriented, they don’t necessarily see their current job as a life-long career. They expect to have many different careers and they often expect to change career paths frequently. This can cause them to be less involved in unions as they don’t feel as though they will remain in one field for very long.

These are all great points worth considering. In my case, I have never worked in a unionized environment, but I do recognize the benefits of having one. I agree with Kovary, on the point of frequently changing careers and how many of my peers seem to be more focused on investing in their own individual human capital and less on collective efforts to improve their current working conditions within a particular work environment. I believe a lack of job security has played a role in this phenomenon.

Lessons from Erin Brockovich

I was going through my class notes and realized that I forgot to jot this down here. Two key lessons from the movie Erin Brockovich that can help change agents effectively implement change are CARE and TRUST. Genuine care for people’s well-being (or lack thereof) can make or break change initiatives. It sounds so simple, but it ought not to be overlooked. From personal experience, when I feel that someone genuinely cares, when I feel that they are not being manipulative, I tend to give my all. In addition, trust is also a key component. Change recipients have to trust in their change agents as well as the actual idea (or change) that is being pushed. To add to this, trust can be built by being transparent from the get-go, encouraging dialogue, creating a safe-space, etc. As simple as these things may sound, trust and care is what helped Erin achieve her objectives, which were also in line with the communities objectives. They entrusted her with information because she genuinely cared for them as individuals.

The difference between a discussion and a dialogue

I have been reflecting a lot lately on one of the guest speaker’s talks, specifically her mention of the difference between a discussion and a dialogue. I found this interesting resource that highlights some of these differences. When it comes to organizational change, I am yet to experience an environment that encourages constructive dialogue. For instance, one difference mentioned among the two is that in a discussion, feelings are typically avoided whereas in a dialogue others experiences and feelings are validated. I can only imagine what a workplace would like that had a safe space for folks to voice their genuine feelings about matters that affect them and their stakeholders. I hope I get to experience this some day.

Diversity and leadership: Who benefits?

Given the increasing migration of individuals across borders, it is not surprising that diversity consulting firms have mushroomed all over the world in an effort to train companies on how to better manage a diverse workforce. And yet, as Clark (2013) points out, “only 1% of the nation’s Fortune 500 CEOs are black. Only 4% are women. And not a single one is openly gay”. This goes to show that we still have a long way to go. It also begs the question, why have we not made much progress? In answering this question, I think it is important to look at who is making decisions and why those decisions are being made as well as who stands to primarily gain from the outcome(s). In other words, a truly inclusive workplace is fostered by great leadership. From my perspective, it ought to go beyond the notion of a business case for diversity. While it is not always easy, folks have to be mindful of their internalized biases which are often flawed, but unfortunately still influence leaders decisions. In addition, we can only create a better world for us all when we recognize that we all have unique gifts and talents that are valuable to the collective.