Future IS trust


I find Amsterdam the most comforting city in the world. It’s a convivial meeting place of people from all corners of the world and life. Bicycles have taken over cars. Canals give flow and peculiarity to the city. There are little shops everywhere: there are only a few global brands around, and just barely even visible.

My colleague Sofi Kurki and I have spent a week here, not only enjoying the atmosphere in Amsterdam, but also studying one of the most phenomenal companies on Earth. No, it’s not a digital business. No, it’s not conquering the world with its products.

It simply exemplifies how all organizations and companies in this world should treat their employees and clients.

The name of the company is Buurtzorg, which in Dutch means neighborhood. They are in the business of elder care. The almost 10-year old company employs 10,000 nurses.. During the current decade, Buurtzorg has been named the the best employer in Holland every single year. Their client satisfaction rate is beyond anything anyone has ever seen. The company is experiencing phenomenal growth. Newly graduated nurses flock to seek employment there, thanks to Buurtzorg’s stellar reputation.

We’ve talked to Buurtzorg’s people all around Netherland where they operate. We wanted to understand makes this organization so outstanding. We found the answer: trust. It’s all about trust.

Let me explain: normally, in an organization, you build a system of formal controls. Every person has a designated boss. At the top of the organization, you have the CEO, who is overseen by the board of directors, and the board, in turn, is overseen by the Annual General Meeting.

In Buurtzorg, there are no bosses. Every nursing team has absolute power to decide how their organize their work and budget their time and money. They recruit the patients (who are called clients) and new members to the team. They collectively self-manage everything they do.

Every one of the 850 Buurtzorg teams follows only one principle: customer needs come first. Their goal is to give their customers skills and tools for an independent life without Buurtzorg. This is achieved by giving nurses every opportunity to focus on their primary work. Administrative burden is brought to an absolute minimum.

Jos de Blok, who founded Buurzorg together with his life partner Gonnie, says: “Every hierarchy builds inefficiency in the system even if it looks like an effective way of managing problems and making decisions in the short term. The only long-term solution is get rid of hierarchies.”

During this week we’ve realized that the immense motivation people feel for working at Buurtzorg springs from the feeling of being deeply trusted. Solutions are always found jointly within the teams. Using a digital intranet makes information sharing very simple and .easy.

Jos de Blok started the organization as a counterrevolution. He had seen other health care companies lose sight of their purpose easily. Instead of caring for their clients, they took care of themselves. Jos de Blok understood that everything would have to be done differently than in a normal, industrially managed organization. He created a shining example of a genuinely human-focused organization.

Mind you, the health care business is going to be by far the biggest business in the world in the coming decades. This is because of demographic transition, aging, wealth creation and value change. Health consciousness is the new mindset.

To me and many others, Buurtzorg shows the way to the future. Only by trusting others do we become human beings. So simple and so difficult.

And so important.