JongeHonden : kick-off for enthusiastic, entrepreneurial academics
2014 – JongeHonden (YoungDogs) is a secondment and consultancy firm, located in Utrecht. They name themselves JongeHonden because in the Netherlands this stands for a young, enthusiastic and entrepeneurial spirit. The firm has been founded in 2000. JongeHonden offers flexible capacity to other organizations with junior supporters who can work within projects, teams or departments. JongeHonden is especially active in spatial planning, healthcare and education. “Jonge honden” (anyone who works for the firm JongeHonden) are versatile: they can be employed as researchers, organizers, communicators and consultants. Currently (spring 2014) twenty-two Jonge Honden are employed. The common denominator among them is that all have just completed their higher education or have a maximum of two years of work experience. On Fridays, all jonge honden gather at their own office to manage the operational business together.
JongeHonden operates as a networking organization: the organizational structure is set up to consist of both entrepreneurs and employees who cooperate with each other to find work. Jonge honden all seem to have equal responsibility, as every jonge hond is involved in acquisition and does his own administration. The only difference between entrepreneurs and employees is that entrepeneurs are financially responsible. All jonge honden operate under the same name: JongeHonden Ltd. Within the Ltd. employees who wish to undertake a business can start a limited partnership (LP) or buy out another entrepreneur’s LP. Then they can take on employees within the LP. There is also room for jonge honden who want to be entrepreneurs but do not want to hire staff. Those jonge honden can start a LP for themselves and are seen as freelancers.
Employment relations at JongeHonden are characterized by a high degree of autonomy and flexibility. On the one hand, jonge honden are free to autonomously develop themselves as much as possible according to their own choice: they can freely choose which employer they would like to work for and choose which internal tasks they want to do for JongeHonden. Due to this high degree of autonomy everyone does work he or she likes and thus stays engaged. On the other hand, the employment relationship is flexible, everyone leaves JongeHonden after a few years. Employees have temporary contracts, after having worked at the company for three years, they have to leave. Entrepreneurs are able to stay longer but are also expected to transfer their business to a new entrepreneur or to close down the business. By structurally organizing a steady flow of new employees, the organization experiences a continuous stream of fresh insights and it remains open to new initiatives.
Motive and goals
The founders of JongeHonden decided to start their own business because they wanted to have the freedom in choosing who to work for and what type of work to do. They wanted anybody working at JongeHonden to experience this same kind of freedom. Employees had to decide for themselves for whom they would like to work and what type of work they would like to do. This way the specific abilities of every jonge hond are used and valued as much as possible. It is from this belief that the idea to run a business together rose. JongeHonden’ founders are currently not involved in the operational management of the company anymore, but they are limited partners in the LPs. Yet, the principle of giving freedom in choosing work and doing business together continues to be embedded in the organization.
In line with having autonomy, the particular organizational structure, consisting of LPs, is designed to stimulate entrepeneurship. Indeed, the LPs can be easily set up and are designed to be short-lived in order to leave space for new aspiring entrepeneurs. This way employees have the best possibilities to develop themselves by becoming entrepreneurs.
JongeHonden Ltd. consists of multiple LPs. LPs are formed by the entrepreneurs and the founders of JongeHonden. The entrepreneurs act as the general partner, they have management authority and personal liability and have to contribute a percentage of their profit to JongeHonden Ltd. for usage of the name, network and the concept JongeHonden. The founders are passive investors with no management authority who have the role of limited partner but receive a percentage of the profit from the LP. In case of taking over an LP there is a possibility to pay ex-entrepreneurs a percentage of the profit.
Everybody, entrepreneurs and employees alike, work in principle four out of five days for external clients. On Fridays, an important day for JongeHonden, everybody gathers at the office to run the organization together. An important part of this day is acquisition. As previously mentioned, anyone can decide for themselves where one would like to do an acquisition. Jonge honden are themselves responsible for getting work, but they help each other when necessary, for instance by passing on work to each other. In case the acquisition processes are not succesfull, JongeHonden can easily downsize because everyone works temporarily , thus leading to a rapid inflow and outflow of employees.
As previously mentioned, in principle, jonge honden do all tasks themselves leading to a flat organization. For example, everybody issues invoices and keeps track of billable hours. Tasks such as promotion, recruitment, selection, and facilities management are divided amongst the jonge honden themselves and executed in project-teams. Project-teams’ tasks also include, for instance, organizing a meeting or an event with clients, and managing the launching of a new website.
Jonge honden decide for themselves which tasks they would like to pick up and they are stimulated and encouraged to think of new ideas for internal projects. In this whole process young dogs are given a lot of freedom and trust and everyone is treated as an equal. In return, the entrepreneurs expect that everyone also takes responsibility.
To be prepared for this way of working, new employees are assigned a mentor and undergo some internal trainings, including practical workshops on how to do acquisition and projectmanagement, and a more theoretical course on the history of JongeHonden. After the first extension of the labour contract, which occurs after six months of employment, one receives a budget for personal development which can be freely spend to develop one’s skills. Furthermore, once every two months, there is a personal development session.
Within a LP, coordination concerning the state of affairs (with the entrepreneur and his/her employees) takes place once a month. Once every 6 weeks a peer-to-peer coaching session takes place within every LP on a topic which is picked by the team. There is also a monthly consultation among the entrepreneurs for internal coordination, on topics such as which LP should take on a new employee, and for deciding towards which direction JongeHonden will be heading.
Jonge honden who want to become an entrepreneur have to write a business plan which needs to be approved by all the entrepreneurs along with the founders of JongeHonden. When the plan is approved, the aspiring entrepreneurs can buy out a general partner from an LP or start their own LP.
A yearly meeting is also organized in order to involve JongeHonden’ former entrepreneurs in networking and sharing ideas. Networking is particularly important for JongeHonden because it leads to new business opportunities.
Over almost 14 years JongeHonden operates successfully. Quickly after the organization was founded, it grew from two to 45 people and three locations. After a small amount of turnover, at the time of the economic crisis, the amount of people working at Jonge Honden has purposefully been set around 25. The organisation never had to fire employees as a consequence of financial underperformance. The financial results are positive. According to the interviewee, there is a high sense of solidarity among young dogs, as they are willing to share valuable information or job positions, and to help each other and think along. For example, everybody tries to find new work, even when they are busy themselves., because they see the value of contributing to potentially new work for the future. Employees are involved, entrepreneurial, and they think about the future of the organization without fear of voicing their criticism if they don’t agree with certain decisions. Because there is a lot of autonomy and freedom and everybody is seen as equal, young dogs don’t perceive a difference in hierarchy. This positive atmosphere in the organization leads to a safe environment where one feels safe to propose new ideas and to explore them in practice. This entrepreneurial mindset is also facilitated because of the high in and outflow of young dogs, which creates space to try out new ideas and initiatives. This flow of people within JongeHonden has a purpose: There will be nobody in the organization who says ‘we have already executed this idea’. This way, the wheel will probably be reinvented many times, but each employee will have the possibility to develop his or her own creative solutions. At the same time, the high level of freedom at JongeHonden can sometimes be experienced as scary because one has to take initiative himself; nobody will tell you what to do. In conclusion, it can be said that the working method of JongeHonden resembles a networking organization and that this firm is a good and learnfull educating first experience for employees.
More information about JongeHonden is available through their website:
Theme’s: talent development, dynamic management and leadership, flexible organisation, intrapreneurship, teamworking,