3 innovative managerial practices, made in Colombia

*A WORLD TOUR OF MANAGERIAL INNOVATION – To optimize your management practices, you sometimes need to take a step back… And get inspired by what is done elsewhere. With this exploratory approach, our expert in new forms of governance, Luc Bretones, takes you on a journey to the land of managerial innovation. A new stopover in Colombia, where a culture of discomfort, original rituals and the measurement of equity are turning the work landscape upside down.*

After my pre-Covid world tour of managerial innovation, I am repeating my journey, this time by proxy, via my young friends from the “Managerial Odyssey”, Romain and Clément Meyer. They stopped over in Colombia and this country stimulates my expert appetite by its very traditional organizational character and its extensive work practices. What could be more normal than working on weekends after a busy week?

Just as Medellin went from being the most dangerous city in the world in 1991 to “the most innovative” in 2013 according to Urban Land Magazine and five years later to “the hottest destination in South America” according to TripAdvisor, I think that work patterns are being shifted by pioneers. We went to meet them.

Finding comfort outside of one's comfort zone

To change the world, you have to start with education. Camilo Bonilla runs the Quántica school and says it with vigor: “I am obsessed with action, and what I love most is to see people feel life with glowing eyes and adrenaline in their veins, when they try something that, for some reason, connects with them from within and beyond.” Quántica promotes an education adapted to the real world and gives a clear message to its students: “Yes, you can go further, I believe in you and in what you want to be”. The training of transformation leaders aims to put imagination and creativity at the service of the common good. Pedagogical spaces are full of experiments, where one is not afraid of being judged, according to Camilo. His mantra illuminates these values: “You have to learn the rules as an expert, and break them as an artist.”

The “chaordic” (chaos for discomfort zone – order for comfort zone) Model relies on learning by doing and experimenting: “I want students to jump in, not understanding what’s going to happen, feeling the fear, getting mad if someone challenges them, because that’s what happens in the real world. We teach them to get out of their comfort zone. We are never taught how to deal with chaos in school, but life is full of chaos, in the family, at work…”. According to Camilo, developing skills to stay focused in the face of chaos is beneficial. The original model was created by Dee Hock, founder of Visa International, as an organizational system, and used at the university level by the Danish school Kaospilot.

The schooling alternates teaching and emotional journeys through experiences; three concrete examples of which were presented to the Meyer brothers:

  • Service/product inversion: asking students to imagine a new product and turn it into a service or vice versa. Two students created a workshop on emotional intelligence and Camilo introduced chaos by asking them to turn it into a product in two weeks to secure funding. The students ended up creating a book on emotional intelligence with Canva, which was a hit when it came out.
  • The Emotional Independence Exercise: Camilo says that humans expect a reaction from their audience when they deliver good or bad news. The exercise is to not depend on these reactions and to be emotionally self-sufficient because “in the end, the first and most vital of your connections and relationships is with yourself”.
  • The elevator pitch to the power of 10: At the end of the famous elevator pitch exercise, Camilo doesn’t answer anything and only asks: “All right, now I’ll give you 10 minutes to think about it and I want you to sell me the same product, but with a price multiplied by 10”. “You should see the students’ faces!” This practice teaches them to live in situations of discomfort, of stress, which, with experience, will become zones of mastery and comfort. 

Implementing the "passion fruit" ritual

Juliana Villalba, co-founder of CreativeLab, a B Corp firm specializing in social and environmental challenges, develops a governance system that allows everyone to have the greatest possible flexibility while knowing exactly what to deliver. The organization of work is based on a sprint every 15 days and a launch and retrospective meeting facilitated by a “scrum master” (a coach) on the basis of a collaboration tool (task tracking, document sharing and exchanges). After this meeting, there is no further control on the managers’ side for the next 15 days. 

The following 4 managerial rituals seemed particularly innovative to us:  
  • La pastilla: every Tuesday morning from 8:00 to 8:30 a.m., an employee speaks about the topic he or she wants (music, metaverse, diversity, travel…). All employees are present and everyone is invited to bounce around and discuss. The topics chosen often correspond to the employees’ passions; this break allows them to get to know each other better.
  • La bebida: before starting the orientation, every new employee must choose a drink, with which his teammates will come to the welcome meeting. In this occasion, the new employee has to introduce themselves using 5 emojis and the others have to try to guess the story that is being told.
  • The “Brother Chiguiro”: Upon arrival, a new recruit has a brother chiguiro (or sponsor) who accompanies them for a month. This person’s role is to answer all their questions, integrate them and train them on the company’s tools.
  • The “passion fruit” ritual: every quarter, the teams meet face-to-face for a few days. This is an important time for a break, conviviality and reflection on the company’s culture. During one of these weekends, Álvaro Mur, Project Director, worked with his team on the creation of an internal newsletter to facilitate communication.

Measuring professional equity to improve it

Colombia is home to a pioneer in gender equity measurement and action plans in Latin America. For Maria Hernandez, Strategy and Innovation Manager at Aequales, “the goal is not to work with a single company, but to create a community where everyone can share their experience, their difficulties, and their progress”. Every month, a session brings together a hundred or so organizations around a chosen topic (harassment, fair recruitment, maternity leave, etc.).

Aequales works on 5 minimum quantitative parameters to measure in order to establish a serious action plan: 

  • Salary gap: check that the gap between men and women is not based on gender biases and reveal them if this is the case.
  • Retention: measure how many people of each gender leave the company and for what reason. 
  • Representation: analyze equal representation at different levels of the organization to see where progress or setbacks are occurring.
  • Promotion: monitor the number of promotions granted by level and by area.
  • Flexibility: observe how many people use such practices (remote work, flexible or non-standard hours, legal assistance, social welfare services, additional paid leave) and the gender gap. 

Aequales helped Telefónica Peru, through the Women in the Network program, to integrate women into the telecommunications sector. Comprehensive technical training for female participants was designed, and the company set a goal of increasing the presence of women from 0.5% to 10% by the end of 2021 in the technical professions. In addition to productivity exceeding expectations, this initiative has had a positive impact on Telefónica Peru as a whole by strengthening its organizational culture.

How could France learn from Colombia?

The Colombian context and its Latin culture are similar in many ways to those of France. The equity measure and the 5-step action plan presented by Aequales are, in my opinion, relevant in France where we observe a slow decrease in inequalities according to INSEE (22% in 2019 versus 28% in 2000). The pandemic has also put the focus back on the importance of autonomy and responsibility within the framework of clear rules and agile rituals that are gradually becoming standards in the world of work.

Finally, acclimatization to one’s discomfort zone, and learning by doing and by being in a situation, should, in my opinion, spread beyond the practical training of new institutions such as The Wagon, Lion or The Platform, into more traditional educational establishments. Like Medellin, let’s embrace transformation!