In my line of work, I get a lot of questions. Most of these are along the lines of "What's it like to be CEO of an open source company" or "Where do you see technology moving over the next year?"
Lately though, there’s a new question that’s been popping up: "Why did you write a book?"
That book – The Open Organization (available here)– is about creating a successful business in today’s enormously fast-moving technology climate. The only way to do that is by eschewing the old ways of doing business – including a top-down hierarchical approach – in favor of a new approach that emphasizes soliciting and embracing everyone’s opinions, letting go of "command and control," and moving away from traditional management comfort zones.
In short, it’s about taking the methodology that has made open source software the standard for many of today’s organizations and applying it to the way business is run.
Today, businesses should not be run, with a single CEO ruling over the rest of the citizens. Senior managers can’t just sit on a mountaintop and adhere to the old ways of doing business, because those old ways are crumbling under the weight of a passionate, empowered employee base that wants their opinions to be heard.
As such, managers must be willing to tap directly into the creativity, energy, and power of their employees. These are the people that are driving innovation and ideas. Their ideas are the beating heart of the most successful and fast-moving companies in the world – including Red Hat.
This has become very apparent to me in the seven and a half years that I’ve been here. As you’ll learn in the book, when I first joined Red Hat from Delta Air Lines, I had a traditional perspective of the role of a corporate CEO. That was the person in charge – no questions asked. In fact, when I was at Delta, I was the quintessential "top-down" manager.
Red Hat changed that – dramatically. It opened my eyes to better ways to not only create technology through community-powered innovation, but also to manage a company.
At Red Hat, our associates are encouraged to offer ideas on better ways to run the company. Voices are heard, and associates are given the opportunity to create different ways of managing their workloads. That applies to just about everything we do, from running teams, to giving individuals the ability to take ownership for their own products. Our approach to associate empowerment has helped make us successful.
In addition to listening to our own associates, we encourage our customers to collaborate with us. This is diametrically opposed to the old school approach of a company dictating the types of services the company thinks customers should purchase. Yes, I know – every company says they "listen" to their customers. But do they actively let their customers participate in the direction that their company is taking? We do. That’s what open source software development is about – taking ideas and concepts from all sides with the goal of creating the best product.
That’s what an open organization is about, too. I truly believe it’s the only approach that works. It certainly has for Red Hat, and for me personally. And since sharing is in our DNA at Red Hat, I would be remiss if I didn't share this new way of getting work done.