Twenty Twenty Vision

Twenty Twenty Vision

Has it really been twenty years since we were celebrating a new Millennium?  Depending on your perspective, that milestone might seem like yesterday or an age away – given the pace of change, it can feel like both.  Across societies worldwide there’s a cultural tradition of acknowledging significant anniversaries and using these as a time to reflect on the past and set new goals.  And so, as we enter the third decade of the century, it’s perhaps an appropriate moment to consider the road we’ve travelled and the forces and challenges that are likely to lie ahead.

From a leadership perspective, looking back on the last twenty years, the landscape is in many respects still recognizable – the basics of balanced analytical judgement, good people skills, team building and empowerment are little different, if probably more nuanced. But the changes wrought by technology, increasing globalization, public sentiment and the sheer improvements to our understanding of how we best work together – have inexorably transformed the way organizations navigate their routes to success. 

My chief interest lies in the impact these developments – and many others – will have on the demands of senior leadership in the decade ahead.  Of course, cultural trends don’t fit neatly into ten-year cycles, but for the sake of convenience – and with a heavy caveat that ‘futurology’ is out of date the moment it’s voiced- here are my thoughts on some the issues that may most significantly impact the leadership agenda over the next ten years.


The idea of organizational purpose has been gaining ground for some time.  It’s understood that businesses must make a profit to survive, but beyond this there lies an increasingly powerful sentiment that organizations need to play a clearer and more positive role, not only for their direct stakeholders but also in wider society. The growing B Corp movement, which accredits businesses on social and environmental factors, has to date been seen as somewhat ‘alternative’ – but its core message, which envisions business as a force for good while campaigning for a more balanced assessment of positive impacts than profit alone, is increasingly influencing mainstream thinking.  Evidence shows that organizations founded on strong social values have more engaged colleagues, attract talent at less cost and enjoy stronger customer relations and brand reputations. Leadership in the next decade will require greater attention to these issues, not as a requisite of political correctness, but as a means to drive performance.


No organization of size can ignore sustainability in the coming decade.  From an environmental perspective, the pressures are literally rapidly warming up – and with them a need for greater vision and bolder solutions.  Pressure groups demanding targets that would appear, by conventional standards, to be unachievable and unrealistic, are nonetheless impacting public sentiment and with that shaping the policy and legislative agendas.  The challenge for many leaders will be that adopting a ‘road to Damascus’ eco-conversion will be as impractical as continuing to ignore the underlying realities. My expectation is that a combination of technological solutions and ever more stringent legislation (particularly to ensure level playing fields) will help – but, regardless of the detail, it is clear that we will require leaders to step up with urgency and place these issues at the center of our planning.


The last two decades have seen an unprecedented increase in the scope of corporate reporting. Financial performance, though remaining pre-eminent, is now only one among many of the measures that organizations must account for: gender diversity, pay ratios, executive incentives, environmental emissions, health & safety…  This wider assessment of organizational competence will only increase, as will the transparency of data comparison between organizations.  

To some extent, what we have seen is a shift to ‘compliance reporting’, by which organizations have sought to meet the formal requirements but then limited further comment.  I sense is that we will see the pendulum swing the other way, with a greater demand for leaders to provide more detailed narratives that are answerable to (and tested by) the ever-increasing transparency of the data. Accountability and transparency go hand in hand, so we should expect leaders to be more answerable to their stakeholders than ever before.


One thing that isn’t going to happen is life becoming simpler. Complexity will necessarily increase as a consequence of the challenges above, and it’s as true as ever that ‘what got us to here, will not take us to where we need to go’.  In this environment, leadership that’s focused on a single individual, however charismatic or talented, will not be sufficient – and even a united senior team is unlikely to deliver the transformational change that some organizations will require. The most successful companies already devolve decision making, but simply segmenting responsibility (by, for example, allocating Values to HR or Efficiencies to Operations) will also not be enough. As complexity increases the role of leadership must shift even further from a focus on decision making and control, to that of engendering a collective ownership of direction and priorities.  In short, leadership will increasingly be about demonstrably living the organization’s collective values and goals as much as setting them.


The average lifespan of a business is shortening – it’s currently somewhere around 10 years – and most of those long-standing companies that continue to thrive do so by continual adaptation if not entire reinvention. We all know that the last decade has hit the retail sector particularly hard but arguably greater and more fundamental challenges lie ahead for others – consider the challenges facing the leaders in say, heavy engineering, hi-tech manufacturing, distribution, combustible engine manufacturing…   

For many businesses – be they start-ups or global giants – the next decade is likely to involve some truly critical calls. Leaders will need to listen, to delegate, to set goals – all that we have considered so far – but they must also have courage, since many of the key decisions will require acting on beliefs in the absence of certainty. The word courage has its origins in the old French and Latin words for ‘heart’ or ‘seat of our feelings’ – and in that sense, it is subtly different to bravery or resolve. These qualities will be helpful too, for boldness and determination are how we must put our beliefs into practice, and acting together, they will be as fundamental to success as any analysis or epiphany. 


I was tempted to title this last section ‘fun’, for enjoyment in the task is surely essential in any leader, whatever their era. But in zest I am hinting at something more. For if we bring energy and enthusiasm to the mix – ideally in a manner that’s infectious to others – then what’s daunting becomes exciting; what seems an obstacle becomes an opportunity – and thereby all the more achievable. 

Leaders must not fear the challenges of the next ten years – rather, they should see them as a golden chance: unique, inspiring and seminal to our futures. Leadership in this context is a privilege and remembering as much, every time we turn up for our colleagues or ourselves, is a challenge we should all look forward too. 

Happy new year – and here’s to a Roaring Twenties!

Virtues and Values

Jos Opdeweegh reflects on how virtues and values can work together to help us and our organizations flourish.

The ancient philosopher Aristotle understood a thing or two about how to achieve success. According to his writings, a good and satisfying life was one that navigated a course between the extremes of hedonism and deficiency.  And the way to do this, he asserted, was by living in accordance with our ‘virtues’ – those qualities and behaviors that we all, universally recognize as good, and which in his view, were best nurtured by experience and daily practice rather than prescriptive rules.

Fast forward more than two thousand years and ‘virtue theory’ is enjoying something of a well-deserved renaissance, most notably through the positive psychology movement and the writings of Martin Seligman. Its relevance to business is gaining traction too, and justifiably so, because the virtue theory adds a layer to our understanding of that other ‘V’ word, V for values, which has evolved into a ubiquitous concept in the progressive workplace.

There are few organizations today that would fail to acknowledge the importance of values. The idea that an engaged workforce, aligned to the goals of the company and working with common principles, helps to drive performance, is not only common sense, it is backed by a raft of evidence which crosses sectors, cultures and continents.  Whether formalized or not, the best performing organizations across the globe have strong value sets which underpin their culture and provide a sense of meaning and belonging to their people.

Virtues and values can work to establish corporate culture.

But if the awareness of values is now commonplace, the concept of virtues remains somewhat academic, even though its benefits are just as transformational and equally self-evident.

By virtues, we mean those personal qualities that all of us recognize as beneficial to ourselves, to others and the community at large. In his work on positive psychology, Seligman identifies several high-level categories such as courage, wisdom, humanity and justice.  Beneath these are more tangible qualities such as creativity, diligence, fairness and teamwork. In all, he lists 24 strengths that are universally recognized as positive attributes and which contribute to a collective good. While each of us has a preference and greater capacity for some virtues over others, all of us are happiest and most satisfied when we are able to employ these positive characteristics in our day to day lives.

It’s not necessary to dig deep into philosophy or psychology to take some lessons from this. For leaders and professionals, the critical point is that we all give of our best and make our greatest contribution when then the work we do supports our positive motivations. Consequently, if we can align roles and responsibilities across our organizations – and provide opportunities that nurture the virtues – then both our colleagues and our businesses are more likely to flourish.  Having clear values helps us to establish the rules and guidelines for common behaviors; promoting virtues goes a level deeper, encouraging our individual strengths for the collective good.

I like to think of living by our virtues as the difference between ‘being in a rut’, and ‘ploughing one’s own furrow’.  In the former, we are trapped in a cycle of activity that feels meaningless and lacks personal satisfaction – even if the organization and its goals are worthy, we as individuals don’t fit, because the role we are asked to play doesn’t have room for those qualities that motivate and self-propel us. By contrast, in following a path which plays well to our individual strengths, we give and achieve more, thereby benefiting ourselves and our wider community. To use a sporting analogy: how often, do we hear soccer coaches talking of the need to give creative players ‘the freedom to express themselves’ – in a sense, that is virtue theory in action.

In a workplace setting, promoting virtues can be as simple as allowing a few hours a week for more lateral thinking (creativity and curiosity), or offering the opportunity for development training (love of learning); it might mean shaping a job to include more group activities (teamwork) or allowing colleagues to self-organize charitable activities (social awareness, kindness). In truth, much of this, good leaders do instinctively, encouraging something similar in wider organizational goals. Though they might not use the term ‘virtue theory’, many of its key elements are inherent to contemporary thinking on issues such as diversity and inclusion: valuing differences and allowing us all to give the best of ourselves.

There’s relevance in virtue theory for our corporate strategies too. In the courting stage, contemplated acquisitions and mergers almost invariably sweeten the numbers, estimating the potential for synergies, market share, pricing power and the other benefits. And yet so much of this M&A activity ultimately fails to deliver the intended results. By applying the lens of virtue theory, we might consider more carefully whether the acquirer will be a good parent or partner – are its organizational virtues compatible or in conflict with those of its target?  

And finally, as individuals navigating our career paths, the idea of living in harmony with our strengths and preferences is an invaluable perspective when viewing our situation and prospects. Seligman describes the pursuit of virtues as the ‘gold standard of human well-being’ – the root of the positive choices we make in our efforts to flourish. At times, that may involve difficult choices – and I recognize that the freedom to act varies by circumstance – but across a career or a lifetime, finding your niche, feeling energized and ready for the day, undeniably is worth some sacrifice.  For as Aristotle claimed many centuries ago, there is no one prescription for success, but being true to our positive natures is the surest route to follow.  

Jos Opdeweegh

November 2019

Further reading:

Martin Seligman:  Flourish – a new understanding of happiness and wellbeing.

Martin Seligman: Authentic Happiness: using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow: the psychology of happiness


Why Trust Matters in the Workplace – and Why We Should Care

Across much of the developed world, faith in institutions is rupturing.  Modern day politics, with a regrettable tendency to provide impulsive, populistic solutions to problems of extreme complexity, contributes to an undercurrent of skepticism, which in turn feeds further unease and polarization, undermining confidence. In a host of democracies, leadership is variously described as broken, dysfunctional and unrepresentative. Little wonder then, that survey after survey reveals public trust to be at all-time low.

Regardless of one’s political opinions – passions even – this is deeply corrosive.  For trust is essential to positive human relationships and one of the most valuable tools in building progressive societies.  Without it there can be no exchange, no collective endeavor, no promises relied on…. and worse, no dreams shared, or secrets confided. Trust, in its broadest sense, is so ubiquitous that we seldom give it a thought.  And yet, a moments reflection reveals its criticality to all that we are and achieve together. 

There are obvious parallels to the business environment. It will be no surprise that trust is the single most important value associated with successful brands.  When we’re working together in our businesses, we count on each other as surely as mountaineers rely on their partners to hold the rope. In my current organization – along with thousands more – we call out trust as a core value in our working practices, our relations with customers, and care for each other.

And that word ‘care’ seems essential to maximizing trust’s potential. We can cooperate with individuals and institutions for their utility – because, through experience, we have learned there is more to be won than lost – and we should never diminish the importance of this fact.  But to view trust entirely as a profitable exchange, risks turning it into a sort of game theory, a slightly Machiavellian approach in which we weigh up possibilities and strategize to maximize our advantage.

‘Trust as care’ is something infinitely more powerful. 

To trust because we care not only for the outcome, but also for the person or the process, creates a deeper, and stronger bond. When a master craftsman gives his trust to a young apprentice, he’s saying something that no invoice or profit and loss account ever could. And what’s more, the trainee knows it too! All of us who are business professionals, will have experienced equivalent moments, and be able to recall the boost to our self-esteem; the growth in confidence it gave us. 

Confidence of course, is intimately linked to trust. Search any thesaurus and the two words will be listed side by side, along with faith, reliance, dependence.  But trust is a verb as well as a noun. In trusting we making an active choice, the exercise of which is essential to allow others (and ourselves) to flourish. In other words, trust is something we give; confidence – and all that comes with it – is what is received.

Institutions and organizations ignore this insight at their peril. For no matter how attractive the alternatives may seem, in the long run, people care if their politicians lie, if their faith leaders are hypocrites; if the media invents its own news.  And for those of us in mainstream commerce, the lesson is much the same. Customers no longer judge a business only by its products: they want to know how well we treat our people, whether we act responsibly, and if we pay our taxes. 

In a mirror image of the virtuous circle I described earlier, if companies fail to engage with these concerns, then trust will be withheld and belief will die in its turn.  

Simon Sinek’s recent book, The Infinite Game talks of the need for leaders to trust and care beyond the moment. Millennials – who soon will represent 50% of the workforce – are long-term thinkers; they want to belong and contribute to meaningful roles, and they want to work in cultures that allow for self-expression, that value their contribution and allow for risk-taking without fear of retribution. Leaders, Sinek asserts, have a special responsibility to set the tone in creating an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.

While Sinek’s position is something I believe we can intuitively subscribe to, it doesn’t require a management guru for us to learn this simple truth. Most of us know, as a matter of common sense and experience, that when teams show trust and care – when colleagues have each other’s back – then performance, motivation and retention, surely follow. Just as we know that organizations which fail to nurture their people will lose talent, commitment and ultimately, any meaningful purpose.  

Furthermore, I’d argue it doesn’t require formal authority to make a difference. Whatever our circumstance or seniority, individual actions can and do have an impact. We can give trust – and show we care – by something as simple as passing the ball, waiting our turn, or listening respectfully to a colleague’s opinion. Trust, as we experience it, is a bi-lateral transaction – all it needs to flourish is two people, doing the right thing, by and for each other. 

And hopefully we can all agree that a world with more trust is a better and more joyful place.

Reflections on the World Athletics Championship in Doha


Last week, the eyes of the world’s press turned to Doha and its hosting of the World Athletics Championships.  Here in the UK interest was intense. Dinah Asher Smith’s victory in the 200 meters was a masterclass of controlled and specialised technique, but it was Katerina Johnson Thompson’s Gold in Heptathlon that caught my eye.

The Heptathlon is one of the ultimate trials of all-round athletic ability.  From shotput to sprinting, the discipline tests speed, strength and stamina, as well as the mental ability to hold it all together over two days of competition. In contrast to Asher Smith’s 20 seconds of brilliance, Johnson Thompson’s victory required a balance of skills, none of them world beating on their own, but which collectively others could not match.

Since returning to the UK as CEO of Connect Group, I’ve been impressed by a similar quality in our news and magazine distribution business. Handling an average of 5 million copies every day, it delivers to 27,000 outlets from superstores to corner shops, collecting unsold copies for recycling, processing data to forecast demand, taking customer calls, invoicing…   and all of it achieved in the tightest of time windows. The physical logistics is only half the story; I recall being astounded to learn that by noon our publishers can typically view their sales figures from the day before, right down to that corner shop I mentioned.

And yet, if we examine the unique skills of news wholesaling, what we find is that success more resembles a heptathlon than a sprint.  What underpins our competitiveness is in not so much that we are very best at physical or even time sensitive delivery, nor are we peerless leaders in information management, invoicing or customer services.  Rather, we are good at all these things, and it is this optimum combination of our arguably sub-optimal parts, which make us world class at what we do. 

That’s not to say, there isn’t room for improvement. As with athletics, standards move on, expectations increase; the competition is always at our shoulders.  As leaders and strategists, the lesson from this week’s heptathlon in Doha, is that we must take a holistic view, considering the impact of each initiative in its wider context – ensuring the strength we build in one area, doesn’t sap our speed or stamina in another.  

It strikes me that the metaphor of ‘leader as coach’ is never more apt than in complex and well-established organisations – not least because, the catalogue of good companies brought down by supposedly transformative projects should give us pause for thought.  But that pause must never lead to indecision. 

The danger in managing this type of complexity is that answers can tend towards those that start with ‘But…’  As professionals we must accept that all decisions involve some risk, including the choice to leave matters alone. Risk can feel uncomfortable, threatening even, but a  failure to commit is the surest way to ensure the competition will soon be pressing at your heels. 

Making progress, while limiting our exposure requires that we draw on analysis as well as experience; creativity balanced by objective measures – and occasionally some counter intuitive thinking. Standard operating procedures, for example, might appear to be a restrictor to change – but we should view them more as athletes see solid technique. For only when we have sound and consistent foundations, can we test, and most importantly measure, the impact of changes we might introduce. In a world where all the parts are different, it’s tough to know what works, what doesn’t, or what to do next. 

If I were to add one more ingredient, it would be to encourage, -and be seen to exercise -appropriate humility. For no one can be right all the time and not every idea will be a success. Occasionally – though hopefully not too often – we must hold up our hands and learn from the experience. It is not being wrong that we should fear, it is being too proud to change course when the evidence is clear. 

Returning to Doha, in the time I’ve drafted this piece the UK teams have won silver medals in both the sprint relays – pipped, I might add, by the Americans if not the Belgians! 

The relay of course is all about passing the baton, with success being more than the sum of the parts. That’s a subject for another day, but it reminds me that harnessing the commitment of our teams to a bold but measurable strategy, is the best way to exceeding our expectations. 


Jos Opdeweegh


Nurturing talent – and navigating the road to success.

A few weeks ago, I gave an interview in which I reflected on the importance of building talent across our company, the need for structures that facilitate career progression, and most of all, a supportive culture which allows talent to thrive by learning from our mistakes as well as our successes.  There are compelling reasons, I said, for investing in talent, and on that point, I guess few business leaders would disagree. But as with many organisational challenges, while the way ahead might be obvious, sticking to the path isn’t always so straight forward.

Let’s start with some guiding principles.

Talent is vital to making good decisions.  With talented people, and talented teams, we not only perform better today, but we enhance our strategic vision and tactical planning. The short-term advantage and the sustainability of that success go hand in hand.  Look at any successful sports team and you’ll see their stars on the field – with the occasional genius among them – but always on the bench are the next generation, pushing for places, eager to learn, encouraged by their mentors.

Talent thrives best in open and supportive cultures.  For colleagues to flourish they need to know that in taking the next step they’ll receive support, some space for learning, and the confidence to know they can be themselves.  That last point is important – because true talent management isn’t about the rote learning of skills and procedures, it’s about nurturing a diversity of unique and valuable contributions to the overall goal. 

And lastly, talent is a responsibility we all share.  Sure, the People Teams often take a lead in coordinating training and development programmes and the like – and rightly so.  But for talent to truly thrive, we need leaders at all levels to see that bringing on the next generation is part of what make for a  sustainably better business. Finding opportunities to give some trust, providing tools and resources, as well as spotting the talent gaps – and occasional blockages –  are just as vital a skill for managers as hitting their sales or cost targets.

But if that much is straightforward – what is it that gets in the way?

Fear of failure is perhaps the biggest constraint, especially if it leads to us avoiding risks.  For without some unpredictability – to ourselves as well as the organisation – progress isn’t possible. Effective leaders learn from mistakes and making them is a key part of a continuous improvement ethos.  So we need a culture that empowers us to make decisions, and an environment that helps enhance the quality of the choices we make. Inclusive, interactive teams help to grow talent by sharing perspectives and considering possibilities – in so doing.  While individuals can thrive, the outcomes can be shared by others too. Putting it another way, constructive risk taking isn’t about jumping blindly off cliffs – it’s about weighing up the options and then acting with focus and commitment.  

Resistance to change is an obstacle too.  Indeed, it is often the biggest blocker to talent, and one of the most cited reasons why ambitious people leave otherwise good organisations.  If ideas and ingenuity are stymied, then stagnation and attrition surely follow – and guess what, talented people can smell it a mile off! The result is a drain on knowledge and a creativity void that ends in a vicious circle of yet more fear and failure.  Like with risk, embracing change doesn’t mean an unquestioning drive to revolution; positive change blends evolution with bold decisions that move us forward at pace. By working this way, we nurture talent in tandem with the opportunities we pursue.   

And lastly, we need clear measures of success.  For without these it’s all too easy to misrepresent progress or excuse the lack of it. Of course, nurturing talent isn’t as objective as math, but neither is it some enigmatic quality that resists common sense assessment. That’s why we need talent driven KPIs throughout the organisation, working to agreed outcomes and focusing resolutely on their achievement.  

So how best do we navigate our way to success? 

In my own organisation today, we have core values that keep us on track. We’re creating a culture of diversity and inclusion, where colleagues can be themselves at work, and the opportunity to develop their careers is encouraged and celebrated.  Our values of trust, fairness, creativity and openness are a sort of compass, guiding our decisions to ensure we make the most of our individual and collective potential.

And we’re backing this up with investment in training and communications, despite a pressure for savings in tough markets. For me, this is part of our duty as leaders; we have a responsibility to all our stakeholders – be they colleagues, customers, shareholders or lenders –  to ensure the organisation is fit for the future, and that’s not something we can put on hold. Nurturing talent is fundamental to building a sustainably better business, and if at times it can feel like a complex jigsaw, we should remember that it’s when the parts come together that the bigger picture emerges. 

As the first measures of our progress I expect to see succession routes for all key roles, with training plans for our high potential colleagues, and a map of the talent gaps we need to fill. Alongside this should be a more empowered culture with broad levels of authority, sharing success but also learning from its mistakes through post mortem analysis based on a zero-blame approach.  In truth, there are many more indicators we should expect: cross functional working, creative thinking, reduced duplication… I could go on.

But isn’t it also true that genuine progress needs to be widespread and self-evident?  Just as we can all recognise talent in sport or science or the arts, so too we instinctively know when it’s present in the workplace.  The ultimate goal is therefore that nurturing talent becomes part of our DNA, a virtue we pass from one generation to another, with care for its continuity, and a sense of creating something bigger than ourselves. 

Building an inclusive and diverse business that is ready for the future

Jos Opdeweegh and Jane Storm discussed the advantages that an inclusive and diverse team of colleagues can bring to an organization.

STEVE: Jane, we’ve just launched a new Diversity and Inclusion strategy at Connect Group; can you give us a brief overview of what it is and how it’s going to work? 

JANE: Enhancing our culture is one of our strategic priorities here at Connect Group, and part of that is living our core values, alongside diversity and inclusion.

We’ve got a renewed focus and commitment on diversity and inclusion from all areas of the organisation and we want to ensure that Connect Group is a great place to work for everyone, tying into our ‘Everyone In’ focus. 

So, we’re currently working through an approach to create a diversity council, to offer an encouraging space to listen and speak to managers more about understanding differences. In doing this, we open the door beyond simply tolerating diversity, to actively embracing diversity and using our characteristics to help serve our customers better. 

JOS: Yes, the way I always think about everything we do is, does it tie in with our core values? When you think about some of our values, such as creativity, trust, fairness – these are each in my mind just another word for inclusivity. 

Being a diverse organisation fits with all of our core values. A diverse organisation is an organisation that by virtue of its diversity will be a creative environment and empathetic environment. 

Jane, you mentioned customer centricity, which is an excellent point; customer centricity is nothing other than showing empathy for the needs and requirements of your customers. If you have a group of people who come from different walks of life and different backgrounds, they will automatically be much more able to empathise with the needs of customers. 

That is why diversity is such an important element, and that is why inclusiveness and diversity are so tightly linked to our core value set.

STEVE: Building on that, one of the questions that comes up around this is, it’s clearly a socially responsible thing to do; it feels like the right thing to do, but don’t diversity and inclusion also provide genuine commercial benefits?

JANE: Absolutely, we know that attracting and retaining the very best talent in Connect Group is going to make a real difference to our business performance and how we serve our customers.

We believe that an environment in which people have an opportunity to look around them and see people at every level that’s different than them helps prevent “group think”. We are encouraging people to think differently and have creative and different conversations. For us, that’s the ultimate benefit of this.

JOS: Yes, of course, so the more different opinions you have around a table. The larger the degree of openness or inclusiveness, the larger the ambition of the organisation to build a true meritocracy, and in turn, the more creative an organization will be. 

The more creative you are, the better you’ll be at finding the most cost-effective solution to run your business. The more creative you are, the better you will be at finding the best possible solution to delight your customer. That’s the way all of this ties together.

STEVE: In terms of an approach, we’ve spoken a little before about trying to get a process across the business of people being different like me, rather than different from me; what does that mean? How do we explain that to people? How would that manifest itself?

JANE: We fundamentally want everyone to be themselves here at Connect Group. We’re not looking to create one type of manager, we want different types of managers, and people to feel welcoming and happy with that.

JOS: Yes, of course that’s the right way to think about it.

STEVE: That’s the key advantage as we carry it through, if we look forward three or five years, or some point into the future, what are the key differences that we would see across the business?

JANE: I guess the real test for us is going to be in our leadership. So when we look at our depot managers across our networks, they will need to look different. They will lead in the way that they think, the way that they operate, and of course in terms of the more obvious things, whether it be gender, age, we’re going to see more difference going forward in the future.

Fundamentally, we want to see colleagues stay with us because everyone believes they’ve got an equal opportunity to progress, and that mindset is going to make a real difference to us in the future.

JOS: Yes, I agree. Coming back to the topic of “different like you.” What that means, in my mind, is that we are all different, and we embrace those differences. 

Because you are different from me and I am different from you, we embrace those differences because we believe that diversity in thinking and diversity in background builds a sustainably better business.

This is what it’s all about: building a sustainably better business where people feel at home, where people are being listened to and where we honour the best possible idea. overall that’s what the diversity and inclusion initiative is all about.

STEVE: It’s a very exciting long-term strategy for us as part of our culture enhancement. It will be interesting to see the demographics of the business now, from our ‘What Matters’ survey, I imagine we’d want to see that looking very different in five years’ time, wouldn’t we? 

JANE: We would. It’s all about reminding ourselves that diversity in its truer sense is beyond the more obvious things, as I said on gender and age, but it is about the way we think, our different educational backgrounds, our different work experience, all of those things are going to really count to make this a successful business.

And of course, the start of our journey will be in managers really starting to understand those subtleties. So how do I behave, how do I operate, how do I recognise the people that I associate with? 

Therefore, we’re just genuinely more inclusive and aware of our bias, our unconscious bias, because we all have it, and if we’re not aware of it, it’s really hard to do something about it.

Of course our awareness training for managers is going to start to talk about unconscious bias, it’s going to understand the concept of ‘different’ – I am different like you are – and really helping managers to start having conversations in their teams about how does it feel to be in this team, and what’s really going on, and how can we make it feel inclusive?

JOS: Or differently, but we want to build a business that is more culturally intelligent, and that’s really what the future looks like.

STEVE: Excellent, thank you very much.

JANE: Thank you.



The Transatlantic CEO: Jos Opdeweegh reflects on leading a business in the UK

The internationalised world of business management sees many executives moving countries and continents to take on new leadership roles. 

Originally from Belgium, Jos Opdeweegh has spent his 30-year professional career at companies with a global reach across Europe, Asia Pacific, as well as South and North America. 

For the last 20 years, Jos has called Canada and the U.S. home, leading successful global businesses including Americold Realty Trust, syncreon, and Neovia Logistics, with the exception of a brief stint in 2016 while leading UK-based Premier Farnell PLC (before its sale to Avnet). 

Given his global success, he was appointed CEO of Connect Group PLC, a UK-based distribution and logistics business, in September 2018 and moved with his family to London.

We spoke with Jos to explore his perspective on the differences he has seen in his

CEO role with Connect Group, compared to working in U.S-based corporations. We also discussed some of his observations and advice for other executives in a similar position who are crossing the Atlantic to take on a new challenge. 

Steve: Jos, you’ve been with Connect as CEO for eight months, what are the key differences that you can see on this side of the Atlantic?

Jos: Let me start off by saying that I have received an extremely warm welcome from the people at Connect, a warm embrace. People have been very open, open-minded and welcoming. I love the people in the organisation.

The other thing that’s really struck me is the level of resilience of the team. To compare and contrast, I think in other cultures people are, perhaps, a little bit more opportunistic which could stand in the way of resilience and perseverance to the extent that we’ve seen here at Connect Group.

I have been able to quickly develop great relationships with a number of people. Brits have a great sense of humour, are very likable but, if you look at the flipside, it can take a while to break through the archetypical British reserve. It can take a little longer to build one-on-one relationships.

In terms of running a business and decision-making processes, this reserve can leads to certain behaviours. I would argue it’s a little bit more bureaucratic here, a little bit less to the point. That’s, of course, what we’re working on as an organisation, right? 

We have a new set of core values, with a focus on moving quickly; being agile; openness; open-mindedness (which is being receptive to ideas) and creativity. We want to create a space where people are comfortable speaking up in a room and being less reserved. We need the team to share their ideas with the organisation, because we’re trying to build a meritocracy, where everybody’s ideas count.

So, again, the British business culture is a little bit more bureaucratic, longer emails and agendas – or meetings as you call them – scheduled out six months ahead of time. That’s the difference. That makes the company a little bit less agile and it is my hope that we can combine a healthy mix of an American, more opportunistic attitude, blended with a more agile approach than we currently see in Connect Group.

Steve: So, the new values are there to guide us towards a more balanced approach to our business?

Jos: It most certainly should. In addition, we also have our diversity initiative – Everyone In – going on. Diversity for us also means cultural diversity, obviously. So, what we also need to do is try to pick the best aspects of those different ways of running a business. I’m not at all sitting here saying that the American way is the right way, but I’m saying we can learn something from the American way, we can learn something from the British way, we can learn something from the way people do business in continental Europe or in Asia, right? That’s essentially part of being inclusive. That’s also part of embracing diversity.

Steve: Connect Group is a PLC, and I know you’ve worked for public companies before, are there one or two fundamental differences that you notice from this side of the Atlantic to the other?

Jos: Well, there are a lot of differences, obviously. I think the biggest difference… and this really jumps to the eye… is the role of the chairman in a UK PLC.

I would describe a chairman, in UK terms, as the equivalent of an executive chairman in the United States. So not part of the day-to-day management of the business necessarily, but certainly being much more involved in the business. In Gary Kennedy at Connect, we have a wonderful chairman, and I’ve been able to establish an excellent relationship with him. Gary asks me to hold the mirror up, to look myself in the eye, to ensure I’m making the right strategic decisions. I think that closeness works well as long as you get along.

The other big difference is there’s a much larger focus… and I’m not saying there’s no focus on this in the United States… but, a much larger focus in the UK on pay equality and driving out excessive pay schedules, which is not something that necessarily resonates as much in America.

Steve: Because it’s more of a meritocratic approach, it’s saying, “This is the structure you’re working within and therefore you’re rewarded appropriately?”

Jos: Yes, and there is a philosophical aspect to this discussion, obviously, right? When you think about income and equality in the U.S., it’s a big issue and it’s partially because of the fact that some of these titans of industry have made a tremendous amount of money. So, we can have a conversation about if that’s the right societal model. I personally don’t think it is. On the other hand, people need to be rewarded for work, right? So, again, there’s a healthy balance to be found.

Steve: Coming back to working in the UK, obviously individuals all have their characteristics, but are there themes or general principles that you’ve noticed about working with Brits rather than working with Americans or Canadians, or in other European markets?

Jos: So, if I were to think about this then I would say that Americans are very, very assertive, and sometimes probably too assertive, and Brits are, perhaps, a little bit too reserved initially. Americans wear their heart on their sleeve, if you want, and have no issue talking about emotions in the first minute after you’ve met them, and Brits have difficulty talking about emotions after you’ve known them for two years! 

Again, everything is about balance. In this whole perspective of inclusiveness and diversity there is, again, the right balance to be found. Brits don’t take themselves really too seriously. They have a great sense of humour. This whole aspect of perseverance and resilience, and being less opportunistic, allows them to be more steadfast, allows them to really focus on the task at hand.

I do think it takes a little bit longer to convince them when you’re talking about a specific project plan and key milestones, and I do think certain people will nod yes and sometimes mean no. But, once you have reiterated the message, I think the British people are extremely capable in supporting that agreed upon project plan.

Steve: Is that one of the main cultural differences that you see between working in a UK company and working in a U.S. company, that more bureaucratic approach which then manifests itself into a commitment to following through? What are the other things that you tend to see?

Jos: I will give a very nice example. It’s an example from my personal life, but it exemplifies, the difference.

My eight-year-old daughter is about to go on her first trip with school, four days, by herself, without her parents, in Cardiff, This was communicated to the parents, so you have a room filled with parents in this school, and a lot of the parents happen to be American, and a lot of them happen to be from all over Europe, and a lot of British people. Not one single question was asked by a non-American parent. There you have it. I’m not saying a lot of relevant questions weren’t asked by American parents, but that’s the fundamental difference, I think.

Steve: It’s a good way of demonstrating that difference between being reserved and being upfront, isn’t it?

Jos: Yes, and of course there’s this extreme form of assertiveness, and I know this assertive trait is also sometimes viewed as less than desirable by British people and by Europeans in general, it’s not always an approach that is well liked.

Steve: Bringing it back to Connect Group – in terms of the culture change and the values, it really is about trying to get a greater degree of speed, a greater degree of agility, and a greater degree of open-mindedness about how we work. So, there’s obviously the capacity to do that, isn’t there, and make that change?

Jos: Yes, definitely. I mean, in all of the businesses that I’ve been involved in, we had a very large presence in the UK, even though they may not have been UK based. Since 1997, I’ve been promoting the following: shorter emails; shorter meetings; less meetings; don’t fill out your agenda six months ahead of time; be flexible… Agility is what makes a business work, right? I mean, the needs of the customer, and the needs of the people and the business are what you’re serving, and you can’t do that in a static environment. Of course, the capacity to evolve to that type of organizational approach exisits. I’m not saying, as is the case in every cultural journey, that we’ll get there overnight, but that will be the end goal.

Steve: In terms of personal interactions, you know, the team that you’re working with and the group that you work with, once you’ve broken through that reserve, do you find that that’s a positive environment. Are they happy to share or are there still layers of reserve to go through?

Jos: It’s very binary in my mind. So, it’s, sort of, all or nothing, right? In those one-on-one relationships I’ve been able to develop just wonderful interactions about every facet of life, and I’ve found people to be much less guarded and, yes, very phlegmatic, with a great sense of humour, and wonderful conversationalists. So, yes, you have to break through that barrier initially, and this is probably also true for France, it’s true for Germany, and once you’re there then it’s a wonderful place to work and it’s hard not to love the people. 

Steve: So, from a personal perspective, being now based in the UK and being based predominately in London, what are the things that you particularly like about being in the UK, or about the British, perhaps might be a better way to describe it?

Jos: I’ve always been, and is this the right word, an Anglophile. Thirty years ago, I was watching a British comedy, I’m probably the biggest fan of ‘Fawlty Towers,’ the biggest fan of ‘Ab Fab’ and the biggest fan of ‘Blackadder,’ and so I think the ability of 60 million people to be so incredibly dominant in terms of culture, globally, is quite amazing. It’s something that I’ve always admired and loved.

There’s a tremendous art and theatre scene, that’s absolutely lovely. So, generally, I think it’s a society that, if you talk about personal development of the individual, gives great opportunities; it’s much less focused on the material side of life and more focused, I think, on real values. 

If I look at my children when they go to school, the tremendous amount of focus on the core values, of anti-bullying and inclusiveness, is absolutely wonderful. 

Steve: Thinking about other people in your position, making the same transition, what would your top three tips be? What are the top three things to bear in mind when you’re making this transatlantic move?

Jos: The first thing is to embrace change. I mean, people who cannot embrace change will have a much harder time moving from location A to location B, definitely if B is in a different country and a slightly different culture. 

The second thing I would say is accept the fact that it’s going to take some time to adjust. I mean, there are probably many books that have been written about this, but it’s totally normal that it takes three to six months to fully adjust to a new environment. I know from other expats that after they’ve spent a number of years in a location outside their home country that going back also requires three to six months of adjustment. 

So, embrace change, accept the fact that it’s going to take some time and take it all in, it’s a great opportunity. It’s a great opportunity for the family, it’s a great opportunity for personal development… I mean, the world is our oyster, right, so…

Steve: Thank you for your insight, Jos. 

Jos: Thank you.

Connect Group CEO Jozef Opdeweegh’s Key Steps to Managing and Developing Talent

No matter how capable the leader or well conceived the corporate strategy, if the right talent is not in place to bring the corporate vision to fruition, business objectives and goals will go unmet.

As a long-term business executive and CEO, Jozef Opdeweegh is of the opinion that organizations should place significant importance on developing and implementing a standardized operating system to eliminate variation in execution of processes and procedures to reduce all forms of waste, such as redundant work, duplication of tasks, or idle time due to lack of task synchronization.

In the same fashion that operational processes and procedures are standardized, so should talent management and development capabilities. The performance and capability of the company’s human talent provides the best guarantee for excellent customer service, as well as for cost effective and efficient operations.

Opdeweegh suggests a best-in-class approach for designing a standardised and simple solution to performance management and the development of human potential that is embedded consistently across all of an organization’s operations and support functions. This suggested path will help enable:

  • The creation of a sustainable culture of performance and excellence;
  • The establishment of an objective and long-term view on talent and talent management;
  • The impartial identification of mission critical roles inside the organization;
  • The implementation of solid succession planning with the robust talent pipelines.

Measuring everyday performance

In many organizations, the performance management process consists of an annual, and sometimes mechanical conversation. This makes performance reviews a mandatory task, rather than an opportunity to help further develop the skillset of your colleague. To make performance reviews meaningful tools in development, consider changing the cadence and the style of these interactions: from annual or semi-annual to regular, even monthly; from formal to natural; and from obligatory to inspirational.

The process works best when the personal objectives are limited in number, and the performance ratings against those objectives are straightforward and transparent. For example, measure against three personal objectives with a three-layer rating system. These layers can be (1) “exceptional”, (2) “great” and (3) “opportunity to improve.” The overarching ambition is to apply a set of clean and transparent goals and related assessments to create an embedded culture of engagement and personal excellence.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, the individual’s objectives should gradually evolve throughout the year, based on the needs of the business and on his or her personal development. However, the ultimate goals should always be providing transparency and clarity around professional expectations. Frequent, informal and inspirational conversations around the performance culture, can become the “heartbeat” of the organization, illustrating both the value and criticalness of this approach.

Monitoring long-term consistency in performance

Once ongoing coaching and development is established, the next step is the assessment of the consistency and improvement in the performance of the individual over a multi-year period.

To get the most out of employees and to help them best develop, evaluation should focus on skills as well as on the individual’s adherence to the core behaviors intrinsic to your company culture. This perspective focuses just as much on how somebody performs as what he or she achieves — after all, what we are is as important as what we do.

In the mapping of long-term consistency of someone’s potential, its important be both simple and clear in the execution. The how (core behaviors) and the what (balanced scorecard objectives based on job description) should also be evaluated with a three-tiered rating: (1) “inconsistent”, (2) “consistent” and (3) “role model.”

The coworkers who are role models in both dimensions are your future leaders.

Identifying the Role Model

The organizational role model sits at the intersection of ability, agility, and aspiration, without ever compromising the core value set of the organization. He or she is capable, driven to succeed, customer centric, open minded, and creative. Quick and informed decision-making is a natural trait. Fairness governs every decision, every interaction. This (future) leader does not view change as a threat but challenges the status quo and embraces evolution. And finally, he or she possesses a healthy and balanced level of ambition, commitment, and mobility to reach the full, inherent potential.

To be a role model naturally requires a high level of emotional intelligence, resilience, and self-awareness. Rather than losing sleep at night, agonizing over the inevitable multivariate reality of business outcomes, this individual can separate the important from the trivial without falling victim to defeatism.

Talent mapping and succession planning

The product of the work described in the previous steps will now allow the organization to populate a talent map, separating those who sit on the band wagon (passengers) from those who truly and consistently contribute (core contributors), and those who still have untapped potential and will bloom in the not too distant future (developing talent) from the mature and developed talent (the role model).

At this point, one can now overlay the critical role grid of the company with the talent map. In this context, organizations must define the critical roles that help build a sustainably better business. Succession planning is the activity in which the organization identifies who will be able to fulfil these critical roles now or in the future. The talent map will describe who is in the right role now (“core contributor”) and who will be ready to step up immediately (“role model)”, in the next 18 month or beyond (“developing talent”). It will also allow for the identification of talent that may require further coaching (“passenger”) and sadly, after coaching, who may not be the right fit for the organization, either from a capability or core value perspective. The talent map should be a living document that is constantly populated by the results of the “heartbeat” conversations.

The steps described above are intended to appropriately serve every company’s main asset, its people. The suggested approach will minimize the chance that talented people remain anonymous and that their abilities and ambitions to help build a sustainably better business remain untapped. Furthermore, it will prevent the company from getting trapped in a situation where critical roles cannot be filled.  

Ask yourself, what is the purpose of surrounding yourself with talented people if you don’t put a mechanism in place to allow your talent to bloom and contribute?


Jozef Opdeweegh on the Importance and Requirement of Standardizing Operational Practices

Large businesses often operate in a number of geographically-dispersed facilities, which typically overlap in terms of the services provided or products produced. Moreover, these businesses regularly serve the same customers out of a number of different facilities, especially if the customers span a large geography. And despite the logistical challenges of managing multiple locations, all customers rightly have high expectations around consistency in terms of quality, customer service, and customer reporting, no matter what facilities are involved in their product or service delivery.

Unfortunately, too many companies still operate in a disjointed environment where either legacy, a false interpretation of the concept of empowerment, or the singular perspective of the individual plant manager determines the organization’s processes and procedures. This approach, however, hinders corporations from achieving their full potential in terms of customer service and return-on-capital-employed.

The implementation of a rigorous and prescriptive universal operating structure is the most effective way to guarantee the highest level of standardization and scalability to deliver the greatest operational efficiencies and best performance against relevant customer KPIs.

Jozef, ‘Jos’, Opdeweegh has been a CEO of large international companies for close to two decades and recognizes the importance of standardizing operational practices for optimal efficiency. In the following, he shares his perspective and insights on the importance and hallmarks of standardized operational procedures.

Aligning Interconnected Facilities

When a company operates a number of geographically-dispersed facilities, they are likely interconnected in one or more of the following ways. They may share a supplier/customer relationship, with one facility producing components that are used further down in the assembly or production process in another company-operated facility. In other cases, such as in the distribution industry, facilities are interconnected as the products are collected and stored, or cross-docked, in various locations. More simply, the organization may serve the same customer out of different facilities.

Jozef Opdeweegh Miami Businessman

In the case of interconnected facilities, though important, it is arguably not the average performance of the company against a number of critical customer KPIs that is most relevant. Instead, the variance around the mean, and specifically the negative outliers, is the most relevant component. While these worst performers will mathematically drag down the average performance of the company against relevant KPIs, they will have an even more harmful impact on the customer’s perception of the quality of operations. The quality of the end product is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.

Scalability of the Platform

Since it is a strategic imperative of companies to grow, companies with a dispersed landscape of operating entities will typically increase the number of facilities and its geographic reach over time. In an environment where a consistent operating system is successfully deployed, launching incremental facilities becomes a much easier task. The platform is much more scalable, as the processes and procedures that determine how the operations and support functions inside the new facility will be organized are already largely determined. Some minor tweaking may be required to accommodate a new service offering, a new product design, or different customer requirements, but the core of the proven solution will already be solidified.

Mobility of Human Talent

When a standardized operating system is in place, human talent is much more interchangeable and transferrable. Since the company’s professionals have been trained in a standardized environment, they can easily and efficiently be deployed to fill talent gaps in other operations in the group or to help address quality deficiencies in sister facilities. Additionally, these resources are ideal in helping to launch new facilities in different geographies, or new service or production offerings as knowledge is portable, universally deployable, and highly valuable.

Continuous Improvement

In a standardized operating environment, continuous improvement is a key imperative. Whether the improvement initiative finds its origin in one of the company’s facilities where a colleague has devised a better way of performing a specific task, or in an idea that emanates from a continuous improvement team, once the idea has been tried and tested it should be rolled out and deployed throughout the entire organization. In the standardized environment, nobody can take a shortcut. A bad idea will not be implemented in any location, and a good idea will find its way to all locations.

Image result for jozef opdeweegh

As such, to provide the best service to customers in the most cost efficient and effective manner, Jos Opdeweegh suggests placing a dedicated focus on the development and implementation of a comprehensive set of processes and procedures from the outset.

In Conversation: Jozef Opdeweegh on the Importance of Corporate Culture



Steve Hannam, Communications Director; Connect Group:

Jos, we wanted to talk today about driving transformation through corporate culture. It’s a phrase we hear a lot, corporate culture. What does it actually mean for you?

Jozef ‘Jos’ Opdeweegh, CEO; Connect Group:

Corporate culture in my mind is the combination of a set of core behaviors and values that unifies a group. Unifies, if you want, a group of people, whether it’s a corporation, whether it’s an association of people, and so on. The corporate context it is the set of core behaviors, core values that unify. In our particular case, the ‘citizens,’ if you want, of Connect Group. It’s hard to encourage in a bigger company, but there are a lot of factors in the environment that also determine obviously how hard it is to implement cultural change. Legacy of the business is one of them, right? You may have a small company that has a certain legacy that stems from a much larger PLC background, or you may have had a much larger market gap, and in this context Connect Group is a good example. I would say there are other elements, such as the average tenure of the workforce. If you have a younger workforce, it’s easier to implement cultural change than if you have an older work force. If you work in a very competitive environment where you have to show agility because of the competitive framework, where you have to be creative and you have to come up with new ideas or new products, that’s an easier environment because it’s much less change than other environments. So, there are a lot of sort of dynamic aspects that surround an organization that determine how quickly you can implement change. But as a rule, it’s easier, obviously, in smaller organizations than in large organizations.


Jos, you have a lot of experience in evolving corporate cultures. What would your tips be? How should we go about that?


I think it’s about repeat, repeat, repeat. I think it’s about starting every meeting, after you do your safety message, with the core behaviors that typify the citizens of Connect Group. And not just in a sense of, ‘hey these are our six or behaviors or core values.’  No, utilize specific examples of how adhering to those core behaviors has helped the organization or the individual, and in terms of achieving certain personal goals or certain professional goals. And that’s the way to start, I think, every meeting. In addition to that we have to carry the message. The leadership team has to carry the message. When we do our town halls, we have to talk about culture time and time and time again. I always say if you don’t get tired of hearing yourself talking about the core behaviors you haven’t spoken about them enough. It’s almost a politician’s life in terms of talking about that specific topic, but it’s extremely important, and one of the things that I would say is the larger the task is – the transformational task that’s in front of you – the larger the importance becomes of corporate culture and the larger the importance of having everybody aligned in terms of behaviors becomes right. So, I would say corporate culture is also a very important tool in accelerating large transformational tasks. We shouldn’t, of course, engage in an exercise of self-deception. Cultural change takes time, but most certainly you can accelerate the process by talking about it and by giving specific examples and by making it a living conversation rather than some words on a poster or somewhere written on the wall.


Jos, thank you very much for sharing your views, thank you.