Manager: let go of control

What could connect Buurtzorg, a Dutch home care company, with Vincit, an IT services company based in Tampere?

The answer is: a lot.

Both companies began as a reaction against dominant management practices.

Jos de Blok, the founder of Buurtzorg, was sick and tired of the conveyor belt system of home care where work performance was optimised to the minute and monitored with bar codes. A customer may see dozens of different carers per week, but none of them had the time to treat the customer or their close ones as real people. The organisation's pursuit of efficiency led in fact to an inefficient work situation where employees suffered from stress.

Vincit's story is a similar one. The company's founder Mikko Kuitunen experienced a lot of bureaucracy and professional management in his previous job. He was particularly bothered by managers' dictatorial approach and secretive decision-making.

And so it was that both Mikko Kuitunen and Jos de Blok founded their own companies and decided to do things differently. The practices of the two companies turned out to be very similar.

Undergirding the operating philosophy of both businesses was a strong belief that employees are motivated and want to do their work as well as possible. Why then shackle their actions with pointless bureaucracy?

Both Vincit and Buurtzorg decided to strip away the supervisors and superiors and empower their employees to work more independently. Both became in practice self-directing organisations where employees have significant freedom and responsibility for their work.

Many would assume that when management lets go of work instructions and monitoring, it also gives up control of the organisation. But this is not in fact the case. When operating in complex and changing conditions, a shared understanding of the organisation's goal is much more important than precisely defined processes.

"Growth is a crap goal"

Neither company set as their main goal the pursuit of economic results. In the words of Mikko Kuitunen: "Growth is a crap goal". Instead, the goal of both companies is to achieve the best possible experience for the customer. Vincit strives to have its employees and customers more satisfied tomorrow than they are today. Buurtzorg seeks in its work to emphasise the importance of the care relationship between the customer and the carer by ensuring that each person receiving care has all their care services provided by only one or two carers.

Although neither company is directly aiming for growth and good economic results, both companies have done staggeringly well. They both started in 2007. Vincit currently has 270 employees. By 2015 Buurtzorg had taken over 70 percent of the home care market in Holland. Turnover had already grown to around €300 million and the company was employing 9500 carers. Despite the growth, both companies still shun the use of superiors and supervisors.

Common to both companies is also a very high level of employee work satisfaction. Buurtzorg has been selected many times to be Holland's Best Workplace of the Year.  The same goes for Vincit in Finland. This year Vincit also received at last the title of Best Workplace in Europe.

Vincit and Buurtzorg show by their example that, as working life gets more complex, organisations should seek new ways of operating and should enrich their concept of management and leadership. When a company's operating environment is in a state of constant change, the organisation's capacity to learn and adapt can be assumed to be more important than the goal of operational efficiency.

This demands new skills from managers. Instead of an administrative approach, managers should be able to lead communal exploration of the operating environment's challenges and the company's goals and make use of all different methods and tools to help employees succeed in their work and attain common goals.

In this kind of organisation, management is a service profession.

Further information

Postdoctoral Researcher Sami Jantunen, sami.jantunen@lut.fi, +358 40 502 5071

Research on new work methods and their effects on the meaningfulness of work and productivity has been carried out in collaboration between LUT, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, and JAMK University of Applied Sciences. You can read more on the research and its results in Finnish at http://www.vtt.fi/inf/pdf/technology/2016/T269.pdf .