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

jozef-opdeweegh-ceo-miami

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.

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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.

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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

 

Transcript:

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.

Steve:

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

Jos:

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.

Steve:

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

Jozef Opdeweegh: Executives Exist to Serve the Organization, Not the Other Way Around

An organization is dependent on several factors for its success. One of the main elements that can help contribute to the accomplishment of a company’s purpose is its organizational design. Yet, often times the impact of the organizational design is overlooked and falls victim to outdated values.

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It is imperative for executives of a company to continually assess how they run their organization and to ensure the implementation of an organizational structure that is rooted in the customers and the employees.

The outdated hierarchical structure

In a traditional strict hierarchy, decision-making is the sole prerogative of a select group of senior leaders in the organization. It is an approach that centralizes power and is steeped in the erroneous belief that a happy few leaders are best placed to make the right decisions for the company on a strategic, tactical, and even day-to-day level.

This pyramidal structure is a very autocratic and even militaristic approach to running an organization, whereby decisions are pushed down on colleagues without the solicitation of input or the willingness to listen to other ideas and approaches. As a consequence, the creativity and the valuable input of those in the organization who are closer to the challenge or the problem that needs to be addressed, gets lost. And over time, the organization numbs down and resigns to the limitations of the hierarchical structure.

Shortfalls of the traditional hierarchy

Beyond being an antiquated organizational structure, hierarchical leadership also unleashes many obstacles and stumbling blocks on a company, further complicating and hampering achievement of key goals.

Negative impacts on employee morale. Colleagues prefer to work in an environment that is inclusive, and in a structure that values their input and contribution. The workforce of a company consists of individuals with varying backgrounds and experiences whose input enhances the long-term success of the company. People want much more from their professional life than the sheer repetition of a number of narrowly defined tasks, or the execution of top-down instructions without debate or input. A strict hierarchy leaves colleagues with the feeling of being underutilized and undervalued. It negatively impacts the feeling of overall wellbeing and belonging in the extended family that constitutes a successful company.

Employee churn and loss of talent. Companies that adhere to a strict hierarchy are engaging in paradoxical behavior. On one hand, their human resources department is likely spending a tremendous amount of effort and monetary resources to try to identify and recruit the best possible talent. On the other hand, once the talent has been on-boarded, the organization has little interest in the individual contribution of the valuable new recruits. This will lead to a situation where the high potentials quickly get frustrated with the culture they are forcefully being inundated with and will decide to leave the organization in due time. 

The road to mediocrity. The combination of a scenario where an organization stymies creativity through centralized top-down decision-making will over time create a workforce that is mediocre in terms of overall quality and core behaviors. The high potentials will leave the organization, frustrated because of their lack of ability to influence to company’s decisions and direction. At the same point in time, the company – through its performance management tools – will decide to part company with the worst performing co-workers. In balance, those who will survive in the long term are those who never challenge the status quo, who are risk adverse and non-inquisitive.

 Suboptimal decision making. Top-down decision making, without regard for the input and knowledge of those colleagues who are much closer to the issue and much more qualified to make or at least contribute to the right decision, is by definition suboptimal. Why would somebody come forward with a novel angle to an issue or an opportunity if that person knows that the sound advice will fall on deaf ears? A number of key considerations and knowledge sources that would greatly enhance the quality of the decision are lost. Therefore, decisions that are made in isolation and pushed down to the mass organization are unbalanced and uninformed.

The shift to the inverted pyramid and servant leadership

Rather than applying an outdated steep hierarchy, executives should try to come to grips with the reality that the company does not revolve around them, but around its valuable customers and its hard-working colleagues. The leadership team really is in essence an enabler, an instrument to create an environment that guarantees the largest probability of success for the company and its key stakeholders: customers, colleagues, investors, and lenders.

customers-colleagues-executives-ceo-pyramidIn organizational structure, which can best be described as “the inverted pyramid”, customer and customer-facing colleagues are viewed as the most important asset of the company. As we go down on the pyramid, we see the executives all the way at the bottom, as an indication of the reality that their primary task is to serve the organization and all of its constituencies.

 

Customer-centric values

In addition to the notion that the leadership works for the organization and its valued colleagues – not the other way around the inverted pyramid also squarely puts the customers at the center of its purpose. Without the customers, the company has no reason to exist. In this context, it is important to note that every individual is a salesperson for the organization. Driving consistent core behaviors, positive attitudes, and high levels of engagement with the workforce are the best possible ways to support incremental sales.

When a prospective customer is looking to source business with a new provider, they are not looking for yet another glossy presentation. They want to experience in practice whether what is being portrayed in the sales deck matches the reality on the shop floor. Nothing will convince that prospective buyer more than a visit to a state-of-the-art facility that is already in operation and that is populated with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic workforce that can energetically articulate what processes they are responsible for, and how their hard work fits into the bigger strategic direction of the company.

Implementing a solid organizational structure will create a positive ripple effect that will reverberate throughout a company all the way to its customers. Success cannot happen without a strong inner foundation for employees to support and be proud of.

Flipping the organizational pyramid and introducing an egalitarian servant-leadership model will serve as a catalyst to motivation, innovation and a higher sense of purpose.

 

Jos Opdeweegh: Unlocking Financial Success in a Flat Organization

What is a flat organization?

A flat organization is an organization where the number of layers or levels is kept to the absolute minimum. As a result, the physical separation between the executives and their colleagues is small, and direct interaction between the remaining layers is not only inevitable, but also stimulated and appreciated. In these organizations, the span of control, or a measure of how many people directly report to their leader, is large. Given this unique environment, for leaders to drive success in a flat organization they should focus on the following strategic imperatives.

Stay open to innovation

Any company that wants to outcompete its peers needs to be proactive and nimble. Organizations benefit greatly from the joint and individual creativity of their team members. However, this creativity can only be captured and harvested in an environment that embraces openness and open-mindedness.

Openness is an indicator of employees’ willingness to share ideas openly and freely with the rest of the organization. Open-mindedness is a measure of the willingness of the organization to assess, absorb, and implement the ideas brought forward by colleagues without prejudice and with an open spirit. Openness and open-mindedness are key ingredients to building a meritocratic organization where the best idea wins regardless of who initiated the idea —  the janitor or the CEO.

A flat organization is the most, if not the only, appropriate organizational structure to stimulate and reap the benefits of innovative thinking in an environment that is devoid of artificial barriers and unnecessary layers.

Jozef (Jos) Opdeweegh

Focus on flat 

Building a flat organization has both structural and cultural components. The structural component is quite intuitive, as it involves reducing the number of layers in an organization and increasing individual’s span of control. Other structural or mechanical elements include aligning job titles, decreasing the number of job titles, and creating a simplified but equitable compensation structure.

There is an equally important cultural dimension that is more difficult to broach, and is largely dependent on elements such as organization size, average tenure of the workforce, age of the organization and, of course, the reigning culture.

Unfortunately, coworkers are naturally reserved and guarded in their interactions with leaders. Empirical studies have shown that out of caution, or perhaps self-preservation, colleagues are hesitant to speak up to share their ideas with the organization. This inherent hesitation seems equally pervasive when it comes to bringing forward creative ideas for sustainably improving company operations.

A flat and open organization has a much better chance at removing these barriers than a steep hierarchy. If an organization is bureaucratic, its leadership autocratic, and its people unempowered, this will most certainly stifle the creativity of the workforce. It is upon the leadership of the organization to break down barriers, to engage the coworkers in open dialogue through town halls and listening sessions, to be authentic and approachable, and to make it abundantly clear that the company needs the innovative talent and ideas of all its employees.

Why would an organization invest a tremendous amount of effort and money in recruiting talented colleagues, only to allow a culture where these talented individuals are discouraged from speaking up? This constitutes an incredible waste of talent and an unforgivable loss to the company.

 

Invest in empowerment 

A flat organization, where the artificial barriers between the different layers have been removed, where colleagues feel safe speaking up and sharing ideas, is an organization that will benefit from the collective creativity of its workforce. The outdated notion that the CEO or the leadership team has all the answers is nonsensical. The smartest ideas for improving process or product will typically stem from the folks closest to the challenge, not from a far-removed executive. That is why empowerment is such an important cultural attribute of the flat organization. An empowered individual, somebody who understands that he or she has the knowledge and authority to make the decision, without fear or hesitation, will be stimulated to come up with new and fresh ideas.

In a very competitive and fast moving environment, a flat and empowered organization will outcompete its peers through the collective creativity of its workforce. It will be more innovative, agile and entrepreneurial than its competitors. These attributes will vastly benefit its financial performance, and equally important, the wellbeing of its coworkers.