The atmosphere should not be our waste dump. Ken Caldeira

Everyone's a CEO

Traditional companies often rely on strict hierarchies; responsibility is concentrated at the top. But the future of a company depends on the entrepreneurial spirit of all its employees.

Established companies often rely on detailed organizational charts to clarify internal hierarchies. Every level within the corporate structure espouses specific responsibilities – and the higher you rise, the more responsibility you apparently have to shoulder. It’s cold and lonely at the top, where the diagram is topped by the CEO, who towers high above the rest, to whom all arrows point and who directs everyone below.

Clear structures are necessary. The assignment of responsibility is necessary. But within emerging businesses, structures often take time to develop. Randi Zuckerberg, Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, once told me that Facebook’s business cards initially only included someone’s name, email address, and phone number. Quick growth means that employees have to evolve as well: job descriptions change, responsibilities increase.

A smart company ensures that its employees nonetheless remain aware of their colleagues’ work. To quote Karl Marx out of context: the workers ought to remain connected to the means of production. They ought to know how their fellow workers are spending their time, what their responsibilities are and what ideas they have for the future development of the product (in our case, a debate magazine).

A company’s biggest assets are its employees. This means that employees should be kept plugged into internal information networks and that their opinions should be sought. Benedict of Nursia knew as much in the 6th century A.D. He wrote that every member of a monastery deserved to be heard. The Catholic Church is well known for its affinity for rigid hierarchies. If the church can encourage internal dialogue, market-oriented companies are surely capable as well.

Of course, this doesn’t abolish the need for organizational charts. But there’s one crucial difference between strongly hierarchical entities and the ones I described: responsibility isn’t concentrated at the very top. Every employee must be a “little CEO” within his/her area of responsibility. Areas of expertise are managed independently. Managing cooperation agreements with other companies (or magazines) is an example, responsibility for social media activities is another. Innovation, too, is everyone’s responsibility.

At The European, the “little CEOs” report directly to the publisher and to the managing director. We have set aside separate meetings – intimate conversations, if you will – for that purpose. These meetings often generate important impulses for the development of the whole company. Responsibility for the execution of projects rests with the person in charge – which means that they will receive the full load of criticism when something goes wrong, and the full load of praise if their project is successful.

Every employee must have the chance to voice his or her ideas at the highest levels of company management. A friend of mine used to work as Marissa Meyer’s personal assistant at Google. He tells me that she regularly set aside time for meetings with any employees who wanted to see her and present an idea. If Google can do it, an inclusive culture certainly isn’t only for small companies.

The end result is a company culture that empowers its employees. They see themselves as responsible for the success of the business and feel that their opinions are valued. They are confident employees.

Newconomy is the new weekly column for the start-up industry. It focuses on the intersection of classical and new economies and of politics and entrepreneurialism. Newconomy is sponsored by Factory, the new start-up hub in Berlin.


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