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Make work more fun and less terrible
Culture | 18 Sep 2019
After working for two and a half years, Pim de Morree got frustrated with the traditional, command and control style that ran his company. Along with his long-time friend Joost Minnaar, he quit his job and set out on a journey to find the most progressive companies in the world; organizations that are based on freedom, motivation, and truly empowering its employees.
Pim and Joost look beyond typical ‘happiness’ indicators and really try to figure out what is driving motivation at work. What gets people fired up to show up on a Monday?
What we learned from this episode
-Why you don’t go to Silicon Valley if you want to find the best work cultures
-If you’re not motivated, you can’t perform your best work, and you won’t be able to challenge yourself and to develop yourself in the best possible way.
-Happiness at the workplace is much deeper than the fluffy ideas like giving everybody a high-five, smiling all day, and playing happy music. It’s about meaning in the workplace. It’s about joy, building social connections, and using your talents.
-Even progressive companies have trouble maintaining it during times of struggle. They go back to more traditional ways of working. That’s when employees lose motivation and trust.
What you can do right now
-While it’s important for you to talk about the things that are going well, you also need to discuss the things that are not going well and be upfront about it.
-Be on the look out for things that other companies do differently. Analyze their outcomes and learn how you can use it as an inspiration and see what can be applied to your workplace.
“In order for people to thrive, and also for organizations to thrive, you need to unleash as much motivation as possible in the workplace.”
“Happiness at work is like a fart. If you try too hard, it’s shit. “
“If we can release entrepreneurship in people, I think that’s when we can truly change our workplace and change our organization for the better and we can reap the full benefits of all those people working in our organization.”
Today, our guest is Pim de Morree. He is the co founder of Corporate Rebels. And this is Work Minus All that crap that kills motivation. Hi, Pim. How are you doing?
Hi, Neil. I’m doing very fine. How are you?
Excellent. Are you feeling very rebellious today?
As always? Excellent. Well, I love your story. I love what you’re doing with you and your co founder. So, give us a little bit of background on what Corporate Rebels is. I think that name is great and it immediately draws us in. So, tell us more about it.
So, let’s start at the start. About three and a half years ago, Joost and myself, we were totally frustrated with our corporate jobs. After graduating our engineering degrees, we both started working in different organizations. We’ve been friends for a very long time. And during our working careers, which was about two and a half years, we got so frustrated with the way that the organizations that we worked in were run, very traditional, command and control style approach to work with not a lot of freedom, a lot of bureaucracy in place. So, after two and a half years, we just got completely fed up with it. And we didn’t want to continue working in those organizations any longer. And we also pictured ourselves working in other organizations that were working in similar ways. So, we decided to quit. And we came up with the crazy idea that we wanted to visit workplaces that work different. So, we wanted to find those pioneering organizations out there that do things different, do things in a more progressive way. And the organizations that have actually found a way to create workplaces that are based on motivation. And that’s what we set out to do. So, in January 2016, we decided to quit. We started to travel around the world with our backpacks full of clothes and our mind full of questions. And we set out to visit all kinds of pioneers to learn, in a sense, how to make work more fun.
I like what you guys do because it’s not like you’re just finding places to turn into saints of all these great workplaces, but you really go in and you give it an honest critique of what they’re doing. Even if it seems like everyone loves them, you’re still willing to point out some holes in what they do. And I like that a lot.
I think that’s just as important as pointing out the good things they’re doing. And I think it’s also a bit about our Dutch background. We’re quite cynical and we don’t really believe everything we hear. So, we really want to get to the bottom of how these organizations work. And we don’t want to just repeat and be an echo chamber of what people are already saying and all the positive things that are known by workplaces, but also to show to people that it’s not all happiness and 100% fun in the workplace. Obviously, in any workplace, there’s things that work well and things that don’t work well. And I think to create an honest story to people that I think is more important than to just share the inspirational positive stuff.
And in your experience, just to kind of cut to the chase real quick, where do you feel like there’s more hype around workplace progressiveness and where’s the real meat? Like, where’s the real substance to what’s going on? How would you distinguish between those?
I think, if you look at, like we tend to look a lot at Silicon Valley, and the unicorns, the startups that have these amazing stories of turning these very small ideas into a huge organization. Super inspiring stories, but most of them, when you look at their way of working and how they’re organized inside the organization, most of the time, it’s not that progressive. Those are mostly not the organizations we are most inspired by. Actually, we find examples of companies that truly do things differently and truly organize work in a different way in the wildest of places, and it’s really hard to pinpoint where they are. They’re spread all around the world. Sometimes it’s a small organization, sometimes it’s a 70,000 employee organization somewhere in China. It’s really hard to say where to find them or how to find them. It’s just a lot of digging for three and a half years trying to uncover these workplaces and trying to find these pioneers that are truly doing things differently. And not just writing about it in books and shouting about it as a sort of marketing or promotion stuff.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that what you’re doing is an incredible thing, because like we said, this is something we need to get into and see what is really going on here. We talked earlier about how we’ve interacted with a lot of the same people. You have your bucket list, we have our guest list of people that have been there, and there’s people you mentioned Chuck Blakeman before, we had that, that was one of my favorite conversations. I feel like he’s identified a lot of places that are truly doing something different. So, I like what you’re doing. Keep it up.
Yeah, thanks. And I fully agree with the work that Chuck is doing. But also other people on your list. Like, for example, David Marquet, they’re doing truly inspirational stuff. It’s just the fact that we talk to the same people is, on the one hand, I think a good thing because it puts their story out there even more, which is important. But I think, at the same time, it’s quite sad that we talk to the same people and that there’s apparently so few people to talk to when it comes to pioneering workplace.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, let’s get into this topic. You wanted to call this All the crap that kills motivation. How do we get rid of that? So, you used the word motivation earlier. Why is that so essential to a great workplace?
I think it’s part of our own frustration and something we wanted to overcome ourselves. Because, personally, I believe very strongly that if you spent at least 40 hours a week working, it should also be something you enjoy and something that you can actually use the talents that you have and bring your best self to work and all these things. And I think if you’re not motivated, you simply can’t do it, and you can’t perform your best work, and you won’t be able to challenge yourself and to develop yourself in the best possible way. Without motivation, I think it not only sucks to spend so much time at work but there’s also the problem that you cannot get the most out of yourself. So, I think in order for people to thrive, and also for organizations to thrive, you need to unleash as much motivation as possible in the workplace.
And I’d like to get your opinion, too. I’ve seen you write about motivation versus happiness, because I think a lot of us feel like if we’re going to have an awesome workplace, it means everyone’s happy all the time. We’re loving work every day. Everything’s great. But that’s different than good motivation, right?
Yeah. And I like this one quote about happiness at work is like a fart. If you try too hard, it’s shit. And I kind of feel the same way about it. At first, by the way, we started out, we called our search, like Corporate Rebels the search for workplace happiness, or ultimate workplace happiness, something like this. But we changed it along the way because I think the whole scene around happiness and the hype around happiness at the moment I think is way too much around these fluffy ideas of coming into the office, giving everybody a high five, smiling the entire day, playing happy music, and that kind of thing. And that didn’t resonate with us at all. That’s why we decided to go for something else. And that’s why we also wrote some critical posts, or multiple I guess, about this happiness at work hype where people appointed Chief Happiness Officers that start doing all this lame way too happy chappy stuff. Because we don’t think that’s what it’s about. It’s much deeper than that. It’s about meaning in the workplace. It’s about joy, about building social connections, it’s about using your talents. I think happiness doesn’t really capture it, or at least not the happiness that a lot of people now talk about in the workplace.
I think I need more Dutch friends in my life that can call things straight like you do. It’s good.
Yeah. And can I, by the way, swear on the podcast? It’s not a problem, right?
Yeah, go for it. It’s all right. So, we’re talking about motivation, we’re talking about how to bring that up to a certain place, because like you said, happiness is not where we want to be at. Every organization is going to have times of difficulties, difficult times that come, stresses that will come. So, it’s more about choosing the right kind of stresses, choosing the right kind of challenges, and recognizing that I’d much rather be in a place where the challenges I’m facing are how do I grow this? What are some challenges on how to get the best people to join? Than how do I deal with my boss that hates me and this meeting that I have to sit through for four hours? So, it’s kind of picking those right challenges. Do you agree?
Yeah, I agree. And I think you can only pick those challenges if you can honestly talk about it. And if you can actually in the good times address the good stuff, but also the bad stuff. And it’s the same for bad times. I think it’s just as important to talk about the things that are not working and the things that are going terribly in your organization. Because if you don’t talk about them, and just ignore them, or paint a much brighter picture than reality actually is, then I think you’re not only misleading people, but you’re losing trust. Plus it becomes this corporate propaganda that people won’t believe in because they know that reality is different. So, why would they ever trust you if you say something in the next time? And I think, therefore, it’s super important for organization to talk about the things that are going well, but also discuss the things that are not going well and be upfront about it and find ways together with employees to actually overcome those challenges.
Let’s jump into some of your experiences with motivation specifically, and we’re just going to assume that you’re not talking about the obvious bad companies that are out there that are really bureaucratic and nothing gets done. You’re talking about the top, at least what people perceive to be the top 10% to 15% of companies that are out there. So, among those companies you’ve interacted with, what do you see about stuff that really kills motivation, even in those type of companies?
Even in those more pioneering workplaces, I think what kills motivation is that people still have a tendency to go back to the more traditional ways of working. In good times, it’s easier to say I’ll let go of my decision making power, and I distribute some of it to our employees, but in bad times, in times of crisis, that’s much harder, and people have a natural tendency to go back to more command and control style ways of working when things are going quite rough. So, I think even in those more progressive workplaces, people have quite a lot of struggles with maintaining that progressiveness, or even pushing that further in bad times. And that’s also when we see some organizations actually going back to more traditional ways of working. And then you can see that motivation is going down quite rapidly, and people lose trust and lose their motivation in the workplace.
Yeah. Because if you’re not going to trust me in the hard times, then that’s where it really shows if this is a serious initiative, or if you’re just talking about stuff, right?
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And that is the point where organizations truly reveal themselves.
So, give us some stories. Talk about some companies. You have to name them if you don’t want to. But tell us some things you’ve been inspired by or anything that kind of leads this idea of who’s doing some great stuff with motivation.
There’s many out there. Obviously, we’ve now been talking to 100+ pioneers and organizations all around the world. One that I always like to talk about is this healthcare organization that’s based here in Holland. It’s called Buurtzorg. And they provide neighborhood care to people who need care in their homes. It’s an organization that was founded about 12, 13 years ago by this one guy who was completely frustrated with the traditional model of providing homecare nursing with lots of bureaucracy, where you had one department, the planning department that was making planning, then planning was sent to the nurses and the nurses could just simply see their schedule, and it could see that they had 20 minutes to go to that person, 35 minutes to go to that person, super bureaucratic and all the creativity and the autonomy of those nurses was just taken out of the job. Well, that’s the status quo more or less. That’s what the traditional and all of the homecare nursing organizations in Holland did. Then this guy became so frustrated with it, he set up his own organization. And he said, we’re going to actually focus on building an organization around the autonomy of nurses with the aim to provide the best possible healthcare, and we believe we can do it if we give those nurses lots of autonomy.
So, they started to work like this. And setting up self managed teams in a neighborhood where those 10 to 12 nurses would just tend to their own neighborhoods. They would do the hiring, the firing, onboarding, planning of the work, executing the work. There was just nurses in those teams. Nurses had a huge amount of responsibility, huge amount of autonomy. It worked really well so they started to grow. Every time they grew over 12 nurses, they split one of the teams in two and continued to grow. So, very much like cells in the human body. And they continued to split. Nowadays, it’s an organization of more than 14,000 nurses. And there’s not a single manager in the organization. So, you have 50 people in headquarters, you have a couple of coaches that are floating through this network and supporting the teams when they run into trouble.
But it’s the teams that they themselves decide on everything that happens within their own neighborhood. The teams share knowledge among each other. So, everything is very self managed. The nurses are happier than more traditional organizations. Patients are cured faster. There’s lower costs involved in providing this homecare nursing. So, on all measures, it shows that this organization performs better than the traditional ones. Which is why also now this concept is spreading to countries around the world and people see that this improved and more progressive model actually works better than the traditional way. And I think it’s a prime example of how things can be done different. And most of the time, we simply don’t know about them. Once we hear about it, and we hear some of the outcomes of these organizations, then people start to listen and think of how can we actually copy this? Or how can we use this as an inspiration to learn about how they do things differently and see what we can apply to our own workplace.
I love this example because you’re talking about nursing, which is a very human thing. You could I guess to some extent really work a program, a machine, or a robot to handle some of these things. But to really, truly nurse someone, we’re decades away from seeing that kind of technology that can provide the same level of care that a human, a really good human can. But when you put a human in the situation of you’ve got 20 minutes to be here, then you got to get out, then that human does start acting like a machine and does start acting like a robot. So, it’s great that it’s happening in healthcare, too. I like that.
And we see the same thing happening in healthcare manufacturing companies and die hard production plans changing also towards more human approaches. Because I agree with you, in traditional command and control style organizations, we just take out the human part. And we see people as these cogs inside a machine and we take the human part out of it, which is a stupid thing to do because the human part is the part that we are different than the machine. So, why not leverage and why not use that to a better extent?
If you treat the human like a machine, and then you judge them based on a machine, they’re always going to fail. You’re always going to find a machine that can do that job better when you make it that way. But if you allow that human to do the right work, then that’s where the magic really happens. So, let’s look at some more examples. Tell me about a big organization because I think most of us, when we feel about bureaucracy, when we think about slow moving organizations, mostly we think about these huge 50,000 plus employee things. Are there any examples you’ve seen of really large organizations that are doing a great job of motivation?
Yeah, yeah. But not many, though, to be honest. Unfortunately, the ones that we visited mostly are somewhere between 50 and a few thousand employees. But there’s one organization that I quickly mentioned as well before the big Chinese company called Haier. They make white goods.
Yeah, Chuck was talking about this one, too.
The biggest white goods manufacturer in the world. It’s a really incredible company. We’ve been there a couple of times in China to visit their headquarters and to talk to a lot of those people working in those organizations. And it’s interesting to see how they do things differently. So, they turned this big 70,000 employee company, and they just blew up the hierarchical pyramid, and they turned it into a network of more than 4,000 micro enterprises where people can take ownership in those micro enterprises where they select their own leaders, where they work much more progressively than the normal big corporate organization would. And these people just interact with one another as if they were, like, let’s say, an ecosystem of startups where they would just buy each other’s services, sell each other’s services, and work together to please the customer in the best way possible. And this turned the whole entire motivational style upside down where people were, at first told what to do and how to do it. And now they’re all of a sudden, entrepreneurs in these smaller entities where they actually feel their contribution to what the organization is trying to achieve. So, it completely turned the model upside down. And over time they have been able to become, in my opinion, one of the most pioneering organizations that we’ve come across.
Did you get a chance to ask them what was their motivation for making these changes?
We talked to the CEO, the big driver behind these changes. And his main argument was the fact that he wanted to get motivation out of people. And he wanted to turn employees into entrepreneurs. He said, “If we can release entrepreneurship in people, I think that’s when we can truly change our workplace and change our organization for the better and we can reap the full benefits of all those people working in our organization.” And he said, because of all the bureaucratic stuff that we put in place over the last couple of decades, he figured out, that CEO, that the way they were working was more getting in the way of what they were trying to achieve and not supporting them to be successful. And he said, “Well, the bureaucracy was slowing us down. It was paralyzing us. And we needed to get rid of it. And we needed to actually turn employees into entrepreneurs.” So, that’s what they did. And it goes beyond the fact that CEOs come in and say, well, we need more initiative, we need more entrepreneurship, and then not given any of the aspects of entrepreneurship. This is actually turning employees into entrepreneurs by giving them shares, by giving them profit sharing, and by giving them a small part of an organization where they can truly unleash their creativity and turn it into opportunities for their customers. So, it’s not just the fact that he talked about entrepreneurship, but also actually doing it and putting it into practice because of the structures that they put into place.
Wow, great. So, Corporate Rebels, tell us about who are the people that are attracted to you? Who are the people that are coming to you and asking for more information? Where’s your story resonating?
All over the place actually. At first, we thought by picking this name, we would probably not have a lot of corporate clients who we could support to change their workplace. But surprisingly so, they’re also quite interested nowadays. They see what we’re up to, they see what we’re doing, and they want a bit of the ideas that we come across to actually also change their workplaces for the better. So, we work with big companies, from, for example, car manufacturer to fashion companies like Gucci and Hugo Boss. But also sometimes just small organizations that feel that they’re in a startup or scale up phase, they want to do things differently. And they feel that if they grow more and don’t leverage progressive ways of working, that they will just turn into any other company that’s out there with the bureaucracy and the lack of motivation in play. So, from all over. And then when you actually look at the readers from our website, it’s super diverse. So, it’s from 100+ countries around the world. It’s HR people, it’s leaders of companies, but it’s also just frustrated employees that are somewhere in a team far away hidden in these organizations that they want to change for the better. But they simply don’t have a clue how to do it. So, they are looking for inspiration and ideas, and for connection with other people that are experiencing the same challenges. So, it’s actually super diverse.
That’s great. Well, tell us more about how we can get connected and stay in touch with what you’re doing.
Easiest thing by far is to go to corporaterebels.com and to connect through to all our social media channels. But most importantly, to subscribe to the blog and you’ll get two new stories a week on what we learned from the world’s most progressive workplaces. These could be practices, could be trends, and we’ll update everyone on what we learned while traveling the world to visit these pioneers.
Who’s the next place you’re going to you’re really excited about?
Let me think. In two weeks, we’re going to Australia and we have a series of events planned there. And in the mix, and that’s the beauty of our work nowadays, we get to share what we learn at events and during presentations of workshops, etc. And at the same time, we get to learn from local companies. So, now we’re also visiting in Melbourne, I believe and in Sydney, a few bucket list organizations, we’re going to visit Atlassian software company. And in Melbourne, there’s a few smaller organizations, one that has adopted a four-day work week just last year, and that has now come up with some outcomes. So, that’s where we’re going to learn a bit more. So, it’s interesting. Everywhere we go, we both share and at the same time learn from pioneers around the globe and how they’re actually challenging the status quo.
Excellent. Well, Pim, thanks so much for being on the show. We will definitely be in touch and look forward to learning more from you.
Alright. Thanks a lot and good luck with putting those stories out there as well. You’re doing a good job.
I’m a strong believer in changing workplaces for the better. During my three years in a corporate job I became frustrated with the outdated working practices that many of us experience. Together with Joost, I set out to travel the globe to learn from all kinds of workplace pioneers. We knew there had to be better ways of working out there, we just didn’t know what they were like. So, we set out to learn from the best.
I love to blog, research, and speak on making work more fun. I’m also very passionate about the entrepreneurial side of Corporate Rebels. I love building our company, our practices, and our community.
Besides work, I love to spend time with my girlfriend. Also, I love to spend my time kitesurfing, reading, and with friends.