9. From distrust to trust
The success of Interpolis
Trust, responsibility and freedom
In 1990 Rabobank acquired nearly all shares of Interpolis. In this way a big bank/insurance-combination developed. The merger did not bring Interpolis the desired step forward. After an examination it became clear that some 700 employees should have to be fired. The organisation was directly inwardly, official, according to protocol and too far strayed from the customer need. That meant that customer were helped badly and were assailed with letters and policies in incomprehensible language.
In his analysis the former chairman of the board Piet van Schijndel stated that the assumptions of the insurers were based on distrust. Employees and experts had to check if the damages that were reported were justified indeed. All mechanisms of check were aimed at distrusting the client. That mentality had sneaked into the business. Much time and energy were put into check and administration. The course had to changed rigorously: from distrust to trust.
This led to a big reorganisation in 1996. Interpolis wanted to seize the opportunity from insurer to entrepreneur. The client had to be central again. The three V’s were chosen for. Employees should get more vertrouwen (trust), verantwoordelijkheid (responsibility) and vrijheid (freedom) and the organisation had to be flatter. For this a big flexibility was needed.
This making flexible had to be physically visible and perceptible. In cooperation with Veldhoen and Company the ‘flexible office concept’ was introduced then. Employees could no longer get a fixed working place but could sit down where there was room. This was also true for the management. It was a revolutionary way of thinking and it helped the employees to start working in a very different way. The office concept played an important role in the change of culture of the company in this way.
Making flexible
At the insurer nobody has a fixed working place anymore. Employees can choose for a working place that suits them best and that suits the work they do best. In the main office an area has been created with different rooms (clubhouses) with an atmosphere of their own. Here employees combine daily activities as working, consulting, meeting, relaxing and eating. They concept of working flexibly caused a change in culture. Because working flexibly is not something you do by just changing the furniture. It also has to be rooted in the thinking and acting. Employees of Interpolis do not have to time. For Interpolis the motto is true: if the work is finished. If that is at home or at the office that is left to the employee himself. In that way they are leading in tele-working in the Netherlands.
Positioning and effectiveness
In 1999 Interpolis started thinking about positioning the brand. Internally a lot had changed in the meantime. The change in culture was a fact ant the employees were very busy building with each other a much better and more efficient insurance company. From investigation it seemed that the client still had some complaints:
• They experienced much distrust toward insurers.
• They felt ‘a number’.
• They were irritated by ‘the small print’
Interpolis wanted to position itself distinctively. The outcome of the client research after the directions of positioning were clear. Almost unanimously the ‘clear insurer’ was chosen for. Since they had been busy putting their house straight since 1996 the internal organisation had reached an important level in the area of ‘being clear’ in the meantime. It was about time to label this for the outside world. ‘Clear as glass’ was chosen for.
The effectiveness was sharpened but not only just for quantitative reasons. Client who reported theft or damage had to go through ‘a mill’ before. At present the money is remitted directly after the mention. This prevents frustrations and very much loss of time and energy. But also in the restaurants of Interpolis in Tilburg the employees can take food themselves. Previously they had to pay at the cashier. At present the employees scan the food themselves. Less control, fewer costs and more trust. The strategy penetrated the mentality of the entire company.
Interpolis   Crystal-clear resistance from inside
Interpolis started the crystal-clear campaign with a complete series of commercials in which they made conditions to themselves instead of the client. These were very striking commercials on television in 2000 which were recorded in the office building of Interpolis. Thus you saw a man who swept with one move all conditions from the table. The commercials certainly had a great impact. However there was one big problem: the internal organisation did not recognize itself in the types that were used. In this way internal resistance developed against this way of making commercials. Crystal-clear created for the management an unexpected consequence. The personnel made clear in a crystal-clear way that they could not identify with the commercials. The management changed course. In 2001 a new series of commercials was started aimed at the ‘all-in-one policy’. The first one of these series ran right away: ‘one phone-call and it is settled.’ Then on top of that came the ‘leave the receipts at home’. The message came across well externally as well as internally. The employees were rightly proud that they could simply realize these important claims. It could be the beginning of a rising line in the familiarity with the name and preference of brand. Profit was doubled for years.
Internal icons
Interpolis is a company that likes to work with internal icons to make the company message clear. The essence of ‘crystal-clear’ basically originates from trust. This is made clear in all possible ways:
• The building itself is an icon. The working spaces are furnished in a very inspiring way in order to please the employees. In this way Interpolis wants to link people to itself. Working, consulting, meeting, relaxing and eating are combined in a labour environment.
• There is much glass in the consulting-rooms. In this way there is an open communication.
• The lunches are paid for by the employees themselves without intervention of anyone.
• The ‘little men’ of Interpolis have become a notion in the meantime. As a customer you can rely on it that you are not alone if it comes to it.
• Employees can choose to work partly at home.
• Everybody is always on call via a cordless telephone.
These icons help reminding the employees every day that they want to work in a special way. The company offers employees trust, freedom and responsibility to arrange their work in such a way that it fits their personal wishes.
The changes had a spin-off to other companies. For example to those who made the furniture adjustable and took care that there were connections everywhere to get into the internal network.
Changes in mentality were not self-evident for all employees. In order to check that arrangements that were necessary were fulfilled, a shadow company was called in. That checked all kinds of essential arrangement, for instance if the telephone was really picked up within three times, if calls were indeed not linked through and if indeed the client was phoned again instead of the other way round. Functioning or not functioning within the new guidelines was partly linked to a flexible part of the salary. Because making flexible led to fewer overhead costs money could be spend ‘in a different way.’ Thus the main building was furnished by artists into very challenging and aesthetic rooms.
Of course not all changes took place to full satisfaction of all those involved but the company has become spectacularly healthy. Trust proved to be ‘crystal-clear’ and as easy as successful. In 2007 Interpolis merged with Achmea and the question arose how this concept can be maintained in the new reality.

Cell division instead of merger
Businessman and idealist Eckart Wintzen was a multimillionaire. He amassed his capital by selling the automation company BSO which he had grow in twenty years into a multinational with more than 10,000 employees. In this respect he used the remarkable philosophy: cell division. When the company started growing he wanted to keep the ‘family feeling’. “Drinking a beer on Friday to discuss all the big and little problems.” Every time a branch reached a size of more than 50 employees, it was resolutely split up and two independent companies developed which had to survive in their own region. Wintzen wrote TRUST in capitals. He stated that the attention had to be for the client and not for the own procedures. That cost more money but you needed to spend less money on marketing to win back your clients.
Durable relationships develop if salesmen and clients look together what they can mean for each other.


Not having listened to the customer
In 1979 Philips introduced the video 2000 system. Philips invested much time and money in what should become the pride of all ‘consumer video systems’. The system was a technical wonder. The quality of image was better than VHS and Betamax. Philips convinced many consumers with : reversible cassettes, elaborate search functions on the tape, a modern appearance, small push buttons and a high quality of image.
And then it went wrong. Besides the fact that they came onto the market later than VHS and Betamax, Philips was very reserved about approving of tapes with an erotic content. And porn seemed to be the ‘crucial market’! The company did not deliver what the customer asked for.
In order to get a reasonable share of the market Philips released the technique to ‘partners’ as Grundig, ITT, Aristona, B&O and Universum (Otto).
At present the slogan of Philips is: Sense and simplicity. Things are thought about from the head the of the customer!

‘Listening to the client’ often gets a different sound in situations of counselling. However the principle is comparable. What is the value of the results if they are considered from the point of view of the counsellor and not from the child? An organisation is ‘in order’ if the salesman and the customer, or the counsellor and the child support a joint story.
The circle round
When can the institution or the organisation be satisfied? Simply if the intentions of the counsellors and the stories and behaviour of the children correspond. Counsellors are able to tell ‘what they want to achieve with the world’ and what that means for ‘their children’. They have a view of what they want with and for the children. They can translate those ambitions into intentions. If the children tell the same story in their own words the circle is round. But if there is a gap between the intentions of the counsellors and the experiences of the children there is still a lot to be done.
Institutes that have determined their intentions together with counsellors who recognize themselves in this, can practise together their values. Then the children will experience a link between the diversity of the counsellors that is inescapable.
Important that is in fact also fun
About big and little stories
I am visiting a primary school in North Holland that has been trying for years to work form a declaration of intentions. In the morning I go into the classes. The atmosphere is very pleasant. The teachers know all children and speak with much attention and respect. Generally the classes are counselled by two teachers. The ambulant hours have been mainly used in the classes. During the break all teachers are outside. The children are playing in the playground, in the herb garden, in the animal field and in the little wood. It all seems to be going of itself. However they attract many children from the region to whom much extra care is to be given.
What is the strength of these teachers?
What is the strength of the concept?
What is the strength of the apparent simplicity?
The most pleasant does not remain the most pleasant
In group 6,7,8 there are Naut and Joren. I ask them why they are sitting together. “Oh”, Naut says, “at the beginning of the week we draw cards and we have to sit with the children that have the same card.”
“What do you think about that?”
They agree together: “Of course we would rather choose ourselves with whom we sit. ”
Joren continues: “Yes, and then we would sit together with all the boys. That is fun.”
I look at them together. “Really?” I ask.
They look at each other and laugh.
“Yes, we do want the most pleasant, ” Naut says while he is looking at me and Joren alternatively. “But in fact we do not. Look, if we are always sitting together with the boys, we are talking so much that we do not learn a lot anymore. So we are satisfied because this is fun and the most pleasant does not remain the most pleasant, I think.”
Important that is in fact also fun
Sophie from group 4/5 is doing arithmetic alone in the hall. The rest of the group is engaged in project work.
“The others are working on a project and you are doing arithmetic.”
“Yes”, she says, “I think that is fun. I am good at it. In fact it is my favourite work. And I may choose this also in the project time.”
“Are you always allowed to choose yourself? ”
She is going to sit properly: “No, you are often allowed to choose, but some tasks you have to do. For example reading comprehension that is obligatory.”
“Why do you mention reading comprehension?”
“Well, I do not like that so much. If I was allowed to choose I think I would not do it.”
She takes a pause to think and then says: “Well look, reading comprehension makes you read faster and understand things better and I feel that is important. I can also use it for instance for arithmetic and for projects…. Yes, reading comprehension is not fun but it is important. That is in fact also fun. ”
You can be the one who does not get a turn
In the classroom of group 4/5 the children are engaged in all kinds of activities. Most of them have chosen ‘the Romans’ as project item. I join Raoul, Thijs and Boris. While they are drawing they tell what they all know about the Romans. They compliment each other on their drawings. I join them with all my heart. I ask them if they have chosen this activity themselves.
Thijs explains: “All the things you can do are on the blackboard. We thought of some and the teacher thought of some. You can choose during project time what you want to do.”
“May you know for yourself with whom you are going to work?”
“Yes, in fact we may.” Boris reacted with a serious face. “but for instance at the marble course you are only allowed to play with two children at a time.”
“What do you think about that?”
“When we used to play at the marble course with more children we were in fact consulting with each other the whole afternoon. One person wanted this and the other person wanted that. We did not really play then. Now we do with two children.”
“Can you always choose for the marble course?”
“No, not really,” Raoul says, “If it has been your turn once, then the other children are allowed.”
Thijs adds: “You may only do the marble course once, which is not fun, but otherwise the other children cannot have a turn.”
“What do you think about that?”
“That is good because you can also be the one yourself who does not get a turn otherwise.
Do you understand?”
I understand.
Geertje   The small and the big story linked
In the afternoon we discuss these observations with the teachers and established that the children tell ‘the big story’ in their ‘small stories’ in their own words. It is not about good or bad; there is no judgement. The children understand why the things are the way they are. They are listened to but the individual children do not determine the standard. They know why things go the way they go. The teachers have much feeling for what occupies the children. The children have much feeling for the organisation which go beyond their personal wishes. In this way the important small story of the classroom practice and the big story of the declaration of intentions are linked.
Warcraft   42 lives to go for ‘today’s youth’
My nephew of 12 plays ‘Warcraft’ on the internet. He walks through different worlds, collects, fights and enters the most exciting adventures virtually. He explains to me how he goes from one world to the other, what he needs to survive, who are his enemies. I do not have the idea I would survive.
When he wants to demonstrate to me how you fight a bear I have a good look at the game. He looks at me for a moment and then concentrates on the enormous beast that is running towards him.
His right hand is tensely on the mouse and his left hand on the keyboard. With inimitable gestures he touches the fire across the screen. The bear seems not to have the ghost of a chance against the violence my nephew puts in. However, the bear does not own defeat and knows how to hit my nephew to the ghost kingdom with a lethal strike. He dies in his transparent body and enters a lovely, white space. “Shit” he says, looks at me, shakes his head and looks at the screen again. “I do not feel like walking all the way back again. I will buy myself back again. Let me see. I do not feel like walking all the way back again. I will buy myself back again. Let me see. Yes….. I still have 42 lives to go.”
A moment later my nephew is walking around alive again ready to attack a new bear. I walk outside and have to think of the conversations that I had with counsellors about ‘the mentality’ of the children in their class. “They do not know the value of things anymore. They are easy-going . They zap if they do not like it. They cannot persevere if it is necessary.”
I do know that my nephew is not mistaken en does know that he has only got one life but still… does the virtual make-ability suggest something? When I see him play football I do no think so but I do not know his other worlds well enough.
Stealth Fighter   Stealth Education
What pretensions do we have? What do we see well and what do we not see (yet). With reference to these questions it is good to realize that we cannot see a lot literally. Marc Veldhoven has taken the initiative of the knowledge circle ‘Stealth education’: “The Stealth Fighter is the name of a military aeroplane that is practically invisible for the hostile radar.
This is because of the peculiar shape of the plane, the signal absorbing material the plane is made of and the special engines that leave no trace of heat behind.The plane cannot be flown without a computer. Stealth Education is – analogous to the Stealth Fighter – the development of children which is practically invisible for educators. Unless we learn to look differently and learn to look at other matters.”In the USA the new generation is also called the digital natives. They were born in a digital world and have grown up with it. They consider this world as a fact. Contrary to their educators. They are the digital foreigners. They have assimilated later. If they have really succeeded in doing that. This puts question to how development and learning take place.
Veldhoven: “Research shows that 70 per cent of learning is informal (read: takes place outside school). So school is not the director of learning. The youngsters themselves are, consciously or unconsciously, director of their own learning processes. It is up to the school to define and form a new role.” Professor dr. Jelle Jolles of the Institute Brains and Behaviour, connected to the University of Maastricht says: “Different kinds of teachers must be accessible for the possibility that the complex behaviour and the skill problems they have to cope with, can be related to factors which are formally outside his or her scope such as in the area of biology, attention and the social system and yet they have to be taken into account for the benefit of an optimal development of the child in a changing environment.”
Marc Prensky is an authority in the field of ‘digital game-based learning’: Of course you’re worried. You have no idea what’s going on. “My parents said that videogames were pointless and a complete waste of money, time and brain cells” (statement of a 14-year-old). In all our interviews with parents, we never found a parent who knew what their kid was doing.”
On the basis of talks with gaming participants the knowledge circle ‘Stealth education’ determined that games contain a number of active ingredients.
These are:
- Immediacy: immediate effect and direct feedback
- Competition: with yourself and sometimes with others, to the limits of the competition.
- World of experience and atmosphere: stimulating and imaginative
- Voluntariness: freedom of acting
- Identity: experimenting with roles and identities - Making mistakes is allowed: real room for experimenting
- Influence / Manager Of Your Own Destiny: being able to make individual choices
- Community / social experiment: linkedness with others, belonging to something
These results correspond with the results from literature (see among others Games and Learning Handbook, Nesta Futurelab, 2005)
The knowledge circle ‘Stealth education’ has determined that Games are okay. They play a good role in the social education of young people. Youngsters learn to think in scenarios. It contributes to a view on causality. Thinking logically is developed. One learns to combine (throughout time). The mental-cognitive level of gamers is high. Though it is essential to evaluate well with them. The learning process has to be labelled (expressed in language – learning of a higher order).
The children in the classroom will be smarter than you yourself.
Previous: Chapter 8
Next: Chapter 10