Frank took part in last year's IGNITE conference. As a speaker, he instantly touched our hearts with his energy, rebelliousness, and warm personality—but especially with how he revolutionized the traditional Federal Social Security Department of Belgium. Starting back in 2002, as chairman of the Belgian Federal Office of Social Affairs, he eliminated three out of five hierarchy levels. He used the cost savings to introduce a few breakthroughs. He offered everyone the opportunity to work from wherever they wanted to as the office became increasingly paperless. He reduced meetings times to an absolute minimum. And he pushed people to continuously challenge the status quo, improving productivity and fostering innovation. According to Frank, these changes increased productivity by an annual minimum of 18% while slashing costs.
Is this too good to be true? We have to seize the opportunity!
So, we IGNITERS, who like to think of ourselves as critical thinkers, wondered if this might be too good to be true. Our mission was to go see it for ourselves. When Frank invited us to a company visit in Brussels, we seized the opportunity.
The meeting was sceduled for a Monday morning. But hey, we're dedicated to a bit of fun, so we boarded a Flixbus to Brussels on Friday evening. Who needs sleep? Upon our arrival we have excelled on the art of napping throughout our stay (We can report, that it's not meant to replace a good-night's sleep).
We were IGNITEd by the beauty and history of Brussels. We joined a free walking tour fuelled by Belgian fries, waffles and Belgian chocolate (only to undertake a scientific study in defense of Swiss chocolate). Did we end our Sunday with a bit of Belgian beer tasting? Hmm.
Monday morning. Properly dressed, we waited nervously in the chic waiting area overlooking a botanical garden. The entire floor was open. Around us, people worked at desks and gathered in groups—yet it was a very still environment, the effect of noise-cancelling waves. In general people kept their voices low.
Then the man with the most fantastic shoes in Belgium—blue burnished leather—came around the corner. “This is normally where I sit to work,” he said warmly as he welcomed us. With this, our first question, if he himself still had his own office, was already answered. He led us to the only glassed off room on the entire floor and introduced us to several former executives who had given up their executive powers to function as “culture keepers.” Solutions to existing problems employees have worked out are presented to their superior. Frank walked us through the office explaining the concept of the office and culture keeping. Solutions must align with their company culture. Team leaders have the right to veto any solution that isn’t supported by the organization’s 200-page guideline. As we walked through the company, Frank greeted everyone, from former high-ranking managers to the lady delivering the post. It didn’t take us long to realize that what Frank had spoken about at our conference was no fairy-tale. He practices what he preaches, and by all appearances his philosophy seems to be working quite well.
The entire workspace felt extremely personal, thoughtful, inspiring and welcoming. Employees appeared at ease and comfortable. We IGNITERS felt incredibly rewarded by seeing a work environment so aligned with IGNITE’s values. The experience has spurred us to keep pushing our vision forward—to encourage a world of purpose-driven businesses.