For Season 2, this will be our 17th episode, with host Rhea Ong-Yiu and special guest Tom Van Der Lubbe. Titled “Less is More; The Story of Viisi”, Tom will discuss how he co-founded Viisi NV, the finance company that offers customized mortgage solutions for highly educated customers.
Prior to Viisi, Tom worked for MLP, where he was responsible for the Dutch and Swiss subsidiaries. Before that he started his professional career as a consultant at McKinsey.
He experienced that life can be very short when he had cancer when he was 20. So he wants to spend his time on things that matter. He believes in a “why” of individuals and organizations. The “why” is the motivational engine that gives fulfillment in what we do.
Living Room Conversations: Less is More; The Story of Viisi
Rhea: Rhea Ong Yiu (Host)
Tom: Tom Van De Lubbe (Guest)
RHEA: Hello everyone! Welcome, welcome to our 17th episode of the living room conversation. This year we’re going to kick off our conversation with a guest who comes from the Netherlands and who comes from the financial sector. Why do we have a financial person on the show? Well, it’s because we have seen them being the inspiration in being a great place to work. They have won the award as the number one great place to work in Europe for up to 50 people in the last 3 years. Also in the Netherlands they have been recognized with Thinker’s 50 for their zero distance award. So,we would love to be inspired by pioneers like our guest for today, Tom van der Lubbe from the Netherlands from the company called Viisi. In this episode we’re going to just explore what it means to be working in a no-rules rules company, kind of. We’re gonna talk about less is more. Before I welcome Tom to the show, I just want to welcome everyone. If you have not been part of the living room conversations for the last year, I suggest you check out the previous episodes as well and thank you for joining us. Today we’re just gonna listen to Tom and talk to Tom about what it feels like to be part of Viisi and what inspiration we can get from their setup, and with that I would like to welcome Tom to our living room today.
TOM: Thank you Rhea, thanks for having me. I’m also wishing everybody the best for this year. I hope we are able to deal with COVID this year and it will come to an end. Nice to start the year being your guest today.
RHEA: Thank you, thank you for warming our couch for the year. It’s winter here in Europe. It’s nice to be having a guest to talk about all things that is exciting in this space of the future of workplaces. Tom, I came across one of your posts where you talked about “less is more” and you had some rules about what you implement at Viisi. I’m really curious what was the inspiration behind these rules and maybe I can Ken to show what these rules are about.
TOM: Yeah, for those who see the slides. Our company exists a little more bit more than 10 years now and it took us probably more than 10 years to make a lot of complicated things more simple. So it’s very easy to make things more complicated and it’s very difficult to make things very simple. This is what it’s mainly about. If we dive into these topics, then we’ll just find out that sometimes it’s very simple to write something down but there’s a whole world of experience and testing behind before you end with a very simple rules, so to say.
RHEA: I mean, 10 years is a lot of experience. Right? 10 years of learning the ropes. Failing, learning, relearning, unlearning. It’s a whole heap of things. When did you come up with this list Tom, if I may ask?
TOM: I wrote actually an article at a certain point for a platform you may know, Corporate Rebels platform. I wrote an article more generally speaking to make the comparison between design or architecture and I wrote why it is totally accepted in architecture or design that less is more and in management it’s exactly the opposite. So, we talk about management or read management books. We need an enormous amount of pages or make things enormously complicated but let’s say in architecture the optimum or the art of architecture is if you can’t take away a part of the building anymore. I took as the example Mies van der Rohe, a german architect built for Barcelona world expo, I think in the 30’s or 20’s. After this I recall someone said, yeah that’s very nice, theoretical. Could you just write an article about what it really means in practice and then I wrote down those 10 points. So it was a little bit of a coincidence but it also forced me to put it in a practical way.
RHEA: A few things caught my attention and maybe I’ll start with the first one. That’s also in the first bullet. You talked about “primus inter pares”. What is it and why do you think it matters?
TOM: What is it? Primus inter pares is something which is very old and I’ve studied history and everybody knows it doesn’t matter if it’s in the estates or companies that power is the difficult topic. If you talk about the classical organization of the CEO. In Greek history you talk about Athens 2500 years ago. They already found out that it makes sense to avoid too much power at the top and that was called primus inter pares. So you are all equal but you rotate or there is somebody who speaks for the group and that’s an aspect you also see in some companies. If the CEO has too much power for too long it ends in a bad way. You also see it in the agile development of working together that people have roles and it’s more fluid organization and people say that you should coordinate this project etc. There you see it a modern way but in the end it’s very. We have to structure and implement it in every team, we are self organizing but in every team we have a fixed way of rotations. So every half year, someone else takes over the coordination of the circle or of the team. So if you are 4 people in the team, after every 6 months someone else takes over. So it’s a little bit like you have in sports, if you have run for 400 meters everybody runs for 100 and gives the responsibility to the next colleague.
RHEA: I’m curious because you as the founder or a co-founder of Viisi, how does this connect with your role? Are you also part of the team? How does it work?
TOM: Yeah, we have let’s say we are 4 founders. We are all active in the company and on the one hand, let’s say, we have very normal roles like everybody has. There’s no difference, I’m just part of certain teams. The last 10 years I was part of, what we call, “people first” or HR team, but I’m just one of the colleagues. That’s it, it’s not that I have another role because I’m a shareholder. I also have a shareholder role because I have certain shareholder responsibilities towards the company but it’s separated. Also our way of acting, there is no difference. It’s also publicly in our case accessible. If people are interested and they would google my name and roles or GlassFrog or self organization. Then they would find that GlassFrog software and they can just dive into our organizational structure. Click on that, and then just see what roles I have in the company and one of the roles I have is to speak at conferences about Viisi and share our lessons learned.
RHEA: That’s really cool. I also read on the slide that was shared previously about a Viisionaire, and you said that everybody has this title. So, how does this title kind of, what is the expectations from a Viisionaire versus what is the expectation from their role. Maybe you can elaborate on that a bit?
TOM: Yeah what you see in, let’s say, “old fashioned organizations’ ‘ people have those business cards. Business cards play a very important role, if you are a vice president, if you’re a senior vice president or whatever. We abolished this stuff. So, we don’t have business cards. We don’t have titles, we call each other Viisionaires because the company is called Viisi. You could also say they are colleagues but we call ourselves Viisionaires. Then you have certain roles, because of the fact that those roles change all the time. It’s a fluid modular organization. The roles I have at a certain moment or everybody has at this certain moment, differ all the time. So, it’s about what you do in practice in the company and it’s not about the title or the function because senior vice president doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t say anything about what you’re doing in the company.
TOM: In the email signature of everybody there is a link, these are my roles in the company. Everybody who gets an email from me or everybody who works in our company, can click on this link and also ends up in our organizational structure and just see what it is in my case, what is Tom doing in this company. They’ll see media roles and people first roles or whatever.
RHEA: Very interesting, I should do that when I click on your signature. So one of the things that I’ve always been curious is like you have this transparency on the inside but also on the outside. If I look at it, you also said, we don’t have any HR hiring and usually this comes in with some sanctioned labor or legislation. How are you working around this, is the team equipped to handle this administrative and legal aspects of HR related matters?
TOM: Let’s say in our case, if you talk about classical HR. We never use the word HR because in our point of view people are not resources. People are human beings and resources are not an appropriate word for that. In our case, it’s all about the responsibility and also the power of the people in the team. The people in this certain team, if you talk about ___ advice, and we have the credit department. The credit department decided together in this team who will join as a new colleague. Then the whole process of recruiting and doing the conversations with the new applicants etc. that is all done by the team itself. In our case, the classical HR is only facilitating. So they schedule the process, they are responsible for the “this part” of the website and if this is accurate information but the decisions to hire people that’s the centralied decision and that’s a very powerful thing because everybody who is part of this process has a veto. Very classical situation, you have a credit department. I don’t know exactly how many people in this department, let’s say 10 people. They say okay we wanna hire a new colleague, who wants to do the talk. Who wants to be involved. Then 5 people say,” Oh yes, I would like to”, and those people all have a veto and even don’t have to explain why they don’t want to hire this person. That’s accepted. If everybody would be in favor of hiring this new person, then you have an enormous responsibility, everybody understands this. If you hire together somebody, if you say, “Rhea, I would like Rheah to join my team.” they will be responsible to help this colleague to become successful. If it’s not the case for whatever reason, they will also solve the problem and say, “Rhea, I thought you would be a great colleague, why doesn’t it really work. Do you need more support etc”. So also in case of, this is always asked, what do you do if you have a problem or if you’ve made a wrong decision. It is also solved in this team itself. It’s not solved by a central HR department. We’ve never had any difficulties or any problems with that.
RHEA: very interesting, well thank you for sharing this Tom. I would just like to take a pause for a moment here. I just want to say hello to our friends who are joining us from youtube and facebook. If you have any questions for Tom and myself, please go ahead and drop your messages on the chat and we will be happy to answer those questions if you have any.
So we continue right. It’s interesting for me that you have managed to dissect the different facets of an HR in order to decentralize parts of the role towards the team and that is probably not so common in this day and age. It’s something that is more happening in smaller companies like yours and also like life sciences. Do you see that there are bigger companies who are having the same setup or could potentially have the same setup?
TOM: Yes, because let’s say that size is no reason for not being more fluid. It’s sometimes seen as very exotic but in the end it’s not. If you have a classical company wher you have a function, a function is just add certain responsibilities. You add them and you put them in a list and put them in a piece of paper but if you are in a team. You automatically discuss together with your colleagues who is doing which part of the work. It’s called self organizational structure, it’s called roles but these are just parts of the function and it makes it more fluid. Makes it easier to discuss with each other in the team who is taking care of what responsibility or what accountability. You also see this in much bigger companies, although one has to say that if you start implementing this in a small company. So we started to implement a self organizational structure when we were 10 people. We found out that we’re not able to sit on the same table anymore then it becomes part of your DNA. Everybody is used to it and the positive aspect is that if you have a clear organizational structure and you do a lot of communication about this it attracts certain people. People who like to focus on the work and are less focused on what’s on your uniform. Those people feel attracted to the company, it’s much more about the team, it’s not about egos. You don’t get a new business card all the time. It strengthens this kind of structure because certain people who find functions very important in business cards. They don’t apply at our company. It’s much easier to implement it if you’re a smaller company but it’s the same for you as well.
RHEA: That’s right, we have one question from Maja on the chat. She’s asking, I guess this in your case. When you talk about HR support, how many people supporting the teams in the background?
TOM: Two people. 60 people there are two colleagues who are mainly in this field but it also has to do a little bit with, let’s say, if you want to grow a company. We have to invest a lot of time in hiring new people. People also have morals, so a colleague of mine who is part of the people first or HR team still also has other roles; accountancy or financial roles as an example. This also evolves at the moment. I would say two people out of 60.
RHEA: Very interesting. I wanna ask you a bit more on the hiring front. Let’s say I’m a new person who got hired and then you have this like “ we don’t have any handbooks, only one golden rule”. I’m curious, what is this golden rule Tom?
TOM: The golden rule is in the end also a very old rule. It exists all over the world and it just means, treat other people like you wanted to be treated yourself. You find the phrases in all religions, it’s very interesting. It’s also not, let’s say, a European or western thing. You also find it in China or India. It doesn’t matter, or in Islam. So what does it mean in practice in our company? For instance if you are an advisor, we just say, just imagine you were sitting at the other side of the table, at the moment it’s a virtual table because we’re in lockdown, so to say. Just imagine what would you expect if you were the clients. Then we say, okay, these advisors know what they do. I mean we still have a lot of financial regulations because you’re not allowed to advise on mortgages if you don’t have certain diplomas or etc. Talking about our internal way of “managing”, we don’t like the word manage. Then it just means that somebody says, “when I would be declined, what would I expect from my advisor?” and people are free to handle this. To give another practical example, if you would work in our call center. We don’t have telephone scripts, you have to approach somebody who is calling with this certain way of greeting the customer or etc. We just say “no”, be yourself and just interact with this person and just imagine if you would call us with these questions. How would you like to be served and that’s it. That’s very simple, if you would have a restaurant, it would be exactly the same. If you would work in a hotel. If you are in a restaurant and all the tables are occupied, somebody would come in. You have two options. You could say “sorry we are full” or “you’d say please have a moment I have to check”. “Take a seat at table.” “Can I offer you a drink?” “Sorry for being full today.” Somebody comes back and says “I think a table will be free in half an hour. Is it okay if you wait at the bar?” “Do you wanna drink something?” etc. In a way it’s all common sense. It’s not a highly intellectual game, so to say. We just say, imagine how you would like to be treated in this case.
RHEA: Do you do some sort of onboarding or some of the practices that you have developed over the last 10 years? Say I’m joining in the 11th year.
TOM: Yeah, we do a lot. So, just for colleagues who start on this Monday and on the one hand they’re a kind of program where we explain what we’re doing and it is about self organization. It’s about certain teams, how they operate and everybody who starts at our company works in all the teams. So the onboarding means we take a lot of time. We invest alot of time also in people and then somebody who ends up in, let’s say for instance, in the media department a colleague of mine also starts being one week in the the call center or a couple of days in the credit department or a couple of days in the department or team where we advise clients. So the goal is that everybody knows everything or at least has a clear understanding of what other colleagues are doing the whole day and give kind of a common understanding. You’re not a specialist who comes into the company who immediately dives on the team, now it takes a certain amount of time. I don’t know exactly, depending on the team, a couple of months before you finally enter the team where you’re job or your role will be your actual roles and the reason why you wanted to join the company.
RHEA: That’s really very interesting. I’ve always simagines my onboarding to be somewhat like that. So this is really very good to hear that there are companies like yours who look after their people but also allow people to expose themselves to different functions, different ways of being part of a team. That’s really important and you also experience how others are working in their own lane. I wanna go into a juicy part and this is about salaries. So you have fixed salaries, what does that mean?
TOM: Yeah, that’s probably something that people find very exotic but we have fixed salaries. People who start in the company and just to take an extreme example if you’re an advisor and you enter the company when you’re 25. You’ve studied with 2 or 3 years of working experience. You already know how your salary will evolve in the next 40 years, until you’re “done”. Until you’re working life is over. The reason for that is,if we take a kind of scientific approach. We want to make a safe environment. This kind of psychological safety for those people interested, Amy Edmondson became famous for this topic. If you create an environment where people feel safe now and in the future, salary increases are already known. This creates an environment where people feel safe to share their vulnerabilities and say I’m not quite sure, I just started a couple of months ago. How would you deal with this? Without fearing that this gives you a negative remark somewhere. It also gives colleagues in the team the possibility of giving each other honest feedback. If you were to give someone feedback, “I’m not quite sure, perhaps let’s see if we can move that direction”. If you do this a couple of times, people would also fear. I don’t know if I just abolished Rhea’s bonus by giving so much feedback. That works pretty well and it also gives a possibility in teams to discuss which part of the work could be done by whom in the team. People don’t have this idea of if I take these topics which are very prominent because of KPI culture. It’s mainly about generating short term revenues and normally in companies now , it’s all the work done at the back office or long term stuff or building databases or knowledge or on boarding colleagues etc. this stuff which is not clearly measurable in terms of revenues etc. This kind of work is also important but by taking this splitting this creates a very strong focus of the team to maximize not only short term outcomes but especially think in the long term and it means in a lot of situations that you really need to invest in processes, know-how, education, etc. That’s something especially when companies grow this becomes something that is more important.
RHEA: Did I catch it correctly, Tom? So basically you have fixed salaries and you have bonuses on top of it?
TOM: No, we don’t have any bonuses.
RHEA: So no bonus, just fixed salaries and that’s it but you do have the development conversations as a feedback.
TOM: If people want to do something in the company, they can always say “ I would like to take this role” and you have on the one end they can discuss this in the team. They say “I would like to advise expats”, as an example of mortgage advice. Then let’s make an expat role. It could also be, let’s say, I work in the IT department but I would like to take a social marketing role or do something else. People just do this but there is not this idea of you doing a yearly conversation and asking, “where are you?” or “what are your goals for next year?” and etc. It’s done naturally in the team and people can just say whatever they want to do, it doesn’t matter. Also if they want to do certain forms of education. People can attend anything it doesn’t matter. That creates in the end a very high security because the salary doesn’t play a role. On the other hand I have to say that we guarantee that people are paid in the highest quartile of their peer group. If let’s say people work for instance in the credit department this is benchmarked with big banks and we always guarantee that we’ll pay the best quarter in this range of salaries. If salaries change in the market, there is a role or responsibility in every circle to adapt this information to change the salaries. For instance in the credit department, there has been a shortage in the last years of credit specialists and then our people were approached by head hunters. We have to do something and the salaries in this team were adjusted, because we don’t want to lose people and we always prefer to pay them more. I think in the last three years, I think in the credit department, we did a three times salary increase.
RHEA: It’s for everybody, it’s just not for two people.
TOM: But to be honest, it’s not the old classical way of paying salaries. Like it used to be in ancient times. This whole idea of paying bonuses is a very modern phenomena, mainly an American phenomena which started to be more prominent in the 80’s. In the past if you were a teacher or working in a hospital people never discussed about bonuses. We are much more focused on intrinsically motivated people. We want to have intrinsic motivation but we don’t want to punish them by paying less because they are so intrinsically motivated. Now people should be intrinsically motivated to work at the company and do what they like to do but on the other hand we want to guarantee them that in their particular peer group they are in the highest quartile. This culmination is, I think, a very good one because if you say, “I’m not getting any bonuses” You have this discussion of “buts” or “do you underpay your people?” No the opposite is the case.
RHEA: My question is, given the fact that pay is not really variable in your case. How does this impact the performance of each individual? Is there a direct correlation as you have seen or not really?
TOM: The funny thing is that the whole process is so smooth. There’s so much focus on building excellent processes that in the long run if you just, since we have all those numbers, if you just take half of the company is advising clients and all those consultants have a certain way of developing, also if you talk about revenues. But if you just see what people are doing, there are people for instance, there are people who mainly focus on clients and then there are other colleagues who are also advisors. “I also like to on board new colleagues” or “I want to put knowledge in the database.” If you just adjust this then everybody in a certain corridor and there is much more on the total outcome or the total results of the whole team and less about the individual maximization of revenues.
RHEA: That’s very interesting, maybe a follow up question to that from Maja. “What if people feel very comfortable in their role and they don’t just want to change. They just want to stay in the same role.
TOM: I actually love this. There is so much focus on doing different things all the time. We always say, if somebody for instance is a dentist. You would never ask a dentist if they have worked for three or five years, “what would you like to do next” then the dentist would never understand this question. Why would someone in the credit department really likes to support advisors and has an enormous amount of experience. Why would you push this person to do something else? So, we have especially the credit department as a good example. All of those people who work have more than 10 years experience and they should do, in our point of view, exactly the stuff they’re doing now. They just get more experience, but if they want to do something else as well. They want to help onboarding or whatever or check processes. They are free to do so but they can solve this together with their colleague in the team. If somebody says for the next 10 years I just want to do exactly the same work, we are totally fine with this because it is enormously efficient, it creates enormous safety and rest and stability in the team. Nothing is more efficient and agreeable for all those new people if you have very very experienced people in the background that say “no problem at all, I’ve seen this case 100 times before. I know how to solve it”. So no hectic and no, we want to avoid urgent situations because people are not experienced enough.
RHEA: That’s also very interesting, one the one hand you want to think of the development of the juniors that are joining the team but also you want to make the specialist work for what they have specialized in. to also reap the benefits and the value of that. Right?
TOM: But it’s something in our whole company, let’s say we are 4 co founder we worked together for more than 20 years now. We also worked together in the former company. In the HR department, where I worked or where I was a member of the team. I worked together with 2 colleagues, one I worked with for 14 years and the other for 7 years. The credit department, whoever started there nobody ever left. You have an enormous knowledge and you have on the other hand you have enormous rest and security. If you have worked together for a long time. You also know from each other where are the strengths and where are the weaknesses. How to take care of each other, it’s like being in a family. You also know your family members well. This person, my brother or sister, we shouldn’t ask this topic. I’ll better take this etc. This creates an enormous rest especially in times of COVID or coronavirus. We didn’t have any problems wit working remotely,if you talk about the people who already worked there. We only have problems with onboarding new people. It is not really nice in the remote environment but I haven’t been in an offline situation with my co-founders in the last two years. We only worked together remotely. Was that a problem for us as co-founders? No, because we already know each other for 20 years. It’s no problem seeing each other for a year or so, it’s okay doing the communication on a zoom call or whatsoever.
RHEA: I’m just curious about this, how has COVID impacted your business and your growth as a company?
TOM: Not at all. That had more to do with the mortgage markets which are overheated everywhere. So, let’s say our business was not harmed in general and as a company we were used to working remotely. We already had a structure where half of the people were at our headquarters and the other half was in decentralized offices. When we had a meeting, we already had a screen in our headquarters and half of the people were around the table and the others were on the screen. It’s not a big step that everybody is on the screen. We were working remotely in 24 hours and what also helped, you’ve had the same experience. If you already worked in a self organizing structure, you even go much faster. The fact that you have to take more responsibility or automatically take more responsibility because you don’t have to meet people accidentally in the office space. People take their decisions because they have the accountabilities of the role. What we actually found out is that from the moment where the lockdown was in place we had an acceleration in innovation not because we decided this but because people were taking responsibility for their roles much more strongly than they did in the past. They then decide themselves or with one or two colleagues and in the past they would have worked around and asked other more senior colleagues, what’s your opinion on this topic. So actually COVID helped us. The negative thing is however, if you have a very familiar way of working together, everybody is really missing the colleagues. You want to chat or want to have lunch together or you want to drink a coffee together. It’s too much focused on getting the stuff done and the work etc. Everybody is missing the informal stuff, the drinks, the lunch, etc. I think that’s the case in all the companies.
RHEA: Do you have any thoughts or ideas that you’re kind of percolating in your company around how we can bridge this kind of need at the moment. When it comes to psychological safety, a lot of the trust attributes come from the informal, come from the water cooler conversations. These little unplanned things. Any thoughts on that Tom?
TOM: What we did is, we asked ourselves. How can you solve this way of connecting very close to where people live? We said, okay let’s try to, I mean we already had a lot of offices. The easiest thing is that where people live they should try to have an office together somewhere. Now everybody has a coworking space together with colleagues and nobody has to use public transport anymore. It’s still difficult because people would say, it’s nice to meet those two or three colleagues who live in the same neighborhood or city but I would like to see the 50 other people who I normally would meet at our headquarters once a week. It’s still not so easy but if there is a possibility of meeting when the weather is fine. We use this opportunity and until now everything went well, as long as you can meet for instance in the office itself. It’s more difficult than if you could meet at a terrace somewhere.
RHEA: Yeah, indeed. I think it’s the same feeling in general for us as well. Although we’re a lot smaller. We are relatively in the same area, so it’s still possible to do it once every two months to meet each other. Also I think the regulations in Switzerland are much less strict than in the Netherlands when it comes to lockdowns. We have been fortunate in that sense, we do try to explore ways of doing things online. As you can imagine, one of the platforms that birthed from COVID is this Living Room Conversation because we do feel the value of connecting with people like you. To continue these conversations just to learn from each other on how we’re doing things. To also continue that evolutionary aspect.
TOM: It also depends on the private situation of the people. Those people who have small kids, they have a different situation from younger people who just started and who are single. They have 30 square meter and they’re 24 hours in that 30 square meters and they don’t meet anybody. So, people search for solutions but we still hope that at a certain point we’ll be able to go back. At the end, you can do a virtual Christmas dinner or you can do certain games but if you have done this a couple of times people are also fed up with it. I think in our case what really helps is that people feel secure from the beginning of the COVID crisis, we’re not gonna lay off anybody. If we will have financial problems we will put extra money into the company and we said we have a kind of traffic light situation. Depending on your private situation, what are the responsibilities of the individual. If you have a partner who works in the hospital and there is a lockdown and you have to take care of your children. You are category red, and you don’t have to work. This kinds of stuff in our point of view is much more important because this solves the whole problem of stress and you can still discuss what kind of games you can do online but if you have two children and if your wife or your husband works in the hospital and you have to take care of your two kids and you employer wants you to work. That’s not gonna work. I think this really worked well and we didn’t really lose any colleagues, we hired colleagues and we just hope for the better that this new year will end this whole disaster.
RHEA: Thank you so much for that Tom, I think this was really good advice. Also good practice to think about if you’re exploring ways of coping with current restrictions of the pandemic. Tom just mentioned their traffic lights process. Give it a listen later on if you’ve missed it. It might unlock some potential change in your system that will help to solve problems in the long run with this pandemic. We are very much hopeful just like you that we are going to crossover this whole lockdown situation that is enforced until next week. Then we will have the new regulations coming out again.
TOM: Perhaps to add to this because it doesn’t only have to do with COVID. We have the principle which is called family first. That means that if you have something in your private settings that is more important than your work, you have to take care about your private situation first. If your child is sick, if your parents are ill, etc. You have to take care of them, it doesn’t matter what it is. We always say, okay, they are the priority. Family first, then people in the team will say, “just show up when you’ve organized your private situation”. At the moment there is a lockdown in the Netherlands, some colleagues were to do home schooling and this week they have blocked days off their calendar. 50% because they have to organize themselves with their partners and they don’t work for half of the week. If next week the lockdown is over and it doesn’t have anything to do with the lockdown if it is something else. If their parents are ill etc, we would react totally in the same way. For us COVID, we didn’t expect it but the way of reacting in this kind of situation or crisis was suddenly a crisis for all of us is exactly the same way of reacting which we did in the past. When we only had an individual who was in a difficult situation.
RHEA: I really like that Tom, when you said family first. I think it’s very important,right? If you basic unit is not functioning well you can never be your whole self at work. I think this goes back into that wholeness aspect but also in self management. I was toying with the idea around, how does radical transparency translate into Viisi language earlier. I was thinking this is exactly that. Being able to say, hey I have to take care of my family, and be okay with that situation of taking care of the family.
TOM: Sometimes, just to take a very practical example, a colleague of ours came back and posted on slack. “Hey I’m back”, I don’t know if she’d been away for months because she had a child or other topics in her private setting. I really don’t know how long she has been away but nobody cares because if you work in the company for 10, 20, 30 years. It’s not a way of seeing this. Everybody knows that at a certain point you will be in exactly the same situation you colleague is in now. So, everybody supports the situation by helping their colleagues. Solidarity, people are always willing to show solidarity with each other because circling back to the golden rule. If you were in such a situation, you would have to take care of the children, if you want to take care of your parents or grandparents, you also have to have the support of your colleagues. People are really willing to do this, it’s all about reciprocity. Let’s say if you are healthy and you don’t have any problems, people really work hard and support their colleagues. So if they are in the same difficult situation they also are supported by their colleagues and it works perfectly well.
RHEA: That’s really amazing and it resonates so much with me. How valuable it is to place the value on human beings not as resources to attain shareholder value but really as human beings who are working together. I love the aspect of solidarity that you just brought in Tom. It’s very important because it builds that psychological safety as you have mentioned. I can trust that this team is with me through the hard days and the good days.
TOM: Do you know what is interesting that sometimes it’s seen as something that is soft. I also wrote an article shortly after the COVID crisis started. It’s also on the Corporate Rebels platform. It’s about solidarity, the title of the article. What is so interesting, companies who show solidarity during times of crisis, but also on the individual, are outperforming those who are not showing solidarity. Why is this the case? If you get solidarity from your company, you want to give back when you’re back at work. So if you would say, I want to maximize my output, or I want to maximize my revenues or I want to maximize my market cap then the most efficient uis to show solidarity in times of crisis. If it’s about the individual or if it’s in the whole crisis, that’s what you see companies who don’t care about their people. When those people have a chance of changing the company, they leave the company. That’s the whole situation which is going on at the moment is big resignation. People who found that they don’t work for a company which cares for them in times of crisis. They are searching for a new job now. So showing solidarity is the most efficient and most economic thing you can do.
RHEA: Thank you so much, I just see some questions coming in but I’m afraid we are out of time. Maybe we can respond to these questions later in the chat or maybe we can touch base with Tom through Linkedin or we can get those answered or via the chat as well. As we are wrapping up. Tom, do you have some last words for us?
TOM: Yeah I hope and as our purpose of the company we hope that by sharing a lot of this stuff, for instance, the last thing we talked about is the solidarity. We want to show that it is not soft to show solidarity or to trust people. We want to show that if you want to build great companies or if you want to grow then it’s a very efficient way. So let’s talk about resources, let’s talk about human beings and let’s try to really care for each other and we will find out that this is the most efficient way of building companies. So there’s not a contradiction between being human and building profitable companies.
RHEA: Thank you so much Tom and yeah. Thanks to all our audience for participating and engaging in his afternoon’s conversation. It has been a pleasure to host this conversation in our living room for the first episode of the year. So thank you so much for joining us. I think Ken will post some of the upcoming events that we have. Would love to invite you to join us. The next living room conversation will happen on the 19th of January together with Vivek Manon from danfoss and it’s really about learning about how they implement self-management and danfoss. We also have Semco Style Institute of Agile Culture Essentials. If you would like to enroll you can just scan the barcode and join the next cohort which will happen starting on the 3rd of February. Last but not the least if you have not already bought your ticket. We are heavily working toward still around the world which is happening on the 3rd of March. For which Tom will be joining us over there. So we really look forward, more than this conversation is really that exchange with you and how we can engage each other for a better future in the workplace. So thank you so much for joining us this afternoon and we see you in 2 weeks
TOM: Thank you very much.
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