How to be a Rebel

I recently read Corporate Rebels: How to Make Work More Fun by Joost Minnaar and Pim De Moree. It’s a fantastic book, with boat load of ideas about how to make organisations more effective, engaging and more enjoyable places to work. (They also have a great blog here: https://corporate-rebels.com/)

I’ve also recently been in conversation with a new start-up energy company, that aspires to a rebellious spirit. For the purposes of this blog, let’s call them Company X.

As a thought experiment, I thought I’d use Company X as a case study, to apply the corporate rebels ideas to.

In summary, Joost and Pim recommend the following 8 organisational practices: Purpose & Values, Network of Teams, Supportive Leadership, Experiment & Adapt, Freedom & Trust, Distributed Authority, Radical Transparency, Talent & Mastery.

I will apply each in turn.

1. Purpose & Values

  • Level 1: Have a Bold Purpose
  • Level 2: Get the Message to Everyone
  • Level 3: Hire for Culture, Train for Skills
  • Level 4: Measure Impact, Track Progress, Share Widely
  • Level 5: Put Your Money Where your Mouth is

So how can these be applied in practice? Well firstly Company X have a strong mission statement:

“Our mission is to act differently, transform lives and create a business that can change society for good in an impactful and sustainable way.”

In terms of value proposition, this means sublime customer service, and fair priced sustainable energy for all.

This is a compelling and inspiring message, but will only be impactful with an audience. The first 1,000 fans will be foundational to the success of Company X. Building a community that believe in the mission of the brand and in turn will be advocates for the brand. This can be achieved by providing a compelling newsletter, and a community platform on the website, open to all, regardless of being a customer or not, to invite comment and feedback on the formation of the brand, and product offering.

In parallel to the first 1,000 fans, the first 10 colleagues will be the kernel of Company X culture. The culture fit and values alignment will be key. The first stage of any recruitment will have to be an evaluation of the desired corporate values: compassion, connection, curiosity, creativity, and courageousness.

Zappos.com, an online retailer, are a leader in recruiting for culture, and have made their processes and documentation open source: Zappos Insights. Here are three key strands that could be adopted by Company X:

  • The Social Test: have candidates meet colleagues widely across the business.
  • The Service Test: have all colleagues, regardless of role, participate in call centre training, and take service calls for the first month.
  • The Commitment Test: after the call center training offer £1,000 to leave. If people forgo the money, they are emotionally invested.

For measuring and tracking outcomes, a clear Objective and Key Result (OKR) framework should be established. With clear linkage from the mission statement through to individuals objectives, which should all be quantitatively measurable, and reviewed on a quarterly basis. The full framework should be transparent for all colleagues to be able to see what is being worked on, and associated performance.

Company X should commit to donating 10% of gross profit to social impact initiatives, targeted at reducing vulnerability.

2. Network of Teams

  • Level 1: Inverted Pyramid
  • Level 2: Autonomous Teams in Pyramid
  • Level 3: Flat Organisation with Autonomous Teams
  • Level 4: Network of Teams
  • Level 5: Ecosystem of Mini-Companies

Company X should commit to a philosophy of delegated authority, to avoid the curse of centralised decision making. The application of this philosophy in organisational structure will necessarily evolve as the company grows. A journey from Level 1: Inverted Pyramid, which is more a mindset of supportive leadership, with a goal to reach Level 3: Flat Organisation with Autonomous Teams.

bulb energy have adopted a ‘product pod’ structure, as outlined in their blog piece; How we structure for success. With each pod having responsibility for a particular element of the product and service. In time, Company X should adopt a similar approach. Making a team accountable for the service experience for each of the primary customer transactions or touch points:

  • Growth: slick and compelling sign-up, referrals, renewals
  • Meter Reads: enabling the provision of accurate and timely meter reads
  • Billing: providing accurate, timely and clear bills
  • Payments: customer payments, and collections, inc. account and balance management

All supported by core functions: finance, risk, people, leadership.

3. Supportive Leadership

  • Level 1: Beware of Hippos
  • Level 2: Destroy the Ivory Tower
  • Level 3: Evaluate your Manager
  • Level 4: Split Managers
  • Level 5: Choose your Leader

Supportive Leadership is the enabling mindset for the Networks of Teams. Company X should ban the word and job title ‘Manager’. Instead talk in terms of coaching and leadership. As well as during onboarding, all colleagues, regardless of role, should commit to spending at least a day a month on front line services, as a reminder that it is those on the front line who are providing the value and service to customers.

Frontline performance should be measured in terms of desired customer outcomes. Support function performance should be evaluated by frontline colleagues.

4. Experiment & Adapt

  • Level 1: Ruthlessly Experiment
  • Level 2: Kill the Budget Cycle
  • Level 3: Create a “Safe-to-try” Environment
  • Level 4: Crowdsource Experiments
  • Level 5: Rebel Time

Company X should adopt an experimentation culture. All colleagues should be expected to adopt a growth mindset, whereby they are each responsible for ‘building the machine, not just running the machine’. To enable this, colleagues must feel empowered, and be able to fail safely. Failures should be discussed openly and frequently and not something hidden, and brushed under the carpet. Every colleague should be encouraged to take a half day a week for experimentation.

5. Freedom & Trust

  • Level 1: Design Your Own Workplace
  • Level 2: Results Based Working
  • Level 3: Remote Control Mechanisms
  • Level 4: Peer Review
  • Level 5: Self-Setting Salaries

Compnay X should consciously and collectively choose modes and frequency of communication. Outsource to colleagues the decision on software tools; IM, Email, videoconference, face to face meetings. Deciding when, where and how frequently each should be used.

Performance should be measured solely against agreed OKRs. And, the inputs required to reach those metrics should not be considered e.g. time at desk. Employees should be empowered to decide how they want to reach those metrics; offering autonomy but also accountability.

Rather than making colleagues accountable to a boss, make colleagues accountable to each other. Performance against metrics should be transparent for all to see, and regular peer-to-peer review and feedback sessions should be run.

Based on the goals set, and the associated business value they will bring, allow colleagues to set their own salaries.

6. Distributed Authority

  • Level 1: Map Decision Making
  • Level 2: Change the Language
  • Level 3: Push Authority Down
  • Level 4: Pre-Approval
  • Level 5: Advice Process

Firstly, Company X should be intentional about decision making processes. And needs to fully address the question of where decisions are best made. This may mean mapping decision making, and agreeing where boundaries exist.

For simple or low materiality decisions; there should be a culture of ask for forgiveness not for permission. For complex or higher materiality decisions, an advice process should be undertaken.

Coaches and leaders should consciously delegate decision making, and should consider their primary role as question askers rather than direction givers.

A culture should be encouraged, whereby every colleague is expected to take the initiative, identify problems, and propose solutions. Following appropriate consultation, any colleague can decide and see through a change project.

7. Radical Transparency

  • Level 1: Open Communication
  • Level 2: Openness as the Default
  • Level 3: Transparent Performance and Goals
  • Level 4: Open-Book Management
  • Level 5: Salary Transparency

At Company X, everyone should feel involved and consulted. Leaders need to be communicators. Within teams there should be frequent check ins. And company wide there should be a weekly townhall, with an open Q&A.

Openness should be the default. Financial and operational performance metrics should be shared widely and frequently, with a link to how these are feeding into Company X’s mission. E.g. how much is being donated towards social vulnerability causes as part of the give 10% initiative.

Transparency should extend beyond colleagues to customers as well. Building and maintaining trust with customers is still paramount in the energy industry. Financial performance, and profit margins should be shared, and pricing decisions should be signaled early, and given clear explanation.

The best measure to build trust between colleagues is to make all colleague salaries transparent. The socialisation of salaries acts as an equaliser. Colleagues will be aware if they earn too little, but will also be conscious if they earn too much. This links back to the self set salaries, as discussed in Freedom and Trust.

8. Talent & Mastery

  • Level 1: Identify Talents
  • Level 2: Job Crafting by Combining Roles
  • Level 3: Unlimited Training
  • Level 4: Self Selected Mentors
  • Level 5: Internal Project Marketplace

Company X should promote a growth mindset through out the organisation. Every colleague should be on journey of mastery, development and progress. With a view to evolving their current role into a preferred new role.

All colleagues should be encouraged to select a mentor, and to be a mentor. And to jointly craft a progression plan of talents to build. Colleagues should be encouraged to use the open source OKR framework, to discuss which objectives they feel they are best placed to contribute to.

So, there we have it. How to be a Rebel.

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Chris Whitehouse

Chris Whitehouse

Budding Software Developer. Doing Makers.