4 Beyond Democracy – What Sociocracy Looks Like In Use

This is the fourth blog in my series about egalitarian, practical, effective, dynamic governance. I’m going to tell you some stories, some anecdotes that I’ve heard told about sociocracy.

Here is my video blog, and, if you get this in an e-mail message, here is a link to the vlog. <http://www.transitioncville.org/4-beyond-democracy-what-sociocracy-looks-like-in-use/>

Gerard Endenburg, developer of sociocracy: “I was always waiting not for success, but waiting for a crisis. In 1976 we had a huge crisis. I had to fire 60 people within a fortnight [two weeks].”

This happened during a business downturn in the shipping industry when Endenburg Electronics, in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, which installed electrical systems on ships lost thirty percent of their business.

Endenburg, as CEO of Endenburg Electronics, looked at the numbers and believed that there was no choice but to lay off 60 workers. Because this kind of decision fell within the limits of his sociocratic authority, he announced the intended layoff to members of the general circle and others in the company.

The day after the decision was announced, one of the fitters in the manufacturing department, Jan De Groot, said, “we don’t work like that any more”, and asked the secretary of his circle to call a meeting as quickly as possible.

The manufacturing circle elected De Groot as their representative to be on the general circle, the team that runs the company. The general circle met right away.

De Groot was then designated as a representative to the TOP circle, which alone had the authority to spend the company’s reserve fund to keep paying the fitters who would have been fired.

Endenburg: “At the beginning of the meeting they were blaming me and I was sitting there saying, ‘Oh, my goodness. This is my fault and so on.’ And then the creativity came in. it was amazing to see… I can say it afterwords – at the moment I was very nervous. And the creativity came in and there was a plan…”

…to replace lost revenue by taking fitters, who were underutilized, and training them to do some marketing until there was more fitting work.

De Groot said, “I would much rather spend my time wiring generators than knocking on doors with a suit and tie on, but I’ll do it if it means keeping my job.”

Endenburg: “And they had consent and I said, “Okay. I give also my consent.”

So did the plan work?

Endenburg: “After three months we solved the problems. It was amazing.”

The Technical Installations department was downsized, but several other departments started to grow. Only a few workers were laid off a few months later. and since then Endenburg Electronics has developed a much more diversified customer base.

And what did Endenburg learn from all this?

Endenburg: “It gave me the feeling that the power of creativity is enormous and we are ignoring creativity, not in a technical way, but way in a social way – always.

This next anecdote isn’t in my vlog.

Marten Ditsburg is the CEO, and one of three founders, of Reekx, a Dutch company that works with information storage and accessibility. Marten told me this story. Reekx

His company wasn’t using sociocracy yet, but Marten had been considering it for five years. Then, one day the three founders had to make a decision about raises that would compensate the ten or so employees for inflation. The government recommended 0%. The union said 2%.

And, by the way, every Dutch company is legally required to have a union, unless they’re sociocratic, since everyone in a sociocratic organization is already empowered to have a say in the decisions that affect them.

So, Marten and the other two owners said they were setting the raises at 1% – right between the government’s and the union’s recommendations. How did the employees react? They were angry. Marten credits that with being the moment that he decided to commit to sociocracy. I can understand that. As a manager somebody will probably be unhappy with every decision you might make. Who wants that?

So, Marten got Reekx to start the process of adopting sociocracy. One of the first issues they decided to discuss was compensation. Because of sociocracy, all financial information was made transparent and available. One thing that people could see was that Marten was making a lot less money than they thought he was, and they were also able to see the fuller picture of the company’s financial health.

Through the processes of sociocracy and consent decision making, the group got together and decided on a ZERO percent raise.

This shows that people want to have control over their own lives and are willing to sacrefice to do that.

This last story comes from a family using sociocracy for family meetings. Isabell Dierkes, in Germany, learned of Sociocracy through NVC – Non-Violent Communication. The international NVC organization has adopted sociocracy and rightly so, the two go very together well. Sociocracy could be called non-violent governance.

Non-violent communication is a great tool. It shows us that when we have a problem with someone else, we can look at each of our behaviors in terms of needs. I find that really helps bring clarity. Then NVC teaches how we can, despite feeling hurt, or whatever, come up with requests to our and the other person’s needs.

So, Isabell started using sociocracy in meetings with her family. Then she went through a divorce and realized that she couldn’t afford their house any more.

Dierkes : “I had made the decision, ‘ We have to move out of this big house now
because it’s too expensive. I don’t have the money.’ I brought this in to a family conference with my children. I asked for consent to move out of this house. One son said, “No. I give no consent. This is my home. I don’t want to move.” And I said, “But…!”

Isabell didn’t know what to do. They couldn’t afford to stay there. Should she trash the idea of giving her son consent in family decisions? She didn’t want to do that. What could she do then?

This is the moment that Endenburg labels with the scientific term ‘chaos.’ It’s sometimes necessary to get to that place before real creativity bubbles up and you have a new solution that everyone will consent to.

So, Isabell and family talked about it and came up with the idea that they could rent rooms out in their house. So, they did that and now they have three renters in the house and didn’t need to move out of their home, and…

Dierkes: “Now I have the money to live in a sustainable way. I am now much more willing to listen to objections in the work situation.”

And about her children Dierkes says, “They take more responsibility for what is happening in our family financially. They have in mind, ‘what effect has my action in my family?’

My next blog entry will be just video clips from the interviews I’ve done with people who use sociocracy.

If you think this is important information, pass it on to anyone you know who might be
interested in it.

So, til the next vlog, live happily ever after…