The company that thrives without management. (Episode 72)

The company that thrives without management. (Episode 72)

Interview with Reinout Vader and Johannes Boonstra of Victor Energy.

Before Reinout Vader founded Victor Energy he had already started another company that was run the “regular way” with multiple management levels and hierarchies.

He had seen the inefficiencies it created so when he started Victron Energy he decided to build a company with as few layers as possible.

When I sat down with him for a short interview in the science museum of Amsterdam, right next to the water, he expanded on the benefits of running a company with a minimal level of management.

Reinout smiled and said: “(When I started Victron Energy) I got rid of the middle layer. We don’t want Victron to be a managed company. People have skills and people should be free to work on what they feel their skill is.”

Johannes Boonstra, who works in sales at Victron and who has been in the company for over 12 years joined the conversation: “Victron wants their employees to feel that ‘you are the professional, so you should know best what you should work on.’. If you are passionate about energy solutions for mobile homes, go work on that.”

And then he added: “No one wants someone else to tell them what to work on. (At Victron) we trust people to know what they should be doing. We do not want to hear what you are planning to do. We want to hear what you have done. If someone else tells you what to do, you do not own the idea. We want people to own their own ideas. That’s where the power is.”

At Victron they have very few meetings, virtually no reports that people need to write, and close to zero central budget process that people need to follow. And more than 1/3 of the company works in R&D! Overhead is tiny.

I ask Johannes what they call this management style; he thinks for a while, and then bursts out laughing: “We call it ‘working’!”

And think about it: If you took away most of the time spent on preparing reports and attending meetings, how much more creative work could you be doing?

And it seems to work like a charm. Victron has grown by 50-60% per year in the last few years – last few months they have grown at 80% (!) -, and they are one of the leading solar energy companies in the world.

And when people are given trust, time, and freedom to work on their own ideas and projects they also feel much more empowered to try new things, to experiment and be creative.

But clearly, there must be some central strategy that people need to comply with, I ask, to play Devil’s advocate.

Reinout Vader, who has a very likable and positive persona – you can tell that he just loves what he does – smiles so his eye sparkle and tells me: “It’s not about zero management. It’s about sensible management. Of reducing the management layers to an absolute minimum. Of managers hearing about what people have done, instead of telling them what to do.”

He explains that in a culture of “share what you have done” the information actually spreads BETTER than in a culture of “I will tell what you are going to do”. There is an increase in the flow of relevant information. In a “share what you have done” culture there is a much smaller risk of people feeling that they were bypassed. There is much more positive energy. It’s a culture of “done”, not “report”.

If I should summarise the mentality of Victron it’s less of “Do this!” and more of “Look what I did!” – and not in the sense of “look at me”, but in the sense of “getting things done.”

The focus is on “did” – not on “I”.

Having had the opportunity to spend some time with the people of Victron I have to say that their approach to management has created a culture where people are very proud to work, very free to create, and very encouraged to develop. And extremely focused on gettings things done. The leadership of Matthijs Vader, the managing director of Victron Energy, is another great example of a person communicating this mindset.

Can you be inspired by Victron Energy to unleash the energy and power that lies within your organization by giving people more autonomy to decide what to do?

If your organization had “MBN” – Management By Non-managing – (I just made that phrase up), how much more would you get done?

Fredrik Haren – The Creativity Explorer.

(The Creativity Suite is a series where I interview top leaders in innovative companies around the world. This article was inspired by a conversation I had while exploring creativity in the Netherlands. Follow this newsletter for more insights into creativity as I explore the World of Creativity to help you discover your full creative potential.)

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