For almost 20 years now, this Swedish company is specialized in digital consulting. It helps companies acquiring and mastering tools and methods to become or remain agile. Crisp consists of currently forty members and works for many big companies such as Spotify (article to be published soon).
We are welcomed by Michael, who came only to share with us about Crisp. He is proud of Crisp’s special management style and he hopes that by sharing their experiences many companies will follow their path. After showing us around their offices, Michael offers us to have breakfast and coffee. What a mistake on our part to had breakfast at the hostel, Crisp’s buffet is much better provided!
As well as during our previous company visits in Sweden we discover warm and well thought workspaces. Truly, the Scandinavian design is not just a cliché! During the visit, two trinkets particularly caught our attention: a moose head plush and a Darth Vader mask. Amused, Michael enjoys explaining us their meaning. The plush symbolizes conflicts and tensions: they must be addressed before a small tension may grow into an ugly conflict symbolized by a metaphorical dead moose head. To avoid this, communication is the magic word. If it’s not enough to resolve a tension, a facilitator is designated to arbitrate the discussion. As for the mask, it is the shadow of the Evil Coach that hangs over the company to remind everyone not to sink into the dark side of management. This fake coach does not hesitate to post satirical articles on the blog of Crisp.
In terms of managerial innovation, Crisp is remarkable on several points: they have no CEO, they control their growth and they have an agile culture built on learning and freedom.
A company without CEO is a dream for many, a utopia for others, for Crisp this is reality. The company has succeeded in flattening its structure and giving up any type of hierarchy. Several years ago, they noticed that the Swedish law do not require them to have CEO. So, they asked themselves: why should they keep one? Thus, they listed the CEO’s tasks and spread them among the members. They are only required to have a board of directors that is elected every year and every Crisper is eligible. However, the board has very limited power. Mainly track cash flow, some practicalities and members happiness. Three times a year, all Crispers gather to take all the important decisions. They are taken by consensus only, and if somebody has a valid objection, something else must be suggested by this person. Crisp has no boss and no hierarchy, but what we felt visiting the company is that everyone feels responsible within the firm. After two years working for Crisp, every employee has the possibility to buy shares of the firm. However, as Michael explains to us, this investment of about a thousand euros has no economic benefits. It does not yield dividends or additional power. Becoming partner is something symbolic, Michael compares it to a marriage. It makes the relationship of the Crisper with the company official. If the act is voluntary, he tells us that almost every member own shares of the company.
Crisp’s prosperity is based on a balance that must be preserved: the company pays close attention to its recruitment and to its size. They do not integrate more than 2 or 3 people a year to protect their culture and communication. To enter the company, you must match with its DNA, its values like freedom and sense of community. Crisp tries also to maintain a diversified team. The recruitment process starts with the introduction of the candidate by a “sponsor”. Then, skills are tested and the applicant will have the opportunity to meet and share with the members of Crisp community. After these steps, if the candidate matches and if no crisper is opposed to the hiring, the new talent is recruited.
The equilibrium of Crisp is also based on another pillar: its organization. The consultants are free to choose their clients, their schedules, their holidays… There is no constraint on their work as long as they respect the DNA of the company. This organization works because consultants are paid according to the work they do. Crisp reverses to its employees everything they bring back excepted 10% and a small fixed part per month to finance the operating costs of the company. Moreover, the remuneration is totally transparent, Crispers know what their co-workers are doing and how much they earned for the company. This system allows the Crisper to set his own goals without creating tensions or judgement. In 2008, the economic context weakened demand and some consultants experienced difficulties in finding assignments, then Crisp decided to set up a reserve fund to help consultants if they have no assignment for a while.
Finally, Michael insisted on the fact that Crispers are free. They chose their own clients. Work assignments are often contracted with the clients by the salesperson of Crisp but then they must also be “sold” to the consultants. Crisp wants to meet the real needs of the company and to do that, Crisp gives the client the right consultant for the right assignment. That is to say the more skilled regarding the need and the more motivated. Thus, Crisp matches a passionate Crisper with the client need.
Another distinctive characteristic of Crisp is that its culture is also very focused on learning and training. Thereby, a Crisper only works for clients 3 or 4 days a week and spends the rest of the time training, learning and teaching. This way, they enrich their skills and knowledge and spend time working on what they like.
If Crisp distinguishes itself by no having CEO, it must not be recognized only for that. Crisp succeeded in building an egalitarian model, a free community of people respectful of the company’s DNA.