Gerry McGovern, a European consultant, recently wrote an article about a Dutch home-care nursing company that has No Managers! They started with 4 employees and in the last 10 years have grown to 14,000. And they still have no managers. No hierarchy that manages all the employees, no HR department, no marketing department, and a headquarters that employs only 50 people. The name of the organization is Buurtzorg. You can read about them here.
In addition to having no managers at all, they have the highest customer satisfaction in the country and the highest employee satisfaction. That is not a surprise to me, since the bulk of all the employee’s time is spent serving their clients directly.
All large companies that I have had contact with would not understand how this could be possible. Companies are full of levels of management all double checking and controlling the people and the work of their employees. Front line employees require approvals for work they do. Then the next level manager will have to approve their approvals, etc.
How can Buurtzorg operate without managers? How can that even be possible? McGovern attributes their success and ability to work without managers to “the great potentials of web-based technology”. Well, that may help, since they have developed their own intranet for communication, but I think there is a much more radical explanation.
Employees usually are treated as untrustworthy, or at best, like semi-incompetents. Buurtzorg, with no managers at all, has an incredible amount of trust in its teams. Each team of 15 is very independent and autonomous. They do their own hiring, firing, personnel development, etc. The founder has put complete confidence in his employees to do their jobs – including many other facets of the business.
Now, to be fair, the business of Buurtzorg is very simple. They do one thing – home care nursing. And almost all the employees do the same thing. Most businesses are much more complicated and could not follow the same model to the same extent. However, they can learn quite a bit from Buurtzorg, giving employees more respect and trust in doing their jobs. Morale would go up, customers would be happier, and efficiency would improve. How many unnecessary layers and approvals does your company have?
As W. Edwards Deming said, “All anyone asks for is a chance to work with pride.”