Less is More: 10 Practical Examples
I wrote recently about Mies Van Der Rohe and his design principle “less is more”. I asked why, in architecture, ‘less is more’ and ‘state of the art’, but in organizations it seems to be the opposite. In this article I want to share how we try to keep things simple at Viisi.
Let me first explain why we are focussed on “Less is More”, and why it has become “management doctrine” for us.
From the beginning, our so-called purpose was to change finance, and the finance sector. As we can only achieve this when we become big, we have to think big.
So, with every decision, we ask ourselves: “Will this still work when we are 10 or 100 times bigger?” This question has become our mantra.
Let’s make it practical and simple by sharing ten examples of how we avoid bureaucracy:
No bosses, but decentralised decision making: When we were only 10 to 20 people, we had to decide on our structure. We chose Holacracy. We do not consider ourselves a ‘pure’ Holacratic company. We experiment with lots of stuff, and keep the things we like which work for us.
No functions and no titles, but one “Viisionair”: By implementing Holacracy roles instead of functions. Titles were abolished automatically, and everybody is called a “Viisionair”. That’s it. But in teams, people choose their own roles, and name those roles and accountabilities. These are adjusted as needed. Every email signature includes a link to all the roles, so everybody can see what everyone else is doing at Viisi. Now and then we are asked about our roles by external people. They are always amazed at the openness of our structure.
No top down people decisions, but decisions in the teams: Teams decide for themselves who is taking which role, including coordination roles. As coordination roles are split into more roles than the one classic manager role, they are easier to fulfil, as people can decide to take on a smaller task. Peer-to-peer (horizontal) decisions are better in almost any situation because people who work together know each other's strengths. Besides, there is no financial incentive (see salaries).
Peer-to-peer (horizontal) decisions are better in almost any situation because people who work together know each other's strengths.
No bonuses, no salary bargaining, but automatic pay rises: Everybody who works at Viisi gets a fixed salary with a yearly pay rise (interview by Stefanie Hornung). Our model is based on the highest quartile of the external salary benchmark. The teams check these benchmarks now and then—mainly when new colleagues are hired. If salaries have risen, then salaries of the whole team are adjusted. Every new Viisionair is told in advance – before the application process starts - what his or her starting salary will be. It is based on years of experience. But if it is an insider, we pay for loyalty. It is our way to say - year after year - “Thank you, thank you that you are willing to bring your whole self to the company, for spending so much time with us and your commitment to the company!".
No performance reviews, just peer-to-peer feedback: Science has proven that there is no correlation between performance and remuneration, and bonuses can even be counterproductive (see the famous video on Daniel Pink’s book). So why would you build complex performance and remuneration programs? How work is done, by whom, and how, is all discussed in teams on a peer-to-peer and daily basis.
No “HR” hiring, it is done by the team itself: The team itself hires new colleagues. There is some support from “People First”, but the application process is distributed and colleagues decide who is going to join them and they all have a veto. That works pretty well. If there is no cultural or job fit, both sides usually solve this quickly. In recent years we had almost no fluctuation.
No external recruiters, it is mainly done by our Viisionairs: 50% of new colleagues already know somebody working at Viisi. 25% are former clients. Another 25% find us by reading about us. We don’t have to advertise. We focus on being a great place to work. This is not about rankings, but it helps us when we win in the smallest category (up to 50 people) of Great Places to Work. In 2020 we were fourth on the European list. In the past we didn't have money to spend on employer branding and now we don't want to spend it on advertisements, so those awards are a way to get known as an employer. They give us credibility and visibility.
No handbooks, but one rule, the so-called “golden rule”: We have no handbooks, but leave it to the teams. This is the outcome of having looked closely at big corporations. It has saved us from maintaining a bureaucratic monster. At Viisi we have only one rule, the “golden rule”, which means: “Treat others as you wish to be treated yourself. There are no other rules. Use common sense for your judgement. And if you need help, please ask colleagues (the advice principle).” This rule is applicable in every relationship.
We have only one rule, the “golden rule”: Treat others as you wish to be treated yourself. There are no other rules.
No advertisements, and our clients are our best ambassadors: As we are a bootstrapped company, we didn’t have money to spend on advertisements, billboards, TV ads, etc. We aren’t sorry about that. It focussed us on serving clients the best we can. We hope they will then spread the word. They did, and still do. (We have a Trustpilot score of 4.9 of 5). Since we became bigger, we have colleagues who write articles, make YouTube videos, and have a budget for buying leads, if needed, to match our advice capacity.
No secrecy, but trust and radical transparency: Everything is open by default. Client data is not shared. But for other data—financial data, salaries and costs—everyone has access. However, they are usually interested in this data when it helps them make decisions. This accessibility means people can discuss openly a decision with whoever they want, including colleagues in other teams. And most data is open to the public as well. We need to be constantly reminded that our company is about purpose and it is our goal to change finance.
I hope more companies rediscover the beauty of simplicity, and in so doing make their workspaces more human again.
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It sounds like a lovely organisation to work for.
Yet when organisation grow, so does the bureaucracy as a result of control, governance, transparency, homogeneity, stakeholder requirements, compliance or whatever it is called.
It would be helpful to have more focus on the how, rather than the what...
"I dispensed with the false comfort that making detailed plans can bring – and falling back on the notion of control – in what was a highly uncertain environment. Detailed annual plans may have been standard practice a hundred years ago, but in our modern world this is far from ideal.”
Most of us know monopolies are bad. “They have no incentive to deliver better products or to get more efficient.” And if a monopoly can do whatever it likes, the victim is likely to be the customer. If it exists outside an organization, measures can be taken to end that. Within organizations, creating monopolies seems standard practice, but why!?