Where a growing circle of business leaders comes to share, learn, and inspire organizations to put people first

Whirling Chief

Well, Is Democracy at Work Possible?

In 2015, Richard Hyman, Professor of Management at the London School of Economics, published a brilliant paper on “The Very Idea of Democracy at Work.”

Hyman started his paper by asking the million-dollar question:

Is democracy at work possible?

I loved his question then and I love it even more today because there is such a craving for more humanity to evolve – in all directions – and a desire to advance the human condition at work as a part of that amazing movement.

If you haven’t read Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline (1990), it has a beautiful opening line which encapsulates how we here at Whirling Chief think about the ‘need’ to evolve work. Senge writes:

“Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning. The forces of destruction begin with toddlers – a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars – and on up through the university.

On the job people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by objectives, quotas, incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.”

This is it. This is the magnifying glass we need to focus on ourselves to ask: Is this how we aspire to continue?

Let’s face it: We have adopted the principles of industrialization and economic growth into our work lives, and the icing on the cake is sophisticated people management practices.

From the moment an employee steps into the doors of an organization to the time they leave, they are expected to respond to ever-growing demands of their job definition while operating a million different tools. A gazillion, if an employee advances to management. There is a giant machine we are living in (but not always at the controls) of well-developed leaders and amid global complexities.

The more we talk to people, clients, and colleagues about the idea of democratization at work, the more we realize it may be the dominance of the ‘gain-focus:’ the command and control management thinking, which, 30 years later, still prevails and prevents the development of more generative learning in our work environments.

Our reality will only change if we willingly and collaboratively step up our game.

Our experience will only evolve if we understand and accept change starts with each one of us, individually.

New practices will only develop if we manage to bridge the gap between human physiology and psychology with business practices of today.

We need our leaders to be our voice. We need our academic leaders to be our foundation to data. We need to step up our game to formulate a persuasive vision of a different and better society and economy – a convincing alternative to the mantra of greed, commodification, competitiveness, and austerity, a set of values which connects with everyday experience at the workplace.

Who’s in?


  • 8 March 2017

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