Giving Your Employees Freedom is the Key to Success, Says Isaac Getz

In: BlogDate: Apr 24, 2024By: Ben Rogers

"In every aspect of our lives — in politics, in economics, in entertainment, and in family life — we demand the freedom to decide matters for ourselves. And yet when it comes to our work lives, far too many people are stifled, constrained, hemmed in, and tied down by bureaucracy and rules that have nothing to do with allowing them to do the best they can in their jobs. These constraints leave people feeling out of control of their work lives, which, in turn, leads to stress, fatigue, and disengagement from work."

Isaac Getz is an author, senior business advisor and professor at the ESCP Business School. He is an instrumental figure in the modern corporate liberation movement and has worked with numerous companies across Europe and in Canada. Isaac will be speaking at our 2024 Happy Workplaces Conference on Wednesday 15th May.

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For Isaac, liberated companies are ones that provide their employees with freedom and autonomy and consequently thrive. One company Isaac has worked with to transform their culture in this manner was Michelin, which he described as “the world’s deepest and most ambitious” transformation.

"From 2013 on, I had the privilege of being involved in Michelin transformation based on responsibility and freedom of its teams. I could thus see from a front row seat how this transformation became perhaps the world deepest and most ambitious one. By genuinely seeking to allow people to live the good life at work, the company — consequently — thrived."

In his 2016 book Freedom, Inc., Isaac discusses years of research into liberated companies and what makes them successful. One example he gives is the CEO of 3M, William L. McKnight, who said in 1924 that "if you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need."

Isaac's key message is that leaders must create a culture of freedom and autonomy, giving employees the power to make their own decisions.

Why create a liberated organisation?

For Isaac, organisations that are liberated have an inherent edge over others. Because their priorities are focusing on their employees, opportunities for success present themselves even sometimes unusually.
Writing for Strategy and Business in 2020, Isaac notes that altruistic businesses adapt and succeed, giving the example of a French company adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sterimed, a 900-employee sterile medical supply manufacturer, found in early 2020 that they had a problem. They needed a way of ensuring that all of their employees had access to masks but did not have an easy way of getting the quantity required to provide them to all their employees. Sterimed's CEO Thibaut Hyvernat realised that he could get free samples from one of Sterimed's Chinese clients, as this was not banned by China's export ban on masks. Thibaut ended up with far more than he needed and so shared them with associates and friends. Then he had a realisation. "I could help 20 million friends," he thought.

"Working from his home in suburban Paris, he called an executive team meeting, and in 10 minutes the group decided to launch a totally new activity: importing medical supplies. The company leveraged its core technical, regulatory, and supply chain capabilities to put in place the needed financing and logistics. By mid-April, the company had brought 25 million masks from China to France."

How to create a culture of freedom for your people

In Freedom Inc., Isaac gives some general guidance about how to create a liberated organisation whilst noting that although the principles are universal, each leader has to apply them in a unique set of circumstances.

His four tips for creating a liberated organisation are:

  1. Stop telling and start listening. "Then, remove all the symbols and practices that prevent your people from feeling intrinsically equal."
  2. Start openly and actively sharing your vision of the company so people will 'own' it. "But don’t do this before Step 1 because people who are not treated as equals will leave you alone with your vision."
  3. Stop trying to motivate people. "Instead, build an environment that allows people to grow and self-direct — and let them motivate themselves. If they understand the vision from Step 2, they’ll take care of the rest if you let them."
  4. Stay alert. "To keep your company free, become the culture keeper. In this role, as liberating leader Bob Davids says, "one drop of urine in the soup is too much — and you can’t get it out." The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

Isaac Getz will be speaking on Liberated Companies and treating your employees like adults at the 2024 Happy Workplaces Conference on Wednesday 15th May. This year's conference is a hybrid event, held both Live Online via Zoom and in the classroom at Happy. However you choose to join us, there will be plenty of interaction, discussion, space for reflection and opportunities to network with others.

Related resources

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Ben Rogers

Ben Rogers is a Project Manager and IT expert, who was a permanent member of staff at for Happy for 5 years. He now works freelance as a project manager and writer. He is a big fan of Excel spreadsheets, especially Pivot Tables and XLOOKUP.

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Next Conference: 2025 Happy Workplaces Conference

Our Happy Workplaces Conference is our biggest event of the year, and we'd love for you to join us on Wednesday 25th June!

Our 2024 event was our first ever hybrid event, and so we hope to run next year's in the same way. We will host up to 50 people face-to-face at Happy's HQ in Aldgate, London, and we can host up to 200 people online via Zoom. However you choose to join, there will be interaction, discussion, space for reflection and opportunities to network with others.

Stay tuned for full details of our speakers for next year's event. As always, our speakers share practical, hands-on ideas that you can implement to create happy and engaged workplaces.

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