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‘Corporate’ and rebel make for an odd word pairing, and it was this very paradox that drew more than 100 guests to the ‘Make Work More Fun’ breakfast event on Thursday 8 August organised by IABC Victoria and hosted by Aurecon in Melbourne.

A hit at the 2019 IABC World Conference held in Vancouver, Canada it was a coup to draw the Netherlands based Pim de Morree and Joost Minaar, aka the Corporate Rebels, to Melbourne in the dead of winter.

IABC Victoria President Sia Papageorgiou introduced the pair, saying they travel the world – talking to leading thinkers, academics and successful businesses – and share their insights on reinventing the workplace status quo and achieving success based on freedom and mutual trust. They have interviewed more than 100 of the world’s best thinkers on alternative ways of working that unleash the potential of employees.

Since establishment just three years ago, the Corporate Rebels have:

  • Had their blog read in 100-plus companies
  • Been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, HuffPost, Guardian and BBC
  • Made the Thinkers50 ‘Top 30 Emergent Management Thinkers’ list

Pim began the Corporate Rebels’ presentation by asking us to consider the following four statements:

  • Most of our employees are highly engaged
  • I’m free to decide where and when I work
  • Teams select their own managers
  • Our employees set their own salary

It might sound like the stuff of pipe dreams but it’s the foundation of some of the world’s most progressive organisations. Pim then shared two stories:

  • Zhang Ruimin, CEO of Chinese company Haier, who believes: “Organization models can no longer be rigid. They need to be ‘alive’. In Haier, people self-select their leaders and people at all levels are provided with the right information at the right moment, in order to make better decisions faster.
  • Frank Van Massenhove, Chairman of the Belgian Federal Office of Social Affairs, who deliberately misled his interview panel so that they believed he would lead in a traditional way – instead, he instilled freedom and trust transforming an otherwise conservative workplace into a more progressive, collaborative and effective work environment – achieving a ten per cent productivity increase over ten consecutive years, the lowest absenteeism in Belgium and increased applications per job vacancy from three to fifty-seven.

The presentation highlighted eight key trends, lingering on trends two and five.

  • From profit to purpose and values: finding purpose or meaning in work gives energy, passion and motivation, helps organisations to create a community of like-minded employees and others to fight for a shared vision.
  • From pyramids to a network of teams: the familiar hierarchical pyramid is not a good fit with today’s rapid changing environment, the rigid command-and-control structure does not promote agility, speed and engagement.
  • From directive to supportive leadership: directive leadership (where senior managers tell others how to do their jobs) neglects the wisdom of the crowd, creates disengagement among those low in the hierarchy and slows decision making. Whereas supportive leadership craft a vision and inspire others to pursue it, remaining open to others’ ideas about how to get there. Authority is the ability to lead by example.
  • From plan and predict to experiment and adapt: as the environment becomes gets more complex, it is more difficult to make accurate predictions. Therefore, adaptability is increasingly important. Experimentation becomes part of how an organisation works and changes. In fact, change is part of daily work and failure is part of progress.
  • From rules and control to freedom and trust: commonly bureaucracy is a barrier to engagement and success, creating obstacles to autonomy, innovation and creativity. When people are allowed to work autonomously, their productivity skyrockets.
  • From centralised to distributed authority: to adapt to a constantly changing environment, authority and decision making should be vested in those at the frontline. Why shouldn’t you trust your people to make the right decision? Use an advice rather than permission-seeking process. With freedom of decision making comes responsibility and accountability for the result.
  • From secrecy to radical transparency: make the data available in real time and provide people with the right information to increase the speed and accuracy of decision making speed and accuracy, solve problems and support collaboration.
  • From job descriptions to talents and mastery: doing what you are good at (rather than what is in your job description) increases motivation and engagement. Make effective use of the diversity of the people and talents present in the organisation, and let people identify opportunities for their own personal learning and growth.

Shiv Nair, a new IABC member who manages internal communication for St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, said the event was “extremely motivating and inspiring”.  She was particularly interested in how exemplar firms are changing not just their structure but the way people work, how they work, when they work, how much they work and what they are paid for doing the work, and how this “somehow results in increased productivity, higher profits and more engaged employees.”

The Corporate Rebels challenged us to share the secrets of the most engaged workplaces with the world, and to make a start on creating workplaces where people want to work and have fun while doing it. Because, the world needs more rebels.