How workplace democracy helps this organization thrive

What if physicians, nurses and other staff elected the leaders of their hospital?

That's how Kelly Max, cofounder, president and CEO of Haufe USA, a San Francisco-based human resources consulting and software firm, got his current position — he was elected. In an interview Monday with CNBC, he explained that the company's idea of workplace democracy was based in the fundamental belief that employees run companies.

With this idea in mind, the company adopted leadership elections four years ago when its founder and chairman decided he wasn't the right person for the job of global CEO. Rather than appoint an executive, he asked Haufe employees to vote. Now employees decide on an annual basis who should lead, Mr. Max told CNBC.

To critics, it may sound like a popularity contest, putting executives in a position to campaign rather than lead. However, Mr. Max told CNBC, "Everybody elects, or votes for you, every day either to follow you or not follow you in their head."

Ultimately, appointing leaders in formal elections isn't a far cry from the informal, independent elections employees hold daily to be engaged at work. Considering the millennial mindset in the workplace — one that calls for fulfillment at work — giving employees a voice can yield significant advantages, according to Mr. Max.

He outlined these in a recent article he wrote for Fast Company. The benefits include bringing underground ideas and innovations to the forefront, ensuring the organization stays in touch with the outside world and keeping employees engaged. The elections make genuine leadership possible, he wrote, and help bridge a gap between leaders and their teams.

Read more about Haufe USA's democratic work policy here.


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