Unlimited Holidays and some Table Tennis

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You are at college. Studying like crazy, of course. Some partying now and then. Simply having a good time.
But you know this will end in the near future. And you are supposed to know what kind of a job you want, and what you want to do with your life after college, but it’s all too vague.

I know the feeling

I was in the exact same position you are in. Three years ago I was a 3rd year I&O Psychology student at the EUR, with no clue what to do after the study. Until somebody told me to go see this:
Tegenlicht (For totally English full interview:YouTube)

My world shook, because deep down inside I felt that I did not want to spend my life in any other organization than the one presented by this Ricardo Semler.
He built a company inherited from his father, with the aim of having happy workers. Letting them decide what they wanted to do, where and when. Getting rid of all the ridiculous rules that most organizations have, and therefore treating workers as adults, which they are, instead of small children.

I was kind of shocked that nobody knew his name or his case. Because his business is thriving with these very happy workers. And he’s been doing this since 1980. More than 30 years!!!
This made me determined to get his vision out into other organizations. My Bachelor Thesis was about The New Way of Working, where I put an extra part about Semler and his company Semco in (despite my supervisor advising me not to, hehe).

Some things I learned from Semler

  1. Democracy is a thing we are fighting wars for. We detest dictators or totalitarian regimes. Because we don’t want one person telling us what to do. At the same time we spend a large part of our day at places where there is absolutely no democracy at all: companies and other organizations. Crazy right? So why not build a democratic workplace, where everybody has a say in the matter, if they want to.
  2. 3x Why. Every rule or every process can and should be questioned. By asking why three times in a row, you often get to the underlying idea why something is in place. Sometimes you only need one why to do this. If the answer is something like: Control, Ego or ‘this is the way we do things’, then something is wrong and maybe you should undo the rule or process. Everything should be in line with certain values the company holds, or the ultimate one: happiness or letting others have a happier life. So use the why question 3 times,
  3. The Age of Wisdom. So we went through several ages: Industrial age, age of information and now the age of knowledge. But we have yet to reach the age of wisdom. Getting there is necessary because we are doing things in a smart way, but not always in a wise way. Think about competition between supermarkets in the Netherlands. In order to retain customers Albert Heijn, Jumbo, Lidl and others are constantly driving their prices down. Seems smart in order to keep customers. But at what costs? Farmers get pressured to drive prices down, overwork themselves, putting pigs, chickens and cows in more tight spaces to get the quota and basically torturing them to get fat quick enough to sell the larger pieces of meat. This does not seem very wise. We need to get to an age of wisdom, where we deal with these kinds of issues in a wiser fashion.

Keytoe

So after my master thesis, about transparency in companies and how this effects the workers work engagement, I presented my findings to the 16 different companies that I got to work with me on this. One of them was a small company in my hometown: Keytoe. They did alright on the transparency and work engagement scale, but could do better. And they offered me a job there as a project manager.

Because of the small size, I was put in a multi-functional position. Basically doing more than just simple project managing. I was doing a bit of sales, a bit of strategy thinking and concepting for the clients, thinking about the strategies and processes for Keytoe itself, hiring interns and new colleagues… Basically meddling with all kinds of different stuff within Keytoe.

I thought this was pretty cool, because during college, I couldn’t really decide what thing I wanted to do, because I liked a lot. And I didn’t want to do only 1 thing. So here I am basically doing everything, in amounts that I decide.

Kantoor Keytoe

Keytoe and Freedom

Besides the diversity, Keytoe had a knack for having a very free work environment and culture. The owners decided they wanted to have a company where they would want to work at and pushed this forward. It was only until I arrived that they acknowledged and started to become more aware of this pretty unique (or modern) way of organizing.

In essence the freedom means that you just get the job done. It doesn’t matter where, when or how. So you could do it at home or on the bus. If you are done in 20 hours instead of the usual 40, please take the rest of the week off. If you want to come in at 11 o’clock, that’s fine. If you want to leave at 3 that’s fine too. If you want to play some table tennis, because you are getting crazy from just looking at a screen the whole day, please play some (and believe me when I say we play a lot: sometimes 6 games a day per person). As long as you get the job done, the customers are happy and your colleagues are happy too.

We also don’t have a limit on holidays. And instead of what you think will happen (that everybody is on holiday through-out the year), we actually have to kick people out and push them to go on vacation, because they simply won’t. The reasoning is simple: If you have, say, 20 days off per year and it’s October and you have 5 days left, you are going to find a way to spend those 5 days. If you have unlimited holidays, there are no amount of days left (because you could spend them all), so there is no need to take some days off.

In essence, it could be abused, but everybody knows that’s not the right move to make, and detrimental to the company. So people don’t abuse it.

Of course we even took it a step further. We democratized the organization, by letting everybody decide on the strategy and trajectory of the company. Instead of just leaving everything up to the two owners. We can do this because everything is transparent. Financial records, client information, project information, everything. So you can join some discussion about a topic and put in your vote. If you don’t want to have a say in the matter, because you don’t really care (for instance about Finance), than you automatically let the others decide for you. Which is good, because not everybody needs to be there, our meetings are generally quick even though we decide together. At the same time everyone immediately acts upon the new decision or new course of action, because we agreed upon it together.

Schaken

Results

The fun part is that I send out a questionnaire to my colleagues every 6 months, asking them about transparency, work engagement, the culture, openness to ideas etc. And now we see a rise from the first measurement, that we are getting more transparent, everybody loves the culture and we are more open and susceptible for new ideas and change. And work engagement is one of the highest that I have seen within a company (an average of 5.2 on a 6 point scale, with a standard deviation of 0,5 which means that everybody basically feels the same). Making it a very nice place to work. And we’re still improving.

Setting our own salaries

One of the things I’m looking forward to is the point where everybody will set their own salaries. Because right now the owners always have a big problem in trying to please everyone and not let anybody down when the salaries are going up. But everybody is aware of the financial records and status of the company, so why couldn’t the workers set their own salaries. If they want an insane amount they’re idiots, because the company would fall, and they will be out of a job, so that is never going to happen. So I think this is a good idea. My coworkers are still somewhat hesitant about it.

Me?

So I still work at Keytoe, doing stuff that I want to do and basically trying to get the Keytoe organization into a wiser state. Which is sometimes hard to do, but in the end worth it. Next to that my work is extremely diverse and pretty amazing. I always have a great time and loads of fun. Of course not everything all laughs and fun. Some customers are less enthusiastic than others, and occasionally shit will hit the fan, but overall it’s great.

Some things to leave you with

So. Long story. Maybe you could take something from this:
– Try to look outside of the study you are doing, to find something you want to work for. Could be a documentary or a book or a movie. Who knows… Just keep your eyes open.
– Working in a small organization is awesome if you like diverse work or want to have a significant say in the matter.
– Always question everything in every working environment. Don’t just settle. Ask why at least 3 times. If the reasoning isn’t sound, change it !
– Use the why questioning in your personal life: Why am I doing this study. Why. Why… Maybe you’ll find that you want to do something else entirely. Which is good, because you will probably be a happier person doing just that.
– Think about how you could be a little more wise in the future. Ask yourself: Is this only a smart thing to do, or is this also a wise thing to do?

If you want to know more about me or Keytoe, send me an invite on LinkedIn or go to http://www.keytoe.nl to follow our blogs or our Facebook or Instagram page to see what kind of crazy stuff we are doing. You could always ask to come and visit us, our doors are open.

By Lennard Toma 

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