Digital transformation is here to stay. We must therefore constantly foster dialogue to increase awareness for all that is and will become digital. Digitalisation brings not only opportunities, but also risks that need to be addressed and taken seriously. In my series “Dialogue Interviews” I discuss these topics with leaders in Switzerland, from our member organisations to digital shapers and the brightest minds in the fields of technology and innovation. 

In this edition, I talked to Sébastien Floure, Co-founder and CEO of Inilab.

Nicolas: Sébastien, you founded Inilab, a provider of e-democracy solutions. Could you start by explaining why e-democracy is so effective in helping organisations – whether corporates, administrations or academic institutions – to improve their internal culture?

Sébastien: In civil society, democracy refers mainly to the exercise of civil rights. E-democracy is therefore often associated with that process (e-voting is one example). Our vision is that digitalisation can enhance democracy processes beyond just voting. We’re addressing it in civil society with INILAB Citoyen.

In the corporate world, democracy is until now an undiscovered treasure.  With less impact from hierarchies, real co-construction (or co-creation) improves projects, processes and organisational transformation. But workplace democracy can bring much more. Some advantages include:

  • Collaboratively achieved decisions are more relevant, accepted and easier to apply
  • Employees working for democratic leaders report positive results such as group member satisfaction, friendliness, group mindedness, ‘we‘ statements, worker motivation
  • Being heard and part of agenda setting increases creativity, and dedication to decisions made within an organisation
  • Existing talents are valued and hidden talents are encouraged and activated
  • Conflicts are recognisable and can be avoided
  • Group cohesion and sense of belonging are strengthened
  • Governance is facilitated
  • When clients are enrolled into the process, their loyalty increases

INILAB Pro is a tool to extract this treasure, enabling interaction with all stakeholders on a high level.

Nicolas: What are the main opportunities and challenges related to e-democracy implementation within organisations?

Sébastien: The main opportunities lie in the combination of technological and societal developments. These allow us to create positive, secure and transparent interactions between individuals. They also mean we can all be actors and collaborators rather than just employees, customers, inhabitants, etc. The result is that we find more meaning in what we do. Finally, consideration of everyone’s contribution boosts individual and collective wellbeing and the sense of group belonging.

A main challenge is how to motivate decision-makers to embrace the new way of working together. They need to understand the advantage of replacing clear hierarchies and focusing instead on the collaboration and transparency that is so important for effective participation.

We have worked hard to create digital tools that save time and achieve an organisation’s goals. It is vital to strike an ideal balance between wide participation of relevant actors and easy orchestration of processes. It’s also important to get the right mix of (sometimes necessary) confidentiality and transparency, which encourages everyone to get involved. Our platform offers dedicated approaches for municipalities, cities, corporates, universities, political parties and others organisations.

Nicolas: Where would you place Switzerland in terms of e-democracy penetration within organisations in comparison to other countries? Which country is your role model as of today and why?

Sébastien: There is no well-established role model. There is a lot still to be built and tested.

In 2018, France adopted an Action Plan for the Growth and Transformation of Enterprises (PACTE), which officially focuses on corporate democracy. In the USA, a revised Workplace Democracy Act was proposed in 2018. In Europe, a similar process was followed in early 2019 with the More Democracy at Work movement.

The direction is clear. Switzerland may have a starring role to play. While most organisations still follow a rather vertical model, based on a hierarchy, we have a well-established culture of democracy and consensus building in our society. The meeting of these two cultures could prove very fertile ground for the emergence of more fluid, efficient, resilient and fulfilling organisations. Switzerland has all prerequisites to lead this change. Organisations that have understood this – and act accordingly – will get a head start.

Sébastien: Nicolas, what possibilities do you anticipate as a result of digitally supported and democratically founded cooperation? Which organisation sectors might benefit?

Nicolas: I personally believe that digital and democratic tools and cooperation could make every single employee more important. We’ll have less top-down leadership from A to Z. Of course, we still need a strong vision, ownership of the implementation lies with the organisation itself. Organisations that do this will win the race in the next decade, since they will be able to better leverage their assets (their employees).

Sébastien: How can stakeholders (management, staff, shareholders and members) be persuaded to implement more democracy and participation in their organisation?

Nicolas: I see three reasons why more democracy and participation brings added-value for an organisation:

  1. We empower every employee to perform at their best, while giving each one a more important voice. Everyone in the organisation can help tackle the organisation’s challenges in a climate that welcomes suggestions and contributions. It motivates employees to participate.
  2. Since we involve employees more actively, management is under less pressure to solve challenges on its own. Democracy is a way to better involve people and get better solutions from them.
  3. Last but not least, the organisation’s performance improves over time and in relation to the implemented democracy model. This is achieved at a very reasonable cost – which makes it all the more attractive to shareholders.

Sébastien: Do you see any advantages for Switzerland’s position internationally as a result of establishing Swiss workplace democracy?

Nicolas: I see plenty. Switzerland enjoys a strong position in terms of sovereignty, trust and direct democracy. If we’re successful in merging our strength in democracy with our economy and workforce we will put Switzerland on the worldwide map. I’m convinced the world is getting more decentralised and more democratic, our country has a big opportunity to act as role model. My hope is to see Switzerland within the top 3 as a hub for workplace democracy in two to three years.