Graham King

Solvitas perambulum

Democracy at work


Most people reading this will be lucky enough to live in a democratic society. You may even consider democracy to be the only ethically legitimate form of government. It is a fair form of government. Nine out of the ten most powerful countries in the world (all except China) have some form of representative democracy, so we can assume it is a very effective way to run a country.

For all the good that we purport to think of democratic systems, most of us spend most of our lives not in a democratic system, but in a power hierarchy. Our businesses and organisations are run as social hierarchies, each person nearer the top of the pyramid having power over those lower down.

When your new manager was hired, did you and your fellow employees get a vote? If you are some way up the pyramid, were you elected there? Most likely, you were appointed by someone who remains above you in the hierarchy.

Most managerial roles combine an administrative function with a supervisory one. Administrative duties do need to be carried out. Motivated employees do not need to be supervised; they naturally supervise themselves.

Our organisations and businesses look like they are modeled on a form of meritocratic feudalism.

Why this difference between the structure of our societies and our organisations? At least one of the two is being run in a less than perfect manner. Should we re-create our national government as a feudal meritocracy? Or should we run our organisations as representative democracies?