The limits of organizational democracy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

34 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Despite decades of encouragement from theorists and consultants, managers have generally not embraced democratic process as a system of management and decision-making in organizations. While it is tempting to explain this state of affairs in terms of managers' reluctance to share power, this article considers the possibility that democracy's limited success is due to its own limitations as a system of organizational governance. The article questions two common assumptions: (a) that political democracy provides a useful model for organizational democracy, and (b) that democratic process is applicable in all organizations. Close analysis suggests that political democracy provides little guidance for organizational democracy because its essential characteristics- accountability to the governed, right of participation, free exchange of information, and right of representation-are rarely, if ever, supported in organizations. Furthermore, the basic function of political democracy- legitimization of authority-has no counterpart in organizations. As for applicability, the article argues that democratic process can only be successfully implemented where it contributes significantly to competitive advantage and organizational performance. This depends on several contingency variables, including the nature of the organization's products and services, the characteristics of its workforce, and the degree of hierarchical resistance to redistribution of power and control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-95
Number of pages15
JournalAcademy of Management Executive
Volume18
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004

Fingerprint

Democracy
Organizational democracy
Managers
Workforce
Consultants
Legitimization
Participation
Authority
Guidance
Redistribution
Decision making
Accountability
Contingency
Competitive advantage
Organizational performance
Organizational governance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Marketing

Cite this

The limits of organizational democracy. / Kerr, Jeffrey.

In: Academy of Management Executive, Vol. 18, No. 3, 01.01.2004, p. 81-95.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

@article{d77b0516448544d5989a789bc6f36cb6,
title = "The limits of organizational democracy",
abstract = "Despite decades of encouragement from theorists and consultants, managers have generally not embraced democratic process as a system of management and decision-making in organizations. While it is tempting to explain this state of affairs in terms of managers' reluctance to share power, this article considers the possibility that democracy's limited success is due to its own limitations as a system of organizational governance. The article questions two common assumptions: (a) that political democracy provides a useful model for organizational democracy, and (b) that democratic process is applicable in all organizations. Close analysis suggests that political democracy provides little guidance for organizational democracy because its essential characteristics- accountability to the governed, right of participation, free exchange of information, and right of representation-are rarely, if ever, supported in organizations. Furthermore, the basic function of political democracy- legitimization of authority-has no counterpart in organizations. As for applicability, the article argues that democratic process can only be successfully implemented where it contributes significantly to competitive advantage and organizational performance. This depends on several contingency variables, including the nature of the organization's products and services, the characteristics of its workforce, and the degree of hierarchical resistance to redistribution of power and control.",
author = "Jeffrey Kerr",
year = "2004",
month = "1",
day = "1",
doi = "10.5465/AME.2004.14776172",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "18",
pages = "81--95",
journal = "Academy of Management Perspectives",
issn = "1558-9080",
publisher = "Academy of Management",
number = "3",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - The limits of organizational democracy

AU - Kerr, Jeffrey

PY - 2004/1/1

Y1 - 2004/1/1

N2 - Despite decades of encouragement from theorists and consultants, managers have generally not embraced democratic process as a system of management and decision-making in organizations. While it is tempting to explain this state of affairs in terms of managers' reluctance to share power, this article considers the possibility that democracy's limited success is due to its own limitations as a system of organizational governance. The article questions two common assumptions: (a) that political democracy provides a useful model for organizational democracy, and (b) that democratic process is applicable in all organizations. Close analysis suggests that political democracy provides little guidance for organizational democracy because its essential characteristics- accountability to the governed, right of participation, free exchange of information, and right of representation-are rarely, if ever, supported in organizations. Furthermore, the basic function of political democracy- legitimization of authority-has no counterpart in organizations. As for applicability, the article argues that democratic process can only be successfully implemented where it contributes significantly to competitive advantage and organizational performance. This depends on several contingency variables, including the nature of the organization's products and services, the characteristics of its workforce, and the degree of hierarchical resistance to redistribution of power and control.

AB - Despite decades of encouragement from theorists and consultants, managers have generally not embraced democratic process as a system of management and decision-making in organizations. While it is tempting to explain this state of affairs in terms of managers' reluctance to share power, this article considers the possibility that democracy's limited success is due to its own limitations as a system of organizational governance. The article questions two common assumptions: (a) that political democracy provides a useful model for organizational democracy, and (b) that democratic process is applicable in all organizations. Close analysis suggests that political democracy provides little guidance for organizational democracy because its essential characteristics- accountability to the governed, right of participation, free exchange of information, and right of representation-are rarely, if ever, supported in organizations. Furthermore, the basic function of political democracy- legitimization of authority-has no counterpart in organizations. As for applicability, the article argues that democratic process can only be successfully implemented where it contributes significantly to competitive advantage and organizational performance. This depends on several contingency variables, including the nature of the organization's products and services, the characteristics of its workforce, and the degree of hierarchical resistance to redistribution of power and control.

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=8144228663&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=8144228663&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.5465/AME.2004.14776172

DO - 10.5465/AME.2004.14776172

M3 - Review article

VL - 18

SP - 81

EP - 95

JO - Academy of Management Perspectives

JF - Academy of Management Perspectives

SN - 1558-9080

IS - 3

ER -