bio verlag publishes the customer magazines Schrot & Korn, Cosmia and Ö-Magazin, among other things. Since 2011, bio verlag has dealt with three things: capital, decisions, and success. Participation and responsibility are the basis for their cooperative work, along with family-friendly working time models and a lot of commitment. All good reasons to have a longer #ChangeAgent interview in this case. We spoke with their managing director, Sabine Kauffmann, about the history of the publishing house, employee participation, decision-making processes, and the working world of tomorrow.
In 2011, bio verlag was taken over by the employees, and all of them can and should participate. How exactly does this participation work?
The success of a company always depends on the employees. With us, they have the opportunity to contribute their knowledge and contribute directly to success without hierarchical detours, and thereby take responsibility. Participation involves three different but complementary and conditional aspects: participation in success, in capital, in decision-making. Participation in decisions has the biggest impact on our everyday work and culture. In addition, the participation of all employees in capital contributes to their being part of the whole and also contributes to the return on their investment. There is also a relevant profit share, which is comprehensibly agreed upon and paid out after the balance sheet has been completed. We’ve had the framework of this system in place for some time already. Five years ago, the employees invested further capital, so that the founders were partially paid out and their shares were donated to a foundation. This allows the publisher to be in the hands of employees, as the employees have the majority over the board of trustees during shareholders’ meeting. Technically, the employees did not buy bio verlag, but they decide its fate. And the special thing about it is, all employees are involved.
How do decision processes go?
Basically, many decisions are made by the affected teams if they have the expertise to do so. For decisions that concern the entire publishing house, there are three places for decision-making: In addition to the management, a meeting of the coordinators decides on inter-divisional and fundamental issues. The protocol is open to all employees. So, it can be asked about and discussed if necessary. There are also eight meetings per year in total for all employees, which discuss issues that affect everyone, including major developments, general working conditions or changes, as well as salary changes and salary structure. It’s exciting that, in case of disagreement, there is no fixed priority. This leads to real joint decisions.
For that to work well, it needs transparency. With us, everyone knows what happens and what gets decided because only informed employees can make good and effective decisions. And, because we decide on many smaller points together, the employees also know how the process works. This makes it clear that every opinion counts, that questions can be asked, and that you can get involved. Employees can learn to assess and weigh facts. This is going well; employees do it with vision and knowledge, and are also aware that they are responsible for their own decision and what it will entail.
Flexibility plays a big role in bio verlag, right? What working time models do you offer? What are your experiences with them and what do you love about them?
That’s right, flexibility is very important to us. Currently, 76 people work for us. This translates into 45 full-time jobs. This means that many employees work part-time, including in management positions. This is, of course, a great way to organize family life. There is also the possibility of accessing the server remotely, so working from home is sometimes possible. However, we like that to happen only to a certain extent because personal exchanges are very important to us. A regular presence in the publishing house is also a prerequisite for being aware of developments, for being informed. This flexibility goes in both directions – from publisher to employee and vice versa. Because with all the freedom to design their work, the employees are just as flexible when it comes to taking responsibility and contributing. This reciprocity, our togetherness, is quite special.
If you could change one thing about the job market immediately, what would that be?
Although we live in a democracy, with the ability to participate and become active in committees, employees in some companies are not treated like this. They think they have to hold their hand. They have to motivate them and don’t trust them to make decisions. We see things differently. For 30 years, we have tried to make participatory management work with the needs of a business organization. In addition to the management’s trust in their employees, it requires the willingness of everyone involved for the management to hand over control. Likewise, employees must be willing to take responsibility.
What is your personal contribution to something going on right now?
With our model of employee participation, we are showing that participatory corporate structures are possible. We’re showing that leadership also works as a part-time position; that women, but also men, who want to have time for their children can have a career, too.
What do you think a company prepared for the “working world of tomorrow” looks like?
There is a growing generation of people who are looking for meaningful work and the opportunity to get involved. They’re happy to work a lot, but also want the flexibility to work less when they need to. And for the work to be meaningful, it’s not just about the content, but about the way in which you can contribute, whether you are being heard and recognized. This creates a company with flexibility for both itself and its employees in terms of time and place; in terms of development, there’s flexibility within assignments, and perhaps outside of them, as well. It’s good for companies, too, because they need employees who can adapt to change. This can sometimes even include a break or a sabbatical. We think that allowing employees to take on responsibility is a part of this, too. This creates freedom for development, ideas for the future.
Sabine, thank you for your time & the exciting insights into such a special company!
In our #ChangeAgents section, we introduce people who encourage us to tackle and change things. Strong minds, who work with passion for a more humane working world, thus initiating a change in thinking and actively helping to shape change processes. Our #ChangeAgents are role models, lateral thinkers, multipliers and dissenters.