Iowa’s Only 3 Freedom-Centered Workplaces

Iowa’s Only 3 Freedom-Centered Workplaces
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Iowa’s Only 3 Freedom-Centered Workplaces

We all know that company culture is king, and empowered employees can make a huge difference in our productivity, collaboration, and innovation. Perhaps you’ve heard that their is a third-party certification for businesses that have worked to grow and support this very type of culture… the holy grail of Freedom-Centered Workplaces? But what does that mean? And why are there only 3 in Iowa today?

For the past 10 years, WorldBlu has released an annual list of dozens of the most-democratic, manager-less organizations. In 2017, that list included: WD-40 Company, New Belgium Brewing Company, Zappos, Widen, DaVita, DreamHost, and Geonetric. Hagie Manufacturing received WorldBlu recognition three years in a row, 2014-2106. From their website:

The growth of your organization comes down to creating a world-class culture that delivers extraordinary results. Perks don’t create a culture – or grow leaders. Yoga classes, bring-your-dog to work day, and free lunches only go so far. You want to attract and retain top talent who want to fully engage. You want to grow a company of leaders. You want to create an in-demand culture everyone loves and then you want to scale it. Most importantly, you want to create a culture that is high-energy, high-growth, and high-performing. Without this, your business is in trouble.

Other models exist. In his book Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux profiles twelve what he calls ‘evolutionary organizations’ with self-management philosophies. For-profits included: Sun Hydraulics, AES, Patagonia, Sounds True, FAVI, and Morning Star.

Participatory decision-making for employees, if done right, can increase performance significantly. In their second edition of Firms of Endearment, Sisodia, Sheth, and Wolfe offer 30 Fortune 500 companies that were simultaneously adopting high participation cultures and “growing an average of ten times faster than the average S&P 500 company over ten years.” WorldBlu Founder and CEO, Traci Fenton, explained, “Companies that practice freedom rather than fear in their workplace in terms of how they operate and treat their employees average almost seven times higher revenue growth compared to companies on the S&P 500 Index. Organizational democracy is the framework for freedom, and it’s a proven strategy for creating world-class cultures and highly sustainable companies.”

Freedom-Centered Workplaces in Iowa

Today, only two Iowa companies that have been certified by WorldBlu as Freedom-Centered Workplaces: Geonetric and Hagie Manufacturing. Another local business, The Sky Factory, is famous for its open-book management and employee-decision making (although not seeking WorldBlu certification). Expect more to follow their lead. My new book includes step-by-step instructions on how businesses achieve these results.


Geonetric is a private marketing agency focused on health care software, founded in 1999 with 80 employees. Their office is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The company has no managers and no organizational chart. Every individual is part of an agile, self-organizing team focused on delivering value to their clients as quickly as possible. Geonetric has been named to WorldBlu’s Freedom-Centered Workplace list for four consecutive years, from 2014 to 2017. CEO Linda Barnes said, “We’ve realized higher employee satisfaction and client satisfaction since practicing freedom at work. Our self-directed teams produce value for our company from the bottom up, not the top down.”


Hagie Manufacturing

Hagie Manufacturing is now a joint venture with John Deere, manufacturing agricultural equipment since 1947 with 400 employees. Their plant is in Clarion, Iowa. The practice of employee rounding from Quint Studar’s Results That Last was implemented in 2008. Standards of behavior at the company are discussed, agreed upon, and written by employees and the goal is to let everyone knows where they stand. They launched an internal Leadership Development Institute to develop top-performers. The onboarding process for new hires includes spending 30 minutes in every department and being assigned a mentor. In three years, employee referrals jumped from 21 to 43 percent. According to Maxheimer, “From 2011 to 2013, while we implemented our core culture journey, our financial results as a company were better than we could ever have expected.” Hagie Manufacturing received WorldBlu recognition three years in a row, 2014-2106.


The Sky Factory

The Sky Factory is a privately held fine art and technology manufacturer of founded in 2002 with 35 employees. Their factory is in Fairfield, Iowa, and has been recognized nationally for their 5 cultural principles—transparency, flat hive-management, service, consensus, and performance. Except for individual HR matters and salaries, all information throughout the company is open and displayed to all staff. Weekly all-company meetings include a review of company financials and performance metrics, as well as discussion of all significant choices. All business decisions are made by group consent within small teams or by the entire company. Sky Factory base salaries cover needs, while the profit-sharing program distributes 50 percent of net income. Bonuses are paid monthly if three goals are met: no late shipments the previous month, the bank balance is at an agreed-upon level, and average operating cash flow for prior three months was positive.


Sustainable Business in Iowa

As Kum & Go’s first manager of sustainability in 2010, I wrote my first book and began teaching CSR & Sustainability for the University of Iowa evening MBA program. In 2014, I launched and became the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum and an independent consultant. With the help of an endless amount of Iowa professionals in various fields (see the Acknowledgements page), I just released my second book, Sustainable Business in Iowa: How Leading Companies Profit from Environmental and Social Responsibility. It gives step-by-step guidance on how industry leaders define, measure, and improve their own corporate sustainability programs. The book also highlights over 30 responsible Iowa businesses as case study examples.

The Kindle ebook is free and the paperback is heavily discounted for the first week of promotion, until March 2nd. Get your copy today and help move your company forward!



Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

Check out Adam's new book on Amazon, Audible and Kindle: Sustainable Business in Iowa.

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