In three years of world travel we (Corporate Rebels) have visited 100+ workplace pioneers around the globe and have reported on an insane number of radical practices. Some of these are slowly becoming mainstream — like flexible working hours or 360 feedback — as more companies come to realize that 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 while they may seem over the top now, they are a good tell as to where the future is headed. When we discuss these practices, they are normally regarded with scepticism or outright rejection, but we propose taking a look. Here are a few samples of radical workplace practices from companies around the world. See what you think!
Rebelliousness Level: Through The Roof
1. Set Your Own Salary
Salary setting can be a mystical process, at times involving secrecy, negotiation and (occasionally) dishonesty. Historically, employees aim high, anticipating that managers are trained to aim low. The lack of transparency and mistrust make it feel like a game to be played instead of a conversation to be had. 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 first sound, this approach has the 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 own 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 their managers in order to advance their careers is not rare, and while it might work in some companies as a way to get a promotion, this “kiss up and kick down” approach is toxic and unsustainable.
To change this, some workplaces tackle it head-on. They promise zero tolerance for bad leaders by letting employees select their own. There are several ways to do this, ranging from group voting to choosing your own mentor or leader, to alternating leadership within a team.
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 annually, all the way to the CEO.
Manufacturers like FAVI and Haier 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 Money Where Your Purpose Is
Purpose in business is hot. Nowadays, organizations love to talk about their why, their calling, and their raison d’être. 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 a management buzzword, 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 buzzword dictionary.
4. Destroy The Ivory Tower
Another way to break down the command-and-control culture is the 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.
This 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-person 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, a root cause of the huge amount of frustration and disengagement in the workplace. Meanwhile, there’s a growing group of pioneers who don’t consider these practices extreme. They see them as common sense and as powerful ways to engage, motivate, and inspire employees towards better business. For them, it’s a way to create environments where people thrive and organizations flourish. Of course there is a middle ground and stepping stones to follow, but it’s our duty to share with you the innovative and unique ways in which organizations are attempting to change the face of the future of work. We can only hope you feel inspired!