Foundations for SuccessNote: This essay on Foundations for Success was submitted as a midterm essay for a college class on 'managing in a diverse and changing world'.
BellaOnline was launched as an editor-run website in 2002. By 2011 it had become the second largest women’s website in the world, serving over 20 million page views a month. BellaOnline nurtures 300 editors with training and a supportive community.
There are three core foundations in the BellaOnline culture which help it to thrive. First is the ethical culture which BellaOnline promotes. Second is the strong commitment to maintaining a multicultural community. Third is the focus on group decision making which helps editors strengthen their confidence in their voice.
Ethical Culture at BellaOnline
BellaOnline’s focus is to help individuals learn, grow, and succeed with their goals in life. There are three main aspects to this ethical endeavor. There are the editors who join BellaOnline’s training system, the visitors who participate in the community, and the organizations which BellaOnline promotes.
BellaOnline’s editor training program is geared to help individuals who have dreamed about writing on the web but who have not had the background or support to do so. BellaOnline’s training program starts from the very beginning with the basics of copyright and plagiarism. The training steps the editor through how to craft meaningful titles, how to write appropriate length articles, how to do internet marketing, and how to build a community. This training is all provided for free, and the end goal is for the editor to be able to launch herself as an entrepreneur with whatever web projects she wishes.
For BellaOnline’s visitors, the hundreds of thousands of pages at BellaOnline are provided free of charge and provide unbiased, direct advice on how they can better their lives. If a book is reviewed well, the visitor knows that the editor honestly adored the book and recommends it whole-heartedly – BellaOnline does not run press releases. Every review item is clearly described so visitors know if the items were provided for free by the manufacturer or if other consideration was given.
For charity organizations, BellaOnline donates millions of ads every month to their cause. Ads are run for the Red Cross, the ASPCA, and many other charity groups. BellaOnline arranges special efforts when a large tragedy hits, for example the earthquake in Haiti. BellaOnline also helps promote hair donation for cancer, green living, and other supportive activities.
By ensuring that every aspect of BellaOnline helps to promote an ethical culture, BellaOnline maintains a site which editors are proud to be a part of and visitors are thrilled to visit and promote. Maintaining an ethical culture helps to secure the reputation of an organization and fosters the trust visitors and community members have in that entity (George, 2011).
Multicultural Community at BellaOnline
A key attribute of BellaOnline’s editor community is that it is comprised of women and men from around the world. Not only are the editors of different nationalities, but they are also of different religions, races, sexual preferences, and physical challenges. This diversity of experience helps BellaOnline be the very best it can be for its visitors and its editor community. For example, BellaOnline has had both blind editors and deaf editors go through the entire training system. These editors participated in the forums, wrote weekly articles, and were active in all other aspects of its network. By having blind and deaf editors as part of its team, BellaOnline is able to polish how the pages work and ensure that they work smoothly for every visitor. When a new technology such as video is incorporated, the diversity ensures this is done in a way which allows all visitors to access the information.
BellaOnline has had editors in its network who have cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, morbid obesity, and Asperger’s. Managers have heard repeatedly from the editors that this community was the first group they worked with who accepted them for who they were. With the skills they learned from BellaOnline they were able to get a novel written, get hired for a job they loved, and make other progress towards their goals. Not only did BellaOnline’s community help them thrive, but also their presence in the BellaOnline community helped our other editors learn and grow. These individuals were fantastic members of our community who we treasured.
Treating a co-worker as being a less-than-full members of the community can have serious implications for both that individual and for the rest of the community as well (Fournies, 1999). At BellaOnline each editor is treated equally and enthusiastically. For some editors this was the first time they were given a full chance, and they thrive with that opportunity.
BellaOnline has editors who are gay, transgendered, fundamentalist, atheist, nudist, and scarf-wearing. By having such a diverse variety of voices, BellaOnline can ensure that the content it hosts is appropriate for all backgrounds and that issues are covered in a respectful manner. Certainly editors do not always agree on a given topic, but they are thrilled that the opposing viewpoints are phrased in a way which is courteous and informative.
The wide range of views and backgrounds is something BellaOnline actively promotes and encourages. BellaOnline feels it is wonderful not only for the community of editors but also for the visitor population as a whole.
Group Decision Making at BellaOnline
BellaOnline could very easily become a dictatorship, or put more gently, a parental organization. There is only one owner – Lisa Shea – and all three hundred editors “report” to her. There are management roles to assist with training and support of the editors, but in terms of direction and goal-planning there is not the typical “division manager” which is found in most other companies.
However, BellaOnline takes great efforts to ensure that decisions are made whenever possible at a community level. If there is a proposal to allowing video components to articles, this decision is not made by Lisa and then handed down to the group. Rather, the whole community is involved in the discussion, bringing up pros and cons. This can be where editors with different backgrounds – for example vision impaired editors and hard of hearing editors – often have important insights to offer. When the group has all chimed in, a collective decision is made and then the organization moves forward.
Many BellaOnline editors come from backgrounds where their voice has rarely been heard. Some were abused spouses who barely left their homes. Others were held inside by physical challenges and were often at the whim of their caregiver. For some, these group decision making processes were some of their first experiences with speaking up and being paid attention to. The editors felt great pride in being able to help craft an important decision for the organization and to know that their insight helped inform and educate others. This building of self confidence has then gone on to help them speak up more strongly for themselves in other situations.
A focus on a shared vision and group input is cited as critical for a company’s success by Kouzes and Posner in The Leadership Challenge (Posner, 2008) as well as in many other similar books.
BellaOnline feels strongly that encouraging its editors to participate in consensus building as part of every possible direction of BellaOnline’s growth is a critical part of its mission. This not only helps each editor to strengthen and grow her skills, but it also ensures that the overall direction that BellaOnline takes is one which helps tend to the needs of all visitors of all backgrounds.
BellaOnline thrives because it remains true to its goals for its community. These goals include being as ethical a company as it can be, encouraging a multicultural community, and allowing for group consensus and decision making whenever possible. These foundations help BellaOnline support its editor community, its visitors, and its charity partners to grow and reach their goals.
Fournies, Ferdinand. (1999). Coaching for Improved Work Performance. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
George, Jennifer M. and Jones, Gareth R. (2011). Contemporary Management Seventh Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Irwin.
Posner, Barry and Kouzes, Jim. (2008). The Leadership Challenge. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.
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