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E101 | Inspiring Workplaces To Become More Progressive with Pim de Morree

If you’ve ever sat in the pub and dreamed of quitting your job to go in search of a better life, then this week’s guest, one half of Corporate Rebels, Pim de Morree, is a guy you need to listen to. Because Pim and co-founder Joost Minnaar didn’t just write down their plan on the back of a beer mat, they executed it too. They walked away from uninspiring full employment to visit more inspiring workplaces.

“We worked in outdated workplaces characterised by inertia, bureaucracy and a lack of motivation. We simply couldn’t accept that the world of work, for far too many, is a place full of misery and despair”. 

And so they simultaneously quit their jobs in January 2016 in order to research inspiring workplaces. Their aim? To travel the world and visit 70 progressive workplaces to see how work could be more fun. They created a bucket list of some of the world’s most inspiring workplaces and set about visiting each and everyone to learn what it takes to be considered ‘progressive’. 

So far they’ve visited over 150 inspiring workplaces, worldwide, combining their practical insights with academic findings from their PhD research, sharing everything they’ve learned along the way on their blog, on their podcast and in their book. 

In this episode, Pim chats about some of the trends they have found from visiting inspiring workplaces all over the world. The place of values instead of profit, the place of network teams instead of hierarchical pyramids, and the search for talent and mastery over job descriptions. He even reveals which businesses were disappointing, not living up to their progressive hype. 

This is a great conversation, we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

On today’s podcast:

  • The genesis of Corporate Rebels
  • The benefit of no business model
  • Their bucket list of inspiring workplaces
  • How to measure the success of inspiring workplaces
  • Why self-managed decision making won’t work for every workplace
  • The 8 trends that they’ve seen
  • The problem with copying

Fighting For Inspiring Workplaces with Pim de Morree

Pim de Morree and co-founder Joost Minnaar didn’t just sketch out their business idea on the back of a beer mat after a pint or three and then forget about it. They decided their current work situation wasn’t working for either of them, and if it wasn’t working for them then there was a chance it wasn’t working for other people too. 

“I was in an engineering role and I really liked the work, but the whole organisation and how the work was organised was really frustrating to me. The fact that you have a boss telling you what to do was hard for me to accept. There wasn’t any freedom for entrepreneurship and decision making.”

So after three years working there he said, ‘This is not my place to be and I think work can be organised much better.’ So together with Joost, who had the same frustrations but in a totally different job, set out to look for good examples of organisations that are actually able to engage their people.

They knew there were companies working without managers, companies where people had the freedom to set their own work hours, and even set their own salaries, inspiring workplaces. This was so far removed from their experience of the workplace that they wanted to visit these places to first see if they were real or fairy tales. And if they were real, to learn how they did it – so that a lot more people could benefit from that knowledge. 

And that’s how Corporate Rebels started. 

“After just a couple of months of writing these stories and sharing our experiences of visits to these inspiring workplaces, a lot of people picked up those stories, and they wanted to learn also how these workplaces work and what they are doing differently.”

So who were the businesses that did things differently?

The bucket list of businesses

Pim says they tend to focus on the big name brands that have hype around their workplaces such as Spotify, Google and Netflix because people are nosy and love to hear what they’re doing. But for him, the much more interesting places are the less well known examples, the places you wouldn’t expect to be progressive, such as the Belgium Ministry of Social Security. 

“You wouldn’t expect that to happen over there, right? It’s a government organisation where civil servants determine their working hours. They decide when they work, where they work, even how many hours a week they work. And they work with self management. A lot of the hierarchy levels have gone away.”

While self-managed decision making may be the dream for some people, Pim acknowledges it won’t work for every workplace.

“I don’t believe in a silver bullet. I don’t think there’s one solution that will cure all of the corporate diseases that are out there. It might work very well in specific organisations or types of organisations. But we’ve also seen that some people just want a boss who tells them what to do and how to do their job.”

The superficial fixes

Pim and Joost were looking to see how companies brought the fun to work and they discovered along the way that there were companies which weren’t quite getting it right. Companies which instead of creating a progressive workplace, were actually just implementing superficial fixes. 

Pim says there’s a couple of ways to make work more fun – one is to actually address serious topics such as how to distribute decision making. Or how to create more meaning and give people more autonomy. 

“And then there’s the companies that when they think about making work more fun, they think that throwing in beanbags, a foosball table and free beers is going to do the job for them.”

This is what Pim and Joost deem as superficial fixes. They aren’t the really important things that need changing. 

“When you look at their hierarchies, the fact that there’s no autonomy, no freedom, then you see that it’s not really what they claim it to be.”

The problem with copying

So far Pim and Joost have visited over 150 organisations on their bucket list of companies deemed to have progressive workplaces and they’ve encountered great examples and bad examples. 

And the problem with condensing down what they’ve found to create the ‘ultimate’ inspiring workplace is that every company is unique with a unique culture. You can learn what works for others and try and implement it in your own organisation, but be warned, you aren’t them and what works for them might not work for you. 

Pim says the problem of implementing a copied method when you don’t understand the essence of it is like playing Chinese whispers – the game you played in nursery, where one person tells something to the person sitting next to them and then everybody tries to repeat it to the person sitting next to them. And at the end of the line, you have a completely different story.

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