Ray Dalio wrote about the idea of an “idea meritocracy,” where the best ideas rise to the top regardless of their source — a concept that can benefit all companies at all levels. Making the switch to a more idea-focused work environment will help cultivate a responsive culture where everyone can participate and be heard, involving every team member as a source of insights and competitive advantage.
As business owners, the risks we take are not only critical to our companies’ ability to survive and grow, but also to our personal livelihood and to the employees and their family members who depend on us. These risks can be mitigated through a participatory company model that enables an “idea meritocracy” by giving everyone a voice. Moving toward an inclusive strategy for your teams is more accessible than you might expect.
Benefits from every angle
Our employees thrive when they feel a sense of agency in their lives and career paths. In a participatory workplace, leaders create the space for their employees to openly engage in a marketplace of ideas. By leading with humility — turning to our teams rather than assuming that we always have the answers — we benefit from a stronger company culture and increased employee engagement. This leads to more content employees and directly influences the second benefit of a participatory company: increased loyalty. In theory, creating an inclusive culture also breeds a culture of greater loyalty, because increased engagement is shown to increase job satisfaction.
While cultivating greater levels of engagement, a participatory model naturally fosters innovation. When your team members take more ownership over their work and have more autonomy, they have the ability to not simply follow but improve working processes and as those closest to the work, enabling rapid iteration, and ultimately, better results.
The more ownership people feel over their work, the more productive and higher quality that work has the potential to become. In addition, cost savings can often be realized as you trust your employees and de-emphasize rigid supervision. Moving away from dependence on a single source of authority builds a more resilient and adaptable organization. Welcoming and genuinely engaging with a diversity of opinions and ideas allows you to get your data from the boots on the ground — the people most immediately affected by the critical issues facing your operations. By moving towards a participatory model, you can identify and solve problems with greater speed and efficiency.
Give your team a voice
To reap the benefits of a participatory company, we need to thoughtfully question how we create spaces inside our organization to leverage great ideas for competitive advantage. This starts with implementing a strategy to ensure that positional power does not dictate everything that happens in your company. At my company, for example, we sometimes utilize a process called the “World Cafe” in order to hold large group conversations.
Anyone, regardless of position, has the opportunity to suggest ideas and manage projects. The forum is open for individuals across the company to buy into each idea, creating teams of people who are fully invested in the success of a given task. When you facilitate a workspace where employees have autonomy and control, employees know their ideas will be heard and are empowered to work on projects they believe in.
The power of a great idea
Dalio’s “idea meritocracy” is best enabled through a participatory company that creates a culture where every team member has a voice. Taking the leap in this direction is understandably challenging for entrepreneurs, because a participatory company can require a lot of facilitation while being implemented, but it’s still essential to ensure that you’re harvesting ideas and insights from every employee, not just those with the loudest voices or traditional positional power.