The results of four years of self-organization at ABN AMRO: ‘We never want to go back!’

By Klaas Ariaans – Managing Director Consumers Clients – 2022 –  LinkedIn

Four years ago at ABN AMRO, we embarked on a journey that I often hear is unique to the corporate world: With 3,500 people, we went self-organizing. We reduced management by 95 percent and we started making digital personal. We chose, in short, to do things radically differently. Very nice of course, but what has it taught me and what has it given us?

The main conclusion after four years of self-organization is actually quite simple: The results are positive for the customer, for the employee and for the organization. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) continues to rise every year, so customer appreciation is higher and higher. Employees are also positive about the changes. After a dip in 2019, we have been scoring higher in terms of employee satisfaction for two years now than in the years before the transition. And on the third axis – the organization – we see that we have been able to maintain structural savings. In addition, we have achieved all the commercial goals in recent years, despite the many changes we have experienced, not only inside, but also outside the company.

But the result that has perhaps made the most impact is the quote, “we never want to go back. This quote comes from interviews VU conducted with teams to ask how they experienced self-organization. Of course there are always points to improve, but in no way do employees want to go back to the old tightly hierarchical organization they came from.

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Results in times of crisis

In these four years, we have also seen the impact of COVID-19.Our office staff figured out in an afternoon how to keep their offices safely open.Faster than we could have ever managed top down.We also learned that self-organization is a journey that takes years and is never finished. Each year we learn more, employees ask for more space and we respond again to changes in our environment.Thus, we look at self-organization differently now than we did after one year and after two years.I also learned the importance of psychological safety and role clarity.

The main success factor, as far as I am concerned, is: It starts with why.Or, a rock-solid belief that if you give employees the trust and space they are going to do the right things for our customers.Our employees are the people our customers have direct contact with every day. It is up to us as leaders to create an environment where employees can do that.

Professor Michael Wade of the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) puts it this way: “Cultural change is a key element for any transformation – if you don’t have the right mindset in place, the transformation will almost certainly fail.ABN Amro represents one of the most radical and impressive examples of cultural transformation I have seen. These changes, including a major move to self-organizing teams, underpinned a large-scale digital transformation that set them up well for the challenges to come, including coping with the Covid-19 pandemic.

So much for an initial reflection on four years of “radical different organizing. I have learned an awful lot from it and my passion to share those ‘lessons learned’ has only increased. Therefore, in a series of subsequent blogs, I will discuss a number of concrete topics in more detail. In this series, I will take you through our latest insights, based in part on our research with the VU that has been ongoing since its inception.

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