Summary: Freedom at Work By Traci Fenton
Summary: Freedom at Work By Traci Fenton

Summary: Freedom at Work By Traci Fenton

Purpose and Vision

Purpose and Vision produce smarter and strategically aligned decision-making. With well-defined Purpose and Vision statements, every employee understands why the organization exists and the direction in which it is aiming, which keeps decisions and individuals strategically aligned.

Purpose and Vision attract top talent—and help you keep it. A clear Purpose and Vision statement will help your organization engage the right talent, reduce voluntary turnover, and breathe a deeper sense of meaning and belonging into your organization.

Purpose and Vision mean fewer rules, managers, and layers of bureaucracy. With a clear Purpose and Vision at the helm, an organization can be led on the basis of these guiding statements, rather than piles of policies and rules, costly layers of bureaucracy, and unnecessary hierarchy.

The first step in practicing Purpose and Vision is to create these statements for your organization. How do you do it? Follow these three guidelines:

1.Develop your Purpose and Vision statements democratically.

Get the input of all the individuals within your organization and consider inviting the contributions of key outside stakeholders, such as board members, investors, vendors, and even customers you respect. Create your Purpose and Vision statements from everyone’s voices, not just the CEO’s or the executive team’s. After getting input from everyone, narrow it down to key themes and then to one sentence. Take a vote for the final Purpose and Vision statements, then celebrate this milestone.

2.Continually implement your Purpose and Vision statements.

It’s critical that leaders go beyond just putting their Purpose and Vision statements on a wall in the reception area or on their website. These statements should be talked about daily, brought into your decision-making process, and lived and celebrated by everyone.

3.Refresh your Purpose and Vision—but only if absolutely needed.

While Purpose and Vision statements should remain largely unchanged (whereas a mission can change more regularly), you may need to refresh them if there is a large, strategic change within your organization. That’s fine when done sparingly, but when you do change them, make sure you do so democratically.



Integrity saves organizations money. When individuals in an organization act without Integrity, it can hurt their reputation and contribute to a loss of customers, which both cost money. Practicing Integrity helps leaders avoid costly missteps.

Integrity allows leaders to take the long view. When leaders lack Integrity, they make decisions from a short-term, me-first perspective, which can damage an organization. Practicing Integrity helps leaders plan ahead and make smarter choices.

Integrity helps everyone self-govern more effectively. When everyone in an organization adheres to high ethical and moral standards, they are able to reduce organizational drama, which builds trust and allows the organization to operate more harmoniously. Integrity invites us to be better people overall.


Dialogue and Listening

Dialogue and Listening develop harmonious, higher-performing teams. Unsurprisingly, research shows that teams that communicate better perform better. In his article “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” Alex “Sandy” Pentland, the director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program, collected data measuring patterns of communication and found that successful teams share several defining characteristics. To quote the article:

1.Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and to the point.

2.Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.

3.Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader.

4.Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team.

5.Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back.

Without authentic, ongoing, real-time, and direct conversations where everyone can freely express themselves and listen to each other, a team isn’t in harmony, which means it can’t perform at its peak.

Dialogue and Listening exchange the fear of not feeling heard for the freedom of expressing your voice. In fear-based organizations, individuals constantly feel silenced and shut out. But in Freedom-Centered Organizations, the practice of Dialogue and Listening says, “I see you. You have value. Your voice matters.” This invites more engagement because employees feel included in the conversation, which invites better ideas, more innovation, and progress. It also engenders more trust throughout the entire organization.



Transparency helps reduce fear and confusion. When employees don’t know the truth within their organization, they are filled with fear and confusion, which perpetuates gossip, backstabbing, fiefdoms, and politicking. Knowing the truth gives employees a greater feeling of freedom and self-determination.

Transparency builds massive trust. Many leaders ask for more trust from their employees without giving them the information they need to build that trust. But when Transparency of information empowers employees to see that good and timely decisions are being made and they are being treated fairly, it increases trust and eliminates the “us vs. them” divide.

Transparency contributes to a more ethical work environment. The best way to help leaders and employees be honest and ethical isn’t more rules, policies, or micromanagement—it’s increased transparency. When everyone can see the real numbers, it’s harder for bad actors to manipulate or steal from the organization. Also, sharing financial numbers and other relevant strategic information helps everyone up their game. Transparency helps everyone be more ethical and trustworthy.

Freedom-Centered Organizations transparently share information with their employees in areas such as the company’s financial health, strategy, goals, advancement opportunities, salaries, hiring and firing practices, and anything else that impacts their ability to make great decisions. Aside from legal restrictions on what can and cannot be shared, is there anything else that should not be transparently shared with those on your team? In general, if sharing something will do harm, break a trust, or be unkind to others, this is a good standard for whether to share something or not.

There are many more areas where we as leaders should be more transparent with their colleagues and team members than not, including the following:

  • the financial health of your company, including profit and loss, sales, revenue, and spending
  • salary ranges
  • criteria for hiring, firing, and promotions
  • decision-making processes
  • strategy
  • meeting minutes, including board minutes
  • top-level meetings, including the executive team and board
  • challenges and mistakes made
  • employee morale levels
  • customer service indicators
  • turnover numbers



Accountability cultivates an ownership mentality rather than a victim mentality. It replaces the “us vs. them” divide that can exist between teams and leaders with a shared spirit of Accountability. An ownership rather than victim mentality also leads to real and lasting engagement.

Accountability develops leaders with higher self-worth. Low self-worth leaders lack personal Accountability, always blaming others for their mistakes, inaction, or incompetence. Practicing personal Accountability helps leaders mature, cultivates moral courage, and increases inner joy. And when an organization has incorporated systems and processes of Accountability into the way they work, it naturally helps everyone develop a higher level of self-worth.

Accountability increases the speed of execution and performance. When everyone knows to whom and for what they are clearly accountable, it eliminates confusion and increases the speed of execution, boosting individual and team performance.

As you think about how to bring more Accountability into your organization, consider these tips for implementing Accountability successfully:

1.Model it at the top. Your top leaders must model accountability; otherwise, employees will see it as blaming and scapegoating.

2.Practice individual and collective accountability. There must be personal as well as collective Accountability to upholding your team’s or organization’s purpose, vision, and goals.

3.No hypocrisy. We all know what it’s like to see a leader unfairly admonishing an employee when they themselves have not been accountable for something. This is highly hypocritical and destroys trust, breeds resentment, and undermines a democratic system.

4.Make it clear. Who is accountable to whom and for what must be extremely clear on every project and team.

5.Stop the blame game. Leaders must ensure that everyone feels comfortable sharing if they make a mistake, fail, or have a “learning moment” so that they are more willing to take accountability.



Decentralization makes your organization more agile and competitive. A decentralized organization is able to pivot and respond more quickly to changes in the market, laws, consumer tastes, and challenges compared to hierarchical, centralized companies.

Decentralized organizations are more stable than centralized ones. Centralized systems are overly dependent on one individual at the top calling the shots on everything. Remove them, and the entire system can collapse. Decentralized organizations have more broadly distributed leadership, making them more stable when there are leadership changes.

Decentralized organizations develop leaders rather than blind followers. When power is decentralized to the people of an organization, they become better communicators, more critical thinkers, more personally accountable, and more confident. Decentralization also helps develop a wiser, more team-oriented (or Ubuntu!) consciousness that allows an organization to move faster.



Choice gives us freedom. Without meaningful choices, we are literally locked into one way of doing things, unable to consider and decide between other options and possibilities.

Choice gives us power. Without real choices, we aren’t empowered to choose our own paths. We all know what it feels like when someone tells us what we have to do, without giving us any say in the matter. When you remove the option of choice from an individual’s life, they can feel backed into a corner, without a voice. It can trigger anger, conflict, and violence. Having meaningful choices, however, helps us regain a sense of power and perspective.

When it comes to designing and implementing the democratic principle of Choice in your team, there are a few key things to remember.

First, reflect upon these two key questions:

1.Is this a practice where, if meaningful choices were added, it would create more value for our team? For example, most people just assume they have to be assigned a manager, but what if you let people choose their own manager? You’ve added meaningful choice to a conventional practice, which will have a profound and positive ripple effect throughout the organization. Become more aware of how you can intentionally build meaningful choices into common systems and processes, such as letting employees choose their own work schedule, projects, or teammates.

2.Who, really, should be making this choice? The decision should always be made by those most impacted by it. Again, rather than a boss assigning a manager to an employee, the employee should be given the choice.

Then, remember that the power of Choice lies in offering meaningful choices. Letting employees choose what they want to eat at the Friday office party is a nice idea, but not as potentially meaningful as letting them choose their own manager.


Fairness and Dignity

Fairness and Dignity increase engagement. In Freedom-Centered Organizations, where individuals feel seen and valued by leaders and colleagues, employees are more engaged and willing to go the distance in order to achieve a goal, together.

Fairness and Dignity enhance leadership development. When people know they have inherent value, it helps them let go of unhealthy and toxic behavior and become better leaders. And who wouldn’t want to be part of a team in which people are daily growing and deepening their sense of worth, confidence, and interpersonal skills? All of this translates to greater trust, higher morale, and joy throughout the organization as well.

Before you design new transformational practices to increase your company’s level of Fairness and Dignity, consider these tips for success.

1.Reflect upon your own behavior. Is there something you as a leader are doing that is unintentionally or unknowingly (or even knowingly!) unfair or harming another’s sense of worth? Become aware of your actions and take personal accountability for correcting them.

2.Understand that sameness doesn’t equal fairness. Often organizations create one-size-fits-all policies in an attempt to be “fair” to everyone. Unfortunately, sameness is not the same as fairness. Instead, focus, when possible, on living the principle of Fairness, handling situations on an individual, case-by-case basis, rather than applying a blanket policy that only further angers people.

3.Take a stand against rankism and for the dignity of all. Insist on each person’s worth, regardless of their title or position in your organization, and consciously and intentionally design systems and processes that build people up rather than pull them down.


Reflection and Evaluation

Reflection and Evaluation help us grow, individually and collectively. When we’re afraid, we don’t grow—we just hunker down and protect ourselves. But in democratically designed Freedom-Centered Organizations, leaders understand that Reflection and Evaluation bring continuous learning and promote positive growth. Fear stymies reflection and development. But if we can’t reflect openly and constructively evaluate where we’ve been, we simply can’t improve.

Reflection and Evaluation empower each one of us to develop into our best self. When we reflect upon lessons learned in a situation, we can accelerate our personal growth and sense of self-awareness more rapidly.

The principle of Reflection and Evaluation creates a culture where it’s safe to look back and evaluate what’s been learned along the way, rather than suppressing or being afraid to talk about lessons learned. One Danish training company does this in a clearcut way. After every meeting, presentation, speech, or workshop, they simply ask themselves, “What have we learned?” This question serves as a starting point for the discussion of what went well and what could be done better next time. They also encourage people to celebrate mistakes instead of hiding them, so everyone can learn and improve.

Sometimes you just need quick feedback: enter “Feedback Futons.” At a New Zealand–based training company, employees can select three people they would like to get feedback from and invite them to join them on futons set up in the office. The three individuals then complete these sentences about the individual inviting the feedback:

“I really like working with you because …”

“I would like to thank you for …”

“I think you could work on improving …”

After each piece of feedback received, the individual is only allowed to say, “Thank you.”

Further, the company asks that all feedback be tied to a specific instance to give it context. The purpose of the Feedback Futons is to practice honesty and constructive feedback.