Understanding Open Organizations

July 10, 2015

By Cheryl Tyson

I have found the Open Source movement compelling for many years now, and have watched open source software grow and become a movement with a life of its own.

In particular, I found it very interesting when Bob Young and Marc Ewing created a highly successful company in the early 90’s called Red Hat Inc., based on a new Linux that was developed as open source.   As defined by the Open Source initiative:

Open source software is software that can be freely used, changed, and shared (in modified or unmodified form) by anyone. Open source software is made by many people, and distributed under licenses that comply with the Open Source Definition.

There are rules to ensure the integrity of the code as it evolves, and whether it can actually be called Open Source. What is fascinating is that Open Source basically puts the nature of software creation upside down. Prior to this movement, software was developed, guarded, and proprietary. This was seen as the main competitive advantage of THE software giants. Open source threw that model out the window and the movement continues to grow.

Recently, the CEO of Red Hat Inc., Jim Whitehurst, released a book called, The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance, and I knew it was a must read. I had hoped to discover:

How has the Open Source movement spawned a new organizational model?

Can Open source transcend an organization such as Red Hat?

The book is an easy read, and is mainly about his experience. It is not about developing an open organization, which pre-existed his tenure at Red Hat, but rather his personal transformation as a leader within an open organization. During his discussion, he also includes other companies such as Wegmans, Whole Foods Markets, Zappos and W.L. Gore as additional examples. He also quoted my favorite TED talk by Simon Sinek “Start with Why” (2009).

As a manager, I always felt my most important job was to get out of the way of the bright people I was fortunate enough to hire and bring on my team, letting their passion and creativity drive the results. This is fundamental to the open organization. Collaboration, passion and initiative, human communities working toward a similar outcome. Red Hat employees, who refer to themselves as “Red Hatters,” are so passionate about their work, as they feel they have an impact, not only on their company, but on the world. How powerful that the mission of Red Hat is felt so deeply by its employees.

At this point, I put down the book and say really? Passion? Impact? Really? I need to get more data, this sounds too good to be true. Looking to Glassdoor, I find over 400 entries from employees at Red Hat. Ninety percent would recommend the company to a friend and 96% approve of the CEO. Pretty admirable statistics. Then I check The Red Hat page on LinkedIn. The page is filled with stories of awards, competitions on innovations, and leadership success. Back to the book!

The book is a practical guide to answer the questions on how you create an open organization, and also stresses the reasons to create an open organization. The book is full of tips and tricks that are easy to implement.

Are you working in or with one of the companies that Whitehurst initially describes? A company struggling to keep up, that finds itself too slow, and not agile enough against its competitors? Are you finding that you are not getting the lift from social media that has been layered onto current practices? Are your recruiting practices falling short in terms of finding employees that are the ‘right fit’ for a nimble organization? Are your employees engaged in the mission of the company?

The book is made up of three primary sections, highlighting the Why, How and the What of the Open Organization, and answering the questions needed to grasp this organizational concept. Are you looking for inspiration on how to move your leadership style and/or your organization forward? The Open Organization is a definitely a title to add to your summer reading list.

Enjoy! Be inspired.

For more information on Open Source see www.opensource.org.

Cheryl Tyson 2

Cheryl Tyson has more than 20 years of experience in the HR software industry as a Project Manager, Implementation Consultant, Product Manager and Management Consultant.  Her areas of expertise in the HCM market include HRIS, Payroll, Workforce Management, Benefits and Analytics.

Prior to joining HRchitect Cheryl worked for various consulting firms providing consulting services to large and small clients in the financial, medical, call center and government environments.

Cheryl has a degree in Computer Systems Technology and an MBA from Ivey Business School, University of Western Ontario.