Bucket List: Meeting Carin Wormsbecher - part 2
In the first part of this blog post we described the unusual story of Carin Wormsbecher. We shared how Carin radically transformed her printing house Drukkerij Wedding after the sudden loss of her husband.
Due to her strong and passionate personality she managed to turn around the traditional hierarchical organization into a liberated one. A single blog post did not seem enough to cover Carin's story and her contagious passion and enthusiasm. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the second part.
While Carin was telling her story, we noticed that what she stands for in life is reflected within her company. She strongly advocates that happiness is the driver for success, in contrast to money, power and status. She illustrates this by the fact that the total payroll of Wedding is 15% lower than the industry's average. A high degree of employee happiness is one of the reasons the company is thriving in a market place where 70% of the small printing houses have disappeared.
Over the last 15 years, Wedding was forced to adapt itself constantly to the fluctuating economical landscape. Every necessary change that was implemented, strengthened the reflection of Carin's personality in the company. She highlights the values honesty, transparency and respect within herself and the organization. A healthy combination of the three elements provided the foundation for security and happiness.
Honesty seems to be the primary pillar of this success story. From the very beginning of her leadership, Carin showed sincere honesty when she decided to sit down with all her employees to discuss Wedding's future. She advocates that an open and honest attitude towards her employees will result in similar behaviors by her employees.
This is shown in the way Wedding handles production problems and errors. Once a production error is spotted, the complete team is convened. They sit down together and honestly review the complete process step by step. Whatever happened, the focus of this meeting is not on what went wrong in the past, but what can be improved in the future. By all means they want to avoid to blame individuals for making mistakes.
The need and power of transparency emerged fully when the recession hit the printing industry and in particular the small printing houses. In line with her leadership style, Carin informed all stakeholders about the tough financial situation the company was facing.
Carin decided to provide complete transparency to her employees, suppliers and clients. She did this in order to collectively design the best survival strategy for the company. And it worked. The transparency towards all parties got people on board in finding a solution to the significant problems they were facing. Partly because of this attitude, Wedding managed to survive the harsh recession.
According to Carin, self-management practices are only working when respect for people is in place. The respect for yourself and each other is essential for a thriving self-managing organization. It results in increased trust, flexibility and vulnerability which are important building blocks for Wedding's survival. Wedding managed to turn around the static traditional organization into a fast, innovative and flexible printing house. It made Wedding highly adaptable to rapid market changes, which turned out to be their safety bouy.
Self management practices as a side effect
During the recession, self-management practices were introduced as a kind of side effect. Along the way it became crystal clear to everyone in the organization that incidental layoffs were going to be inevitable for the collective survival. Democratically they decided to say goodbye to the employees with the lowest added value.
In their case it started with the layoff of the production manager. Soon after, the other supervisors realized rather quickly that they could better comply with the wishes of the majority of the workforce to operate on an equal level. As a result, Wedding's organization chart slowly evolved naturally from a hierarchical pyramid to a flat organization. Carin describes this process as a constant evolution that took several years and is still not completed.
The combination of honesty, transparency and respect all point towards the higher goal of the organization: happiness for everyone. At the end of our visit we wonder around the production floor and feel that these values are truly incorporated (as opposed to the 'obligatory' corporate values which are shown in the annual report, but which none of the employees can recite).
The people seem to be passionate and joyful about their job. We start talking with a random employee. He shares that he is very proud of the fact that they survived the recession by working as a collective. He is proud that Wedding still exists and even becomes a bit emotional. Then, one of the operators comes to greet us. He shows us the ins and outs of the printing press and the process that it involves. It's easy to spot the passion of this man.
Why workers need freedom to use their expertise
At the production floor, we see an example of why self management can be so successful. The operator of the press explains to us the way they work. As opposed to hierarchical organizations, where fixed processes and procedures dictate how an operator should work, this operator was able to plan and execute the work as he saw fit.
Because of this freedom and the fact that he knows the customer's wishes, he is able to play around with various production settings (such as paper quality, colors, and press speed) in order to optimize the printing process. A job that no office employee would be able to do as he or she does not have the specific knowledge of the press operator.
The goal is not the optimization of individual tasks, but rather the optimization of the entire process by involving the people that are actually performing the work.
Breaking another stereotype
In our previous blog post about employee happiness myths, we discussed the skepticism towards self management in production settings. Here at Wedding, we see the proof that self management practices can also be the basis for success in a production setting. It even brings the involved employees happiness and satisfaction.
This seems to be the necessary proof that we really wanted to see in real life and that must convince the even more skeptical souls. It strengthens us in the path and adventure we recently took. We decide to move on, the next meeting is waiting for us. We thank Carin for her hospitality and prepare ourselves for another freezing car ride.
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I’d long read articles and books concerning progressive organisations with a quiet envy. Envious and also slightly mystified as to how these businesses actually made it happen - when did the opportunity for such a significant change ever appear. All these transformative, adaptive, downright off-the-wall ways to revolutionise the way we do business - they all read well, really well - but I couldn’t get my head around how to take those first few radical steps.