Don’t Try This At Work: 4 Practices For The Not-So-Faint-Hearted

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree November 18, 2018

This is an article we wrote for the Officevibe blog. Here, though, you'll find the 'uncut' version.

In three years of world travel we have visited 100+ workplace pioneers And we’ve reported on an insane number of radical practices. Some of these are slowly becoming mainstream—as more companies come to realize their way of working is broken.

But then there is another category of more extreme practices: those that really challenge traditional assumptions. These are not for the faint-hearted. And when we talk about them, they are normally regarded with skepticism, or outright rejection. Here are a few samples. See what you think.

Rebelliousness level: through the roof

While some organizations have just started trialing practices, like flexible working hours or 360 feedback, others are challenging the limits. Real rebels will enjoy these stories. Conservative friends, eat your hearts out!

1. Set your own salary

Salary setting is a mystical process, often involving secrecy, negotiation and (occasionally) dishonesty. Employees aim high, anticipating managers will aim low. The resulting compromises often leave both parties feeling less-than-satisfied. In short, the process lacks authenticity. Which is why more pioneers now let employees set their own salaries!

As scary as it might sound, this approach has potential to increase engagement, ownership and fairness. See companies like lawyers BvdV, consultants Finext, tomato processors Morning Star, IT experts Incentro, and Brazilian manufacturer Semco.

How do they do it? Each has their approach. Some use a salary committee, others use team consensus, and others have staff decide for themselves via the advice process. There’s even a Dutch IT company experimenting with employees who set each other’s salary via a feedback-app. We’ve listed many such practices in a previous article.

2. Select your manager

Employees sucking up to managers, and ass-kissing to advance their careers are not rare. While it might work as a way to get a promotion, this “kiss up and kick down” approach is more like a toxic virus.

Kiss up kick down

To change this, some workplaces tackle it head-on. They offer zero tolerance for bad leaders by letting employees select their own. It can make perfect sense to let employees decide who is best to lead them.

There are several ways to do this, ranging from group voting, to choosing your own mentor or leader, to alternating leadership within a team.

Extreme practices that really challenge traditional workplace assumptions. These are not for the faint-hearted. And when we talk about them, they are normally regarded with skepticism, or outright rejection.
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Henry Stewart, CEO of British IT company Happy, says: “Leaders should be chosen on the basis of how good they are at managing people.” At his company, anybody who manages people has been specially chosen. They have the potential to be leaders.

Swiss IT company, Haufe Umantis, is even more radical. Employees democratically elect all leaders yearly—all the way to the CEO.

Manufacturers like Haier and FAVI. let employees select their own leaders. This is to ensure sure they choose leaders, and not technical specialists who were noticed by the more remote top managers.

3. Put your purpose where your money is

Purpose in business is hot. Nowadays, organizations love to talk about their why, their calling, and their raison d’etre. It’s become difficult to separate TV commercials for banks from those of UNICEF and WWF!

But turning fancy talk into action is a different challenge. It involves tough decisions, swimming against the tide, and forgetting about short-term results. To ensure that purpose is more than just management bullshit, pioneering organizations put their money where their purpose is.

One approach is to actively contribute resources (i.e. time, profit, skills, or equity) to those who support the company’s purpose. These could be non-profits, government organizations, educational institutions, or any others aligned with your cause.

An even more powerful approach is to be authentic in the way decisions are made and dilemmas solved. Putting purpose before profit is still hard for many. When times are tough, and choices need to be made, many still choose money first.

All need to realize that, without authenticity, purpose will become just another entry in the corporate bullshit dictionary.

4. Destroy the ivory tower

Another way to break down the command-and-control culture is destruction of status symbols: like reserved parking spots, fancier phones, laptops and leased cars. And what about corner offices, on the top floor, with better carpet? All are childish perks that actually get in the way of good business. They create barriers, obstruct information flow and discourage initiative.

Which is why leaders in many workplaces we’ve visited dismantle the ivory tower. In doing so they connect with each other as true colleagues (especially those on the front-line). Good examples are FAVI’s former CEO Jean-Francois Zobrist and Ari Weinzweig (founder of Zingerman’s). The latter shows this by serving water to guests in his restaurants most nights, while still being the CEO of a 600 people company.

Here is an interesting fact for managers: a study by Francesca Gino found those with the lowest levels of respect had a reputation for shutting themselves in their offices. So, get out of your office, destroy the walls—and any other status symbols and privileges while you’re at it.

Extreme to some, common sense to others

The above practices are considered extreme in the majority of today’s organizations. Because most are still governed by an out-dated command-and-control model. And this model is a root cause of the huge amount of frustrationand disengagement in the workplace.

Don’t Try This At Work: 4 Practices For The Not-So-Faint-Hearted.
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Meanwhile, there’s a growing group of pioneers who don’t consider these practices extreme. They see them as common sense and powerful ways to engage, motivate, and inspire employees to do better business. For them, it’s a way to create environments where people thrive and organizations flourish.

Written by Pim de Morree
Pim de Morree
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