Meeting Traci Fenton: The Woman Behind WorldBlu
The next stage of our road trip takes us from Toronto through Michigan, Indiana, and Iowa before we reach our next destination: Iowa City.
We pass the Great Lakes, spend a night in one of those typical American motels and enjoy the views over never ending corn fields. On the radio we listen to the five most popular songs on a continuous repeat, while we discuss the person that brings us to Iowa City. We are about to meet with Bucket List hero Traci Fenton.
WorldBlu is best known for its yearly list of the most freedom-centered workplaces in the world. Some well-known organizations on the list are: Zappos, DaVita, and WD-40. These organizations (a total of 26 in 2016, mostly based in the US and UK) are yearly assessed on the ten principles. Are you looking for a new job in an organization with a strong focus on organizational freedom? Check out WorldBlu's list for inspiration here.
We meet with Traci in her home at Iowa City. She starts off with mentioning the three things that influenced her heavily and made her pursue the stand for organizational freedom. Within a short period she was part of the organizational committee of a conference on democracy, she experienced freedom riots and protests while she studied in Indonesia, and she shortly worked at a large Fortune 500 company where she experienced a complete lack of the freedom she so longed for.
Freedom vs Fear
After only four months of working for the Forture 500 company she decides to quit her corporate job. Traci starts her own search for freedom and wants to learn everything about freedom and democracy (such a radical decision sounds familiar, right?). After a long and thorough research period she extracts her "ten principles of organizational democracy" on which she builds her company, WorldBlu. Click here to download the principles.
She discovers that organizational democracy is the framework for freedom. Most organizations, however, operate with fear embedded into their organizational design. Fear is the biggest problem in modern day organizations, according to Traci. Organizations build all kinds of control mechanisms in an attempt to fight fear. Fear of risk, fear of failure, and fear of uncertainty. While attempting to reduce fear by implementing various control mechanisms, organizations decrease freedom for its employees. It leads to less engagement and initiative, which is clearly shown by one of our personal experiences.
Pim: In an attempt to control collaboration of the sales department and the operations department, the managers of both departments came up with a new procedure on who was responsible for customer communication on new sales opportunities. They came up with the following procedures:
- Small-sized contracts (up to a certain amount of EUR) -> responsibility of Operations
- Medium-sized contracts (between EUR X and EUR Y) -> responsibility to be determined
- Large contracts (above a certain amount of EUR) -> responsibility of Sales
The result: Communication was frustrated as people started to throw work over the fence when it wasn't their responsibility (according to the new procedure). The meaningful dialogues that used to take place between sales and operations were eliminated and replaced by a procedure that was way too rigid and simplified for such a complex environment. Therefore, in an attempt to control the fear that collaboration wouldn't happen, the new procedure was implemented which in turn led to an elimination of collaboration and thereby increased frustration. Interesting paradox, right?
Crucial to note: Employees from both departments already knew this new procedure was going to cause problems. Their concerns and protests were neglected. After not too long, it turned out they were right. It once again underlines the fact that simply involving front-line employees not only creates more engagement, it also keeps an organization from lots of unneeded frustration and bureaucracy.
If this is something you recognize in your own job, you must read Yves Morieux's book 'The Six Simple Rules'. It beautifully describes such mistakes and provides simple solutions on how to NOT make them yourself.
!!!Warning: Reading his book will open your eyes on lots of frustrating rules and procedures in your organization. Be aware!!!
With her stand for organizational freedom and democracy, Traci tries to help organizations to eliminate fear in the workplace. Besides the 10 principles mentioned earlier, an important tool she uses is what she calls the "Power Question": What would I do if I weren't afraid? (TM).
"What would I do if I weren't afraid?"
By letting people and organizations ask themselves this question, Traci opens up the conversation towards freedom in the workplace. As you might figure, we personally love this question. It's a question that helps to think big, take chances, and follow dreams. It's a question that overcomes being held back by fear. It's a question we continuously keep asking ourselves on this Corporate Rebels adventure.
To help you personally to overcome any fear you might have in your (work)life, here's the WorldBlu template you can use to push yourself to think beyond this fear. Now here's the trick... Don't just read it and think "those questions sound so simple and will not help me to overcome anything". Just give it a try: take 30 minutes, fill it in and see where it takes you. Who knows it might lead to the first steps of amazing new adventures.
The fight continues..
While enjoying a lovely sushi diner with Traci in the center of Iowa City, we learn more about her personally and the increased attention for WorldBlu. She's been working hard for the last two decades on her stand from freedom-centered workplaces and it seems the work starts to pay off. An increasing amount of organizations are interested in creating such workplaces and WorldBlu is actively supporting them through their transition. Traci continues to realize WorldBlu's vision to see one billion people working in freedom-centered organizations.
After a highly inspiring meeting with Traci, it's time for us to leave Iowa City and head back east. Next up is Ann Arbor, a small city full of exciting people for us to meet: Chris White, Ari Weinzweig, and Richard Sheridan. Off we go...
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The idea of self-management tends to be received with both interest and cynicism. Amongst the varied reactions, there is one recurring doubt that I hear time and time again. That doubt is deep. That doubt, is trust.