BeanTalk: Jan Bal

Beanmachine Founder

A human-centered approach to building adaptive organisations.

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In this very first podcast talk by Bean Greet Verhaest with Jan Bal, co-founder of Beanmachine, they discussed the Beanmachine’s unique approach to organizational development and their commitment to a human-centered work environment. Jan shed light on the company’s cooperative structure, their emphasis on collaboration among senior consultants, and their aim to break away from traditional hierarchical consulting models. This article delves deeper into their discussion, providing insights into Beanmachine’s principles and practices, as well as Jan’s perspectives on embracing change, fostering thriving work environments, and the importance of a human-centered approach.

Jan Bal introduced Beanmachine as a cooperative founded in 2015, comprising senior consultants specializing in the intersection of organizational strategy, structures, and the crucial role of people and culture in an organization’s positioning, transformation, and repositioning. They sought to challenge conventional organizational design principles prevalent in the consulting industry, such as the top-down pyramid structure with a few partners and a multitude of young consultants carrying out the work. Jan explained, “We wanted to break away from that model because we believe it is more enjoyable to work with peers, and clients are more willing to invest when they know that any Beanmachine consultant who comes to their organization is someone of stature and caliber.”

Core principles: peer collaboration, tools, and data-driven insights

Jan emphasized two key principles that Beanmachine incorporated into their approach. Firstly, they promote collaboration among peers, creating a work environment where experienced professionals work together. He said, “We invite consultants to bring their expertise and unpack their ‘backpack’ of knowledge and experience.” This approach challenges the stereotype of a senior partner selling a service only to be replaced by junior or mid-level consultants during the project execution phase.

Secondly, Beanmachine actively incorporates tools and data-driven insights into their interventions. Jan explained, “We work with scripts and playbooks that support various interactive methodologies, combining analog and digital tools. This allows us to generate and leverage data from our interventions, providing valuable insights to clients and enabling us to adapt our approach accordingly.” By integrating these principles, Beanmachine aims to provide a holistic and impactful organizational development experience.

Beanmachine’s client engagement: the human-centered approach

Jan shared how Beanmachine has refined their focus over the years, aiming to work with clients who prioritize putting people at the center of their organizations. He stated, “We want clients who value collaboration in various forms, not just within their teams but also beyond their organization. We also seek clients who prioritize the well-being of individuals within their organization, along with a broader focus on creating a healthier environment that extends to the world around them.”

However, Jan acknowledged that Beanmachine still receives requests for operational and pragmatic solutions. He explained the need to balance these demands while also staying true to their core principles. “We received a valuable piece of advice from a consultant who mentored us, urging us not to be the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ because that would mean we excel in nothing. So, we listed the areas where we believe in our expertise and where clients repeatedly turn to us for assistance.”

Four Pillars: Adaptive, Human-Centered, Communities at Work, and Thriving

Jan further elaborated on the four pillars that define Beanmachine’s core focus:

  1. Adaptive: Beanmachine helps organizations build adaptability, enabling them to reflect on their operations and make necessary adjustments.
  2. Human-centered: Beanmachine starts by identifying the human aspect behind operational challenges, emphasizing the importance of understanding and addressing individuals’ needs.
  3. Communities at work: Beanmachine encourages a broader perspective that goes beyond individual teams, fostering collaboration across boundaries and recognizing the significance of diverse networks.
  4. To Thrive: Beanmachine aims to create environments where individuals can flourish professionally, contribute to their organizations, and ultimately make a positive impact on the world.

Navigating change: Beanmachine’s perspective

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Greet Verhaest and Jan Bal delved into Beanmachine’s approach to change. Jan highlighted Beanmachine’s growth as an organization and its connection to change, emphasizing their belief in harnessing the potential of individuals. He shared, “We, as business leaders, have always believed that we thrive on people’s potential. As we expanded our team, we ensured that new members could bring their experience and expertise to the table.”

Jan emphasized that Beanmachine’s design principles and collaborative approach play a crucial role in navigating change. He explained, “We engage in co-creation, working intensively with all the consultants, collectively assessing where we stand, where we want to go, and identifying our strengths. We also examine the baggage we can let go of. It’s a deeply human and culture-driven process, and our structure evolves accordingly.”

Responding to change: sense-making and customer empathy

Greet and Jan explored how Beanmachine responds to the changes happening in the business landscape. Jan highlighted the evolving nature of work, with many clients adopting new ways of working, such as time and location-independent collaboration. He reflected on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, stating, “The pandemic accelerated remote work, cross-border collaboration, and the avoidance of unnecessary meetings and commutes. At Beanmachine, we continued our creative approach to finding the smartest ways to collaborate.”

Jan discussed one of Beanmachine’s offerings, “meeting magic,” which challenges the conventional meeting culture. He explained, “Our first principle is to organize fewer meetings, and when they are necessary, we design them intelligently. We consider the purpose, attendees, and desired outcomes. We strive to understand each client’s adaptive challenges.” By adopting this approach, Beanmachine supports clients in navigating change while ensuring efficiency and effectiveness.

Human-centered results: Thriving individuals and organizations

Greet inquired about the indicators of consultants thriving within Beanmachine. Jan outlined the key elements that contribute to the consultants’ growth and well-being. He emphasized the importance of autonomy, stating, “We grant consultants significant autonomy, enabling them to flourish and leverage their strengths. Entrepreneurial thinking is also encouraged.”

Jan also highlighted the supportive infrastructure at Beanmachine, which removes administrative and technical burdens from consultants, allowing them to focus on their expertise. The company’s structure ensures a sense of belonging through regular team activities, knowledge sharing sessions, and weekly check-ins. Jan emphasized the value of diverse perspectives within the team, with consultants possessing varied backgrounds and expertise. This multi-layered approach empowers consultants to tackle complex client challenges collaboratively.

Jan’s personal Thriving and self-determination

Jan shared his personal approach to thriving, emphasizing the importance of a stable home environment and work-life balance. He acknowledged the impact of personal circumstances on professional performance, stating, “I’ve realized that when something shifts in my personal life, it directly affects my professional performance. Therefore, maintaining a stable home situation is crucial.”

Jan highlighted his ability to disconnect from work and enjoy quality time with friends and family. He emphasized the significance of restful sleep and his extraverted nature, which energizes him when collaborating with others. He added, “I find great joy in interacting with other Beans and working with inspiring clients. Additionally, I enjoy spending time outdoors and engaging in hands-on activities, providing a mental break from the intensity of our work.”

Jan attributed his thriving to the self-determination he experiences at Beanmachine. He expressed gratitude for the freedom and support the company provides, allowing him to excel both personally and professionally. Jan believes that empowering individuals to bring their whole selves to work and adapting work to accommodate their needs can drive success and foster a thriving culture.

Conclusion: Beanmachine’s human-centered approach to organizational development, guided by their core principles of peer collaboration, tools, data-driven insights, adaptability, and human-centricity, sets them apart in the industry. Jan Bal’s insights shed light on their unique perspective, emphasizing the importance of embracing change, creating thriving environments, and prioritizing the well-being of individuals. As Beanmachine continues to evolve, their commitment to customer empathy, sensemaking, and human-centered results remains at the heart of their success.

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