The way your office runs can make all the difference.
If you set up a democratic-like system and give employees a say in the day-to-day decisions, they will feel like they are not just some expendable human capital, but a real member of the team. This feeling is sure to enhance both quantity and quality of their work.
Or maybe, they will use this democratic set-up to advocate for perks such as unlimited vacation time and bonuses regardless of performance.
Now you have the opposite scenario: too much carrot and no stick, which is sure to hinder the business and morale.
Any manager must perform these kinds of cost-benefit analyses of the proper way to run an office. Unfortunately, who has time for these theoretical thought-experiments that weigh the scenarios for differing government-like systems for the office? Managers need to make these decisions in real time, with the very real possibility of a wrong decision negatively impacting the product.
Luckily, these thought-experiments are exactly the job of the philosopher. And as it happens, to a very large extent, the Greek philosopher Plato already did the work for us.
Plato famously wrote his philosophy in dialogues, or as plays. He would not simply write what he has to say, but have characters go back and forth discussing his philosophy, allowing the reader to not only grasp his thoughts but possible objections to them, and responses to these objections. Aside from this more technical benefit, it also provides a more engaging experience for the reader than the typical philosophical presentation of essays.
MORE FOR YOU
In what is arguably his most well-known dialogue, titled The Republic, Plato essentially performs a cost-benefit analysis of implementing five of the most common systems of government.
No, Plato is not theorizing in terms of a 21st century office leader. But still, each potential system he speaks on are still some of the most prevalent governmental systems today.
Therefore, with the assumption that we can relate the logistics of an office to that of government, the implications that Plato suggests that come from each of the five systems can directly relate to how an office ought to be run today in order to be most productive.
Systems of Government
The way in which Plato organizes his system explanations is to begin with what he asserts to be the optimal kind and work his way down from there. I will go the opposite route.
The system of tyranny exists when society (or an office) has no real discipline. All that exists is a longing for power. Eventually, there is one person who must take absolute power in order to maintain structure and lawfulness. While it may seem like a position of absolute power would be beneficial for an office leader, it has extremely harmful effects.
As Plato suggests, the people (employees) will start to hate the tyrant. This will cause an attempt to remove him or her. But the realization comes that this is not possible. Therefore, the feeling of misery is essentially tied to the system of tyranny.
Unless you want your employees to feel total misery, tyranny—absolute power by the leader—is not the system of government your office should adopt.
Maybe intuitively you would think democracy is the optimal government and therefore the best system for an office. I mean, we have been told our whole lives that democracy is best. Plato strongly disagrees. He ranks it fourth out of five possible systems.
Democracy provides those who are not qualified to lead the capacity to do so. In other words, it does not award virtue or morality, but wealth and gab as these are the qualities that are able to convince.
While misery was the feeling of tyranny, desire is what defines democracy. That is, people act on their desire, not what may be best for the society or office. According to Plato then, Should the office leader rule by means of a democracy, the second of the two possibilities given in the beginning would become reality. What the employees want (extra time off, more money, etc.) would take precedent over what they may need (more job training, better tools, etc.).
If it is the goal of the office leader to promote productivity, democracy is not the route to go.
The way Plato defines this system is to distinguish between the rich and poor, and the rich are the ones in power. This is somewhat already how the modern office is run, albeit not explicitly.
This is certainly a step up from democracy because it does not provide everyone the opportunity to rule, only those who are financially successful. This means that the financially hurtful decisions that may come when every employee gets a say are thwarted.
However, this does seem to treat the lower classes not as people but as commodities.
If democracy gives employees too much power, it appears as though an oligarchy gives them much too little. Any incentive to do good work is gone in this system. Thus, we should move on from oligarchy.
Loosely, Plato identifies timocracy as a system of government whose leaders are accomplished war heroes. Of course, this would be a difficult quality to find in most modern-day offices.
If we were to translate this system to today though, it would be those who are accomplished in their field. For example, if you ran a paper supply company, enacting a timocratic system of leadership would be to promote those who are accomplished in the paper supply field to a leadership position.
Because the timocrat is accomplished only in their field, a timocracy has one downfall that Plato’s fifth system does not have. Although the timocrat is successful in their field, they do not possess all the necessary qualities for a leader in general. That is, just because you have been successful in the paper supply field does not necessarily mean you will successful in leading an office of paper suppliers. This is why Plato brings in his fifth and best option.
According to Plato, it is aristocracy that is the best system of government. Therefore, it is also the best system to run an office.
Those who rule in an aristocracy are not only experts in their specific fields, but have been trained on the art of leadership as well.
In many of the most productive offices today, there is already an aristocratic system in place. While the leaders may get hired because of their expertise on the field, they are given extensive leadership training to hone in these skills as well.
If you are looking to change how you organize your office, or are beginning the process of setting up an office, look to Plato for advice. Do not just bank on the employees to know what to do. Do not just give some people higher salaries and assume this will make them great leaders. Do not just hire someone because they have a background in the area. Use Plato’s aristocracy. Create the leadership you want.