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A Closer Look At What It Means To Be Democratic

WorldBlu 2014Last week, Dyn announced that it had made the WorldBlu list of Most Democratic Workplaces for the third year in a row. In response to this news, Dyn was asked to fill out a questionaire. We have included VP of Talent Colleen Karpinsky Cone’s answers below.

Why does your organization choose to practice democracy in the workplace? 

At Dyn we have seen tremendous growth over the years. While things have changed what has remained is our value system. Our four biggest priorities are: trust, passion, performance and respect. As that is the case, it is only natural that we would practice democracy in our work place.

Our commitment to a democratic workplace is a symbol of the respect we have for our employees. Additionally, our leadership team is wise enough to know that they do not know everything. We have received great business value from hearing other people’s thoughts and perspectives, which have shaped positive outcomes.

Not only have we gotten great ideas, we know that when people have a voice they feel more engaged in their workplace and have a higher sense of ownership, which leads to better work being done and ultimately a better company.

Please tell us about one challenge your organization has faced over the past 12 months and how you solved it using the principles of organizational democracy and freedom. 

While we wouldn’t consider it a challenge, we do often think about how do we keep people motivated and incentivized. As a fast growth company with a bright future, there are a variety of ways we could do this. However, over the last 12 months we started getting consistent feedback from our employees: make stock options available.

At Dyn, we have multiple ways in which feedback is received. We have an anonymous Ask Anything option, in which employees can submit anonymous questions that are answered once a month by our CEO. We also have a monthly all-hands company meeting in which we offer a public forum to address issues. Additionally, twice a year we do online surveys.

When we started seeing the same feedback through all of these channels, it became quite apparent that offering stock options was on the minds of our employees. It would have been one thing to listen but we wanted our employees to be heard. So now we offer stock options to all full-time employees.

Since our company was bootstrapped for the majority of its existence, senior leadership holds much of the ownership. To actually give stock options to the entire staff meant that they had to give up part of their ownership.

Why are you a freedom-centered leader? 

I am a strong believer that people work best when they are their own boss. This doesn’t always mean literally. If you give people incentive and ownership and let them know their opinion matters, they are often more creative and more productive.

Not only is this morally the right thing to do, it is the right thing to do from a business standpoint as well.

Organizations that operate under a top down tyranny have employees who spend a large portion of their day looking for a new job.

That is not an efficient way to run a company. If your employees are happy, taken care of and know their needs are might, they will spend their time making sure that your clients’ needs are also met, which will lead to a more successful business.

Please select up to three principles below and share with us your innovative idea for how you are operationalizing this democratic principle:

1. PURPOSE + VISION: When an organization and the individual know their reason for existing and have a sense of intentional direction.

In the past 12 months, we have put a huge emphasis on how we look at our company and employee goals. We are now spelling out our purpose and vision. As a small startup it wasn’t as important because the organization was smaller and it was easier for everyone to share that vision. Now that we have more than 300 employees we’re being more deliberate.

But we didn’t want to do this in a vacuum. We worked with the employee base to develop that purpose and vision and drafts were shared with the entire company.  Additionally, we wanted to ensure that everyone knew the role they played in reaching those company goals. So employees engaged with their managers to come up with individual goals that align to the greater company goals. Everyone now knows how they are contributing to the overall success of the business.

2. INTEGRITY: When each person and the organization as a whole steadfastly adheres to high moral principles.

We allow a lot of freedoms in our workplace. From unlimited Paid Time Off to beer on tap to no social media policy, we base much of what we do on the fact that we view our employees as assets and not liabilities.

We feel so strongly about that, in fact, that integrity is one of the key parts of our review process that everyone is measured against. It is not something we just say but something that is part of the fabric of who we are.

3. REFLECTION + EVALUATION: When there is a commitment to continuous feedback and development and a willingness to learn from the past and apply lessons to improve the future.

While we hold frequent reviews, we believe that formal performance evaluations, even though they happen every six months, are simply backstops to what should be an ongoing conversation where employees and mangers guide, teach and mentor each other.  A review where either the manager or the employee is surprised is worse than a review a manager’s expectations aren’t met.

Additionally, we have multiple forums like the Ask Anything podcast, the company meeting and various online surveys to allow people to reflect and evaluate on how senior leadership is succeeding. We believe everyone should be treated equal and that everyone performs better when they have time to stop and reflect on what they’ve accomplished and what still needs to be done.


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