Love at Work

Love and business may seem an unlikely combination. Here's one company who say it's exactly the thing that makes them so successful.

Author

Philippa Richardson

Through her training and life experience - 3 families, 3 continents, 3 careers (law, marketing, psychology) - Pip has come to believe we all write our own life story. Pip is a Transactional Analysis psychotherapist and creates our service.

If love is a connection of mind, body and soul, how does this work in business?

Readers of Frederic Laloux’s cult book “Reinventing Organizations” might be familiar with FAVI and its many examples of love.

Early on in his tenure as FAVI's CEO, Jean-François Zobrist invited all factory employees to a meeting to figure out the organisation’s raison d’être (prompted by a single order larger than all of FAVI’s existing business. Should they attempt it?).

The employees came up with two reasons: 1) to provide meaningful work in Hallencourt, a rural area in northern France where good work is rare; and 2) to give and receive love from clients.

Yes, love. That is the word the factory workers came up with. And at FAVI, love, a word rarely heard in the world of business, has real meaning.

The way FAVI operates is well documented. Throughout the various accounts you'll find all over the web, Zobrist’s language alone is striking; he uses the words dreams, happiness, passion and love.

Among these accounts are a collection of smaller gestures that tell a greater story. Zobrist embodied his beliefs. He was no stranger to soapbox speeches and singular transformational events, but it’s the small things that were embraced by his operators.

One of his simple requests was for everyone at FAVI to behave like they were at home - where else do we experience more love?

On multiple occasions, Zobrist showed great vulnerability in front of his operators. He once addressed the whole factory floor to explain that FAVI was facing a great and sudden drop in revenue - a familiar problem for many companies in the current climate.

He asked the operators for their help and guidance. The employees’ response was quick and unanimous - they agreed to each work one less day (and receive lower pay) so that nobody would lose their job. Love expressed for each other and the work they do together.

When Zobrist noticed a machinist wearing makeshift protection on their wrists, he was curious and asked what they were for. The operator explained that the machine spat out shards of sharp metal which cut through the overalls and sometimes into the skin. Zobrist stopped the operator immediately exclaiming that he could not let her continue another minute and asked someone to fix the machine that evening.

That weekend, Zobrist saw the same operator painting the now-fixed machine she worked on in bright shades of orange and blue. Surprised, he asked what she was doing. She said that the machine worked so much better now that she wanted it to look good too and decided to come in at the weekend to care for the machine. Love given and love returned.

If we can observe leadership flowing through an organisation then love follows the same path. From Zobrist to the company, to the operators and then between the operators themselves.

If we can observe leadership flowing through an organisation then love follows the same path.

FAVI’s operators don’t just produce products, they offer products into which they have put their heart. A few years ago at Christmas, an operator at FAVI was playing with some excess brass and moulded it into a few small figurines of Santa and his reindeer. He added these into the shipping box. Other operators picked up on the idea and at random times of the year added brass figurines into their shipments, as little tokens of love to their counterparts on assembly lines at Volkswagen or Volvo.

So can love be good for business? After Zobrist introduced this “culture of love” FAVI didn’t miss a single shipment in over 20 years.

When he enquired about defects introduced during night shifts he found there now were none. FAVI successfully competed with producers in countries with lower wages on both quality and price. Their operators found new ways to work more efficiently, created new products and discovered new markets. The operators stayed too, many for over 10 years.

What underpins FAVI’s culture is Zobrist’s strong belief that employees - people - are good: reliable, self-motivated, trustworthy, intelligent.

This article began by saying FAVI is extraordinarily successful. It was. Until Zobrist retired and external shareholders took tight control of the company, its processes and its brass figurines. Its 20% net cash flow first dropped to 15%, then to 10%. Today only 5% is left. All the passion quite literally left the building.