Time to talk talent and purpose #2: Planning purpose together for smarter results
The story of Hanny van de Weerdt
A quick scan of Hanny van de Weerdt’s LinkedIn profile and you will see that the Learning & Development Business Partner at the Heineken Company is a popular and well-regarded manager. Over and over, the endorsements read that she brings out the best in everyone and will herself go the extra mile for her team. Praise indeed, but Netherlands-based Hanny has learnt through experience and discovered that building purpose can be an ever-movable feast, particularly after a global pandemic when normal rules no longer apply.
“Every Heineken OpCo (operational company) can decide for themselves how they want to return back to the office, because there are so many differences across the globe and you can’t have one rule for all. But in the Netherlands we do look at other countries to see what they’re doing and what works,” she says.
For many international businesses this has meant imposing a hybrid working model. But this can also face resistance, as inevitably there are staff who don’t wish to go into the office and others who don’t wish to stay at home. So, with disparate working arrangements, and restrictions on travel also added into the mix, how has Hanny managed to maintain connectivity with her colleagues, especially since she started her new role during the pandemic and had to onboard online?
“Everybody has learnt to work through Teams and we’ve found some new ways of doing things. It was funny how it soon became the norm that a first meeting with new colleagues could take place in their kitchen, living room, attic or bedroom! And where you may at first have planned to use a smart, artificial background, soon nobody bothered. Laundry, children, pets… they became a normal part of the picture,” she laughs. “Who would have thought that could have happened 18 months ago?”
Despite the fact it made the whole experience a lot more personal and Hanny would rather meet people face to face, she discovered that there were some advantages to virtual meetings.
“We have fallen in love with MURAL – online collaboration like a white board where you can do brainstorming sessions. It is so cool and the opportunities it gives sometimes means it works better than actually having people in the same room.”
It’s hard to imagine that online working could be better than physical togetherness, but Hanny has seen surprising benefits, especially for those less-confident members of a team.
“With MURAL you can write ‘post-its’ and every person has a turn,” Hanny explains. Even the most silent will speak up and you can be more creative. Also if you vote on post-it ideas in a normal meeting room everyone can see who is voting for what and you can be socially pushed, but on a mural you don’t know what other people are voting for until the results are shown. There is no social pressure and it’s more efficient and people are more dedicated.”
Responsibility for all
As Hanny discovered in her previous role at Specsavers Optical Group one way to drive progress and purpose is to look at your back support and give responsibility as low in the organisation as possible, an initiative that turned out to be a valuable learning experience now that the world is having to work in a different way.
“Working remotely has meant that people have to be more independent and accountable. Managers are less able to scrutinise the work of their team and have to trust them more than ever,” says Hanny. “The experience at Specsavers showed what happens when you give people that trust, knowing that they are supported and that failing at a task is not the end of the world if you are willing to try and solve it. As long as the outcome is well defined, people actually tend to become more effective and productive.”
This theory was put into practice at Heineken, where Hanny and her colleagues were blown away by the response.
“At Heineken we started a ‘change programme’ and during design thinking sessions we asked people from across the organisation, from the three Dutch breweries and throughout the different departments, to come up with ideas. There were so many ideas for learning interventions, training and workshops – the outcome was fantastic!
“It connected people from different departments, with different roles and presentations went through the roof; there was so much energy! The whole team was allowed to present the outcomes to the board, even operators who had never had anything to do with the board before, and they turned out to be brilliant at it. Asking people to contribute in a different way to their normal role can unlock so much potential.”
See, hear, listen
So, the world of work has changed but when it comes to managing people and supporting them, Hanny is still clear on her priorities.
“Put your people first, at all times, always. No matter how busy you are, no matter what’s laying on your desk, your purpose is being present for people”
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? However, as Hanny discovered early on, getting others to also listen is not always as easy as it sounds.
“In every role in my career I have seen the power and the impact of putting listening to my staff as my priority. There is nothing like learning this the hard way. In my first role as a director I worked at a large, and somewhat unprofitable bakery with a team of 135 people and a well-established male dominated leadership team. I knew that these leaders needed to be united in listening to their workforce if we were going to go in a new direction.
“After two years of blood, sweat and tears, the bakery returned not only to a profitable business but one that was resilient for the future, too. Although somewhat young and quite possibly inexperienced in my approach, the results were worth it. I set ‘listening’ as my mantra for every future challenge, not just for myself but also at Specsavers. I was able to pass it forward to Specsavers store directors, the professionals I trained and my team.”
For Hanny, the experience had been a positive one that enhanced her own career.
“For the first time I felt confident and happy in a leadership role as I used it as a barometer, especially in times of pressure. I used it to ensure the balance was always in favour of supporting people to be the best versions of themselves above my daily tasks and processes.”
From one leader to another
“You can have all the innovation in the world, all the new ways of working but the true change, the true value and difference as a company is made by people,” concludes Hanny.
“That has to be my greatest piece of advice as we look towards a new future. Start with understanding on a human level. Everybody is arriving back with their own Covid journey, balancing different experiences. We need to understand these first in order to unite in a new way we need for future growth.”
This is the second part of the Time to Talk trilogy. If you missed part 1 with Edyta Ozbek, you can read and watch the interview here. And for more wyse words, part 3 is now live with Kate Brown – Group People Director at Specsavers Optical Group. She offers up some excellent insight into the importance of inspiring ideas, spark and team spirit.