Those who trust others are trusted in return
An interview with Piet van Schijndel, Boardmember Rabobank. Piet van Schijndel is a member of Rabobank Netherlands’ management board. In the mid-nineties, he introduced Veldhoen + Company’s revolutionary office concept “Clear Working” at Interpolis.
The result was a revitalised company with a unique perspective on insurance. Its market share grew, and its success drove innovation. Trust is the basic principle behind the concept.
Rabobank is now making grateful use of the Interpolis experience. When the decision was taken to renovate its existing head office and build a new administrative centre, chairman Bert Heemskerk and his fellow board members decided to introduce an entirely new way of working. A necessary step, Van Schijndel believes, if Rabobank was to live up to its ambition of being the biggest, the best, the most customer-driven and the most innovative financial institution in the country.
In just a short while, Rabobank will be ‘unplugged’.
Everyone wants it all, now
“We live in the 21st century, in a society in which men and women both work and combine their jobs with caring for family members, taking courses and raising children. In the morning, we all get in our cars and go to work. The roads are clogged with traffic. Time is lost, we are stressed out, and the environment suffers. That’s because our work is still organised in a 20th-century, Taylorist manner. Strict. Standardised. Ruled by the time clock. We are monitored for our attendance, and too little for our output or results. It’s all about minutes and turnover, like conveyor belts. We have call centres staffed by ladies and gentlemen who rattle off scripts. Our sense of freedom and responsibility have been stolen from us. We are programmed to follow the rules. That’s the way things are – and we have to change.
Bigger was better
For efficiency reasons, we made everything bigger in the 20th century – our factories, our offices, our schools, even our local communities. The technocrats applied one management technique after another. The result was that institutions became alienated from the public. Output standards in the police force were about the number of tickets agents handed out, instead of improvements in public safety. ‘Is the government there for me, or am I there for the government?’ And all of us jumped on the bandwagon, including the banking and insurance industry. We have to admit to ourselves that everything is grinding to a halt. That we have to change, from the inside out. Let’s do away with rational, Taylorist organisations based on mistrust!
The most important issue in a New Way of Working is trust. Those who trust others are trusted in return. If you treat your employees with suspicion, they will treat your customers in the same way. Give people back their sense of responsibility. They don’t need to be treated like puppets on a string. Rabobank has decided to do its work ‘unplugged’. We’re trying to make clear that we’re getting back to basics – to authentic behaviour. We want to get away from procedures and to concentrate on what really matters: the customer. Our world is becoming a virtual place. People are more capable than ever of investigating what a company stands for and who its people are. Differences are becoming clearer. Identities are sharply defined. Is the company doing what it claims to do? Is it real or made of plastic? Customers want to be taken seriously. And they don’t care where employees are working: the bathroom, the office or the garden.
Freedom and enterprise
The quality of life improves visibly if we give people more freedom to combine their work and their private lives. That greater freedom – that’s what we should be investing in. New technology allows employees to work at any time and in any place, to work when it suits them best. I believe that such freedom ultimately benefits creativity. It also improves the company’s radius of action when it comes to recruitment. We want to command the loyalty of people who have chosen freedom and want to be enterprising.
Telecommuting fits in well with that. During my time at Interpolis, I saw that everyone benefits by being able to work when and where they please – in the train, at home, or on the beach, for example. Some people spend 70% of their time at the office and 30% elsewhere; others 70% elsewhere and 30% at the office. The rest are somewhere in between. Everyone can decide for themselves, as long as the customers are properly served.
When I get a phone call from a call centre after 7 p.m., I’m inclined to just hang up – I can hear that the caller isn’t really concerned. It’s plastic communication. it’s obviously bad for the employees and customers don’t want it. There’s no alternative, in my view. And there’s another factor that’s important: purely for cost reasons, I’d be crazy not to introduce a new way of working, and crazy not to utilise technology to the utmost, so that I need fewer facilities than I did in the old situation. Every office today is terribly wasteful when it comes to occupancy levels. Every company should do what we’re doing. The most important thing is not to be afraid of technology. Unhelpful technology simply will not be invented! Lovers want to talk to each other. They used to pass each other notes in the hallway, now they use their mobile phones. Soon we’ll have phones that allow us to kiss. The technology will only develop if people want it, not the other way round. In ten years’ time, we’ll be able to smell digitally.
Changing a culture is the hardest thing there is. It takes time. We can help change along by introducing a new office concept. But it’s important to make it visible, to materialise it and to implement it down on the ground. You have to back it up with solid arguments. Ignorance is often the problem, and that leads to resistance. People are afraid that they’ll walk into this huge building in the morning and have to search around for a place to do their work. That’s just foolishness. People who keep raising objections will never be seduced. Life isn’t as much fun for them. Of course, maybe we haven’t explained it right. Fortunately, we’ve managed to get beyond that at Rabobank. The works council is on board. At a certain point, you simply have to say: ‘This is what’s going to happen’, and then they have to fall into line. You shouldn’t offer any more escape routes after that.
Down on the ground
The essence of the New Way of Working is letting go and challenging people to take responsibility. Education and technology have emancipated the public and employees. We have to support that. We need fewer rules, fewer management levels, and above all: a new approach to leadership. Employees should be willing to take more responsibility, work more independently within a defined context, and be judged on their results, in a stimulating environment that offers them the right tools. Most employees are motivated and simply want to do a good job. So why not give them the space to do so? Our new office will support that sense of trust.
Wealth of experience
When it comes to introducing new office concepts, no other party in the Netherlands works as well as Veldhoen + Company does. It was Veldhoen that put the concept that we call the New Way of Working into practice. The concept continues to evolve. For example, we discovered then that it wasn’t only rational and cost-efficient, but also a good management tool. We’ve learned an awful lot from each other. And no one can match their experience. There should be a link that binds the digital environment (ICT), the behavioural environment (organisation, processes, people) and the physical environment (architecture) to one another. That’s the only way to make the concept tangible. I can’t think of another party that can do that as well.”
The Architect on Rabobank, The Netherlands: