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Great leadership is seasoned with a lot of laughs

For the third year in a row, software company AFAS Software ranks #1 on the Best Workplace list among large companies in the Netherlands. It also grabbed the #1 position in Europe this year.

Britt Breure, Director HR & CSR, and Sven de Zeeuw, Customer Support Manager, explain the secret. When ‘crazy’ is a core value and colleagues feel like family, it feels a lot less like work, and a lot more like fun.

“A single initiative or team won’t get you a high score on the Trust Index employee survey or make you a good employer. Trust must be truly embedded in your culture,” Britt begins. “Our colleagues feel seen, heard, and part of the group. We don’t have an employee handbook, but rather one rule: ‘Use common sense in the best interest of AFAS’. This gives colleagues a lot of freedom and responsibility for their own choices.” 

Build the trust

Creating a culture of trust is all about sharing, Britt explains. “Whether it’s about the vision, objectives, a sick colleague or a personal matter, we trust each other in the moments that matter. There are short lines of communication, and our leadership is truly engaged with the business.”

“If you have a good idea, no matter your level of experience, you have the freedom to make it happen,” Sven agrees. “Our Succestival started as a customer appreciation day, and – through colleague feedback – has grown into a whole week of teaching customers about our software and creating unforgettable experiences for them.”

Positivity like that is almost guaranteed to multiply, Britt says. “Our culture of trust led to us being named a Great Place To Work, which had a tangible and positive impact on our business. Our employees are extremely proud of this achievement, and that strengthens our connection even more. And we’ve gotten great media attention because of the honor.”

AFAS does not hire external managers or directors. “We have such great people in house, why would we look elsewhere?”

Live the values

For Britt, clear and consistent company values are central to a great organization. “AFAS’s core values are trust, family, crazy and getting things done. We don’t have to constantly mention them because, as we say, they’re reflected everywhere in our company – including in the coffee, tea, and sugar.”

Sven says he can taste those values as clearly as the coffee. “Trust and the sense of being part of the family are the most supportive and empowering aspects of our workplace. Of course, things don’t always go as planned, but we make sure we learn from mistakes and share our experiences so everyone can benefit. The leaders at AFAS Software regularly work as interns in different departments to stay connected and involved. They lead by example. That’s not always the case in large companies.”

AFAS has one of the most sustainable offices in the Netherlands, with more than 1,000 solar panels, smart sensors and super-clean air.

Make it fun

At AFAS, great leadership is seasoned with a lot of laughs. “Humor is one of the secrets to our success. It can lighten the atmosphere and make the journey a lot more enjoyable for everyone. Coming to the office should be a celebration. And that starts with 100% trust, a safe and secure environment and recognizing the contribution that your people are making. But occasionally being silly and having a lot of fun together are definitely important,” Britt continues.

That ‘fun’ includes everything from fantastic lunches to boat rides on office premises to the monthly Culture Café, when all 700 employees get together to share ideas and updates and have fun together. “I think many AFAS employees can relate when I say that sometimes, my partner gets a bit tired of hearing about how great AFAS is. It’s probably a little bit of jealousy,” Sven laughs.

Score "I consider AFAS a Great Place to Work": 97%

Prioritizing culture

Aim to model your culture after a Best Workplace like AFAS? Prioritize people over strategy. Inject a little crazy and a lot of fun into your company. And make sure leadership is the example you want everyone to follow. But most importantly: show your employees that their voice matters, and their ideas count. After all, it’s not about what’s in the employee handbook, but what your people see and feel every day. 

Curious about all organizations that made the list of 150 best employers of Europe? Check out the full list!

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