Trusting people, why would a reasonable person do that? The Futurice story, part 2

- Leadership

by Vasco Duarte

A few weeks ago I told you guys about my friend Tuomas Syrjänen and how he struggled with the system versus the people in his company Futurice.

The story ended when he realized it wasn’t the people that were stupid, but the system. That had some serious consequences. Because if it weren’t the people, he not only could no longer blame them for things going wrong, he needed to trust them.

The Acid Test of Trust

But trust them to do what? It was necessary to make clear what he expected from his people. Not in tasks, projects or other concrete things, but in the values they would honor in their behavior. He told me Futurice had been a value driven company from the start. They never wrote them down though, in fear of making them hollow slogans instead of inspiring higher goals. There’s some irony in the fact that they apparently wrote down lots of rules, guidelines and processes along the way, but never the one thing they now needed.

Petri, one of the company’s coaches, came up with the Acid Tests of Trust and these sum it up quite well:

#1 Do we let people make independent decisions?
#2 Do we expect them to make responsible decisions without verification?

It’s intentions that count

When he told me these rules I thought: “Wow. There’s something that takes courage”. I said so and he just laughed, ‘We are not free of doubts and questions, but you have to believe.” For Tuomas and his people ‘trust’ should go far beyond simple delegation. They firmly believe in the fact that people want to make the right decision. And that even bad decisions are made by people that had the intention of doing something right. That a lot of things are context driven. Or that it isn’t so much the decision that was wrong, but that it clashed with a system that still wasn’t optimized.

Trust goes several ways

They now work with autonomous teams that are responsible for their own decisions, without waiting for approval or verification. They expanded that trust to their clients as well. For instance, 50% of maintenance work is done without contracts. And they talk with clients not only about what has to be done, but also about what the team’s own challenges in projects are. Futurice and their clients became partners, people you can talk things over with, people you can trust.

Extra benefits

For me their approach, especially the ‘without verification’ part, is revolutionary. It’s the anti-thesis of traditional management, where verification plays a huge role. They told me it’s sometimes difficult. Heck, Tuomas sometimes asks himself, “Why would a reasonable, sensible person do this?” Many find it difficult to look at things from another person’s point of view. But they do it, and with great success. Sure, you are more vulnerable to abuse, as a person and as a company, but trusting people turned out to have some unexpected benefits. Not only did they received trust back – from their own people as well as from clients – their approach helped transaction costs go down and helped speeding up decisions.

Are they done yet? No. But Futurice was elected A Great Place to Work 2012, has seen a profitable growth for the last 8 years and achieves high scores in customer satisfaction numbers. So it sure looks like they are on to something.

Still to be continued…

Photo: Alekon Pictures (Unsplash)


One thought on "Trusting people, why would a reasonable person do that? The Futurice story, part 2"

  • Gavin says:

    Business contracts, legal stuff, they are all just for bad (worst) days, not for the good ones, isn’t it? I really liked the idea of ‘being a partner’ instead of ‘serving to a client’. +1

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