Radical Culture Ideas That Worked – An Exploration into Progressive Organisations

Radical Culture Ideas That Worked - An Exploration into Progressive Organisations

For too long we’ve been used to a way of working that doesn’t work. We’ve been conditioned to believe that there’s only one way to be successful  – a blueprint as such, that creates workplaces that encourage competitiveness, scarcity and limits progress. 

This business blueprint is present in many companies and organisations we see today. It’s the idea that we have to control every aspect of the company, and that strategies and plans are all predictable. 

But as we’ve seen, this isn’t the world we live in. And so we also can’t keep operating our businesses with the same outdated blueprints that leave no space of adaptation. 

Recently I hosted a webinar on Radical Culture Ideas – An Exploration into Progressive Organisations. This session was an introduction to what’s been made possible by those who have dared to do something different and move away from the status quo. 

This blog is a write up of that webinar, but if you want to attend future live sessions and hear things first-hand, don’t forget to sign-up to my newsletter.

What’s so radical?

Whenever I hear the word radical, I think – “yeah right, how radical can it be?”

But nothing gets as many reactions from my work than when I begin to share the stories and facts of alternative ways of working. Radical is the word that comes to most people’s lips because it’s not what we’re used to. 

We’re used to workplaces that ignore our human needs. Workplaces that make us compete against each other to get closer to the top of the pyramid. And workplaces that encourage power over others.  

Work for many has become a soul-sucking place and not at all where one goes to find meaning or satisfaction. That’s why so many people can’t wait to escape on summer holidays each year.

What we’ve done is normalised crappy workplaces, and accepted that “this is just the way things are.” 

But a long time ago we normalised many other things that are now deemed as toxic. Let’s take smoking as an example. Once upon a time smoking in pubs and clubs was completely normal. Any party goer would expect by the end of the evening to have inhaled enough cigarette smoke to feel like they were the ones with the habit, and there would no doubt be a smoke burn on a dress and everything from your hair to your shoes would reek with the stench of cigarette smoke. My stomach turns at the memories. 

And now smoking is banned in public spaces, and is seen as a dirty habit. When we’ve now been so well educated on the effects of smoking, the habit seems ludicrous. 

Unfortunately, this is just a soft example of normalisation, there are enough horrific examples across history of where we’ve normalised ideas, behaviours and beliefs, and its impacted people’s lives. 

My point is, while right now these progressive organisations might appear radical in the way they do things, what we deem as ‘normal’ at work isn’t healthy. 

I certainly hope that overtime we’ll finally see the normalisation of workplaces that truly enable us to thrive fully and lead purpose-led lives. One day we’re going to look back and realise these things weren’t so radical after all, it was just common sense.

What is a progressive organisation?

From my experience, progressive organisations don’t abide by the usual rules of work or business. They are not bound by convention, and instead believe there is a better way of doing things that’s more human centred and purposeful. 

There are some key beliefs under the surface of progressive organisations which is the first thing that separates them from traditional organisations.

See their organisations as adaptive

You may be familiar with the metaphor of organisations as machines, or people as cogs in that machine, this dates back to the industrial revolution. However, it’s a metaphor that has persisted even now in our modern world of work. 

This rigid mindset of predictability and control goes against all that we know to be true in our now volatile and unpredictable world. 

On the other end of the spectrum, progressive organisations see their businesses as ecosystems. Adaptive and agile organisms that have to constantly learn and adapt to the needs of their customers, their people and the environment in which they exist. 

It’s with this mindset that these organisations are able to learn quickly and alter their course without the need of lengthy processes or barriers of bureaucracy.

High level of trust

Trust comes first in progressive organisations. There’s no waiting around to ‘see’ if someone is trust-worthy, that takes time and effort, and ends up creating all sorts of silly processes by which we then finally feel like we can trust our team members. (Employee probations are a perfect example of this trust test gone mad.) 

When we’re not at work we manage to feed and dress ourselves, and even take care of others. It’s miraculous! (joke). However, many organisations limit our ability to make decisions and choices about how to get work done. Instead people are treated like children, being told what to do, or how to work. 

Progressive organisations place trust at the heart of their interactions, and always assume good intention. The first step of this is treating adults like adults. 

Democracy over dictatorship 

Progressive organisations hold democracy as a strong belief, because it’s important to ensure that everyone is involved to ensure the safety and health of the company, rather than just one person at the top.

Even when it comes to big decisions, progressive organisations seek the input of team members. This is not about getting consensus, but understanding if there are any blindspots the company should be aware of. 


At the heart of all progressive organisations is a reason for being – their why. But this purposefulness isn’t just a marketing ploy, or some branding fluff to look good; each and every team member truly believes in that purpose, and the organisation is structured to serve this purpose fully. 

Progressive Organisation Examples

The progressive organisations I’ve shared here as examples, range for those who have been doing this for well over a decade, to those who have been newly baptised into alternative ways of working. These organisations also range from a variety of sectors, because one of the biggest myths about progressive work is that “it can’t work for our industry” – as you will see from these examples, that simply isn’t true. 

While these organisations may appear to be doing something radically different, remember that they all started somewhere, but mostly they had the courage to just give it a go.

Buurtzorg | Netherlands | Social Care

Radical idea – self-management 

Ask anyone about a progressive organisation and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard of Buurtzorg. 

The founders of the Dutch homecare nursing provider decided in 2006 to reinvent the way they did things. They were fed-up with how traditional command and control was screwing up the care that was being delivered. So, they set out to show that an alternative management model based on freedom and trust could create a better organisation. 

The most radical idea they are known for is replacing the traditional hierarchy with a network of self-managing teams.

Each team is made up of 12 nurses, and once it gets any bigger than that they split.

The teams of nurses are responsible for a specific neighbourhood. But these teams do all the necessary work including nursing, training, hiring and firing. 

At the last count, there were approximately 900 self-managing teams spread across the Netherlands. 

With self-managed teams of course, there are no managers, so the teams themselves have to decide who’s leading, and how the work is distributed. 

The head office of Buurtzorg only has around 50 people that supports the networks of nurses. This head office team includes coaches who can help the nurses solve problems they cannot solve on their own. 

As I mentioned before, these progressive organisations are passionate about their purpose, and Buurtzorg purpose is;  Help people to lead meaning, autonomous lives. 

Everything they do is focussed on that specific purpose. 

Buurtzorg is the poster child for self-management as they have proven that this alternative way of working, not only works, but leads to greater success.

Buurtzorg has the highest score of the Dutch-equivalent of CQC compliant, patients stay in care significantly shorter (108 hours V 168), and 50% of the patients receive care for less than three months. Hospital admissions are reduced by 33%, and the average stay is shorter.

There have been estimates that the Dutch social care bill would be €2bn less if all home care was provided in the same way. 

If only we could get more UK care providers to follow the Buurtzorg way. 

ABN Amro | The Netherlands| Bank

Radical idea – No more managers

The words ‘progressive’ and ‘banking’ are rarely found in the same sentence. But Dutch bank ABN Amro prove that a bank doesn’t have to be an organisation run with bureaucratic nonsense.

In 2018, ABN Amro with the help of Semco Style, decided to switch their traditional management model for self-management. 

The reason for their radical change was the need for greater speed and agility to support their clients. They had noticed that their traditional way of working was impacting the customer service they were providing. 

Similar to Buurtzorg, they decided to let their regional banks make their own decisions and set their own goals.

However, most radical is the fact that they reduced middle management, transforming managers into either team coaches or skills coaches. These coaches were there to only support the team with self-management, or help them develop specific hard skills. 

Traditional management was diluted for a coach approach. These coaches were selected on their belief of autonomy. After all, they didn’t want to just change people’s titles, they needed people who were willing to let go of old ways of working, and believe that people were responsible adults who could self-manage.

Since ABN Amro’s evolution their NPS score has risen, with client satisfaction at an all time high.

When Pieter De Langa shared his story with the Semco Style team about the transformation that had taken place, he said “I wish I hadn’t waited. Why didn’t I do this 20 years ago?”

Tenzing | UK | FMCG

Radical idea – Pick your manager

Tenzing is a relatively new brand to the arena of progressive organisations, but it’s exciting to see that young startup companies are embracing these ways of working at an early stage; and goes to prove that even a company with big ambitions can work in a way that aligns with people and planet. 

Tenzing’s radical idea is that they let people pick their managers. However, in reality, these aren’t any normal managers, these again are coaches for teams. (Do you see a theme developing here!)

Founder of Tenzing Van Bockel, started exploring flat management structures and self-managing teams when he established the company in 2016. He knew himself how much he hated being ‘bossed’ around, and thought it seemed outdated to instil the same way of working in his own company.

Tenzing’s system works in this way; new team members are given a few months to understand their job role, before being given the option to choose a coach. This coach can be from anywhere in the company, and doesn’t just have to be in your department. 

As Tenzing are still fresh-faced into the realm of progressive organisations, it will be exciting to see how this brand continues to develop their ways of working in years to come as the company grows.

LiveSciences | Switzerland | Consultancy

Radical idea – choose your own salary

Yes, you guessed it, LiveSciences is a self-managing company, however they’ve matured their company to a whole new level. One which takes many progressive organisations decades to reach. At LiveSciences their radical idea is self-set salaries. You read that right – people decide their own salary.

In the scale of progressive practices, self-set salaries is at the harder end, as you need a number of key components in place for this to be effective. For example, all company financial information needs to be accessible for everyone, and team members have to have their own level of maturity.

The reason self-set salaries works well is the ability to remove perceived unfairness, because all salaries are shared and totally transparent. You get to hear and share who’s getting paid what.

Of course the hardest part is actually deciding on your own salary, especially when you’ve got to then share it openly with your entire team and company.

Teams who work with self-set salaries have to understand how the company is performing financially, their own contribution and value, and then make a choice on what they deem is fair. 

By no means is this as easy as it sounds – but it goes to show what’s possible when you decide to do things differently.

Timm and I have discussed self-set salaries on the podcast previously, but he’s also written two blogs about their process in detail. 

What’s so great about being progressive?

The possibilities in progressive organisations are limitless. Every organisation I’ve come across, or had the pleasure of working with shows me time and time again what’s possible when we lay down old ways of working, and step out to try something different. 

By far the biggest change you will see when you take the steps to become more progressive is the shift in your people. Not only do they sit a little taller, and speak-up more than before, but there is the inner knowing that they are contributing to meaningful work. 

The examples above also go to show the performance success of progressive organisations, if you need a metric to boost your courage. However, what’s most telling is the overall impact these companies are having. It’s not just about how much profit they’re making. These progressive organisations are proof that being purpose-led leads to a ripple effect of positive change.

Where do you start on the road to becoming more progressive?

Admittedly you might be panicking at the sound of some of these radical ideas, and wondering where you start. It might feel like you’re standing at the top of the mountain looking up and wondering if it’s worth the hike. Trust me, it is. 

You don’t need to throw everything out all at once. Start with a small experiment. Take one practice and see how it goes. As Denzel Washington once said, “there’s no such thing as falling back, you fall forwards”. 

No matter what you decide to try, you’ll learn something from it. And if you need a helping hand, or someone to guide the way, reach out and I’ll help you on the journey.

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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.