A team of RBB researchers carried out an HPO diagnosis at the Dutch Social Security Bank (SVB) in partnership with the HPO Center in the first months of 2013. The SVB is the organization that implements national insurance schemes in the Netherlands. Six months later Director Ruud van Es discusses the impact of the diagnosis on SVB’s change agenda.
Results have an effect on various levels
The results of the HPO diagnosis caused us to take a good hard look in the mirror. Obviously the immediate inclination is to think: what do we feel is important? But we took the time to look primarily at the signals coming from the staff: what do they think is important and what do they expect of their managers? The findings therefore helped to shape our change agenda. The input arose at various levels.
When we re-assessed our change agenda following the HPO presentation, we quickly saw what we had already identified ourselves and were already working on, and what additional action was needed. In recent years the focus has mainly been on large scale change, which meant that there was less focus on improving current aspects. More attention is now being paid to both aspects. At director level, we have made a clearer differentiation in terms of areas for attention for both the directors: one now focuses on change, whilst the other focuses on the ‘going concern’. We have examined all the activities in context, and there is now a steering committee to monitor progress. This steering committee provides us as directors with valuable feedback concerning the focus and the progress that we are making.
Development of team leaders
The greatest impact of the HPO diagnosis can be seen in the way in which we are developing a programme for the team leaders. This was already on the change agenda, but was lacking in content. We formulated it in more detail based on the findings and along various lines. On the process side, we have taken a fresh look at the job profiles. We have thereby placed a far greater emphasis on managers taking ownership. The profile provides a starting point for dialogue. On the one hand, we are looking at how the managers match the profile, for which we have conducted a review. But the profile has also prompted us to adopt another approach for the development side. This is based on the fact that not everyone follows the same development path, so we are working on tailored solutions: What do you need? We will be making agreements about this with managers at the start of next year.
Team leaders play a vital linking role within our organisation. We will be using ‘Real-Drives’ when it comes to coaching staff, collaboration and managing the teams. Managers will thereby discover both their own motivations and those of others and how that impacts their own role, the collaboration between people, and the collaboration within the team. In addition, there is another area of attention for team leaders which has been greatly influenced by the HPO diagnosis, namely ‘skill development for team leaders’. You need to be able to coach and manage your team, but we also recognise the importance of knowledge of the subject matter. Here too we are making up for lost ground. The team leaders should not become ‘working foremen’, but they should have a good understanding of the primary process in order to be able to engage in a useful dialogue with the staff. They need to be good at switching roles. Team leaders have generally risen through the ranks and often have knowledge of only part of the activities. When we made the switch to integrated working a few years ago, we trained the staff in this approach. But the team leaders were not included in this training. We are now working on developing subject matter expertise: practical knowledge about how the laws that we apply are implemented, and how we work with our partners in the chain.
Finally the discussion about long-term deployability is important for managers. I think everyone in the Netherlands is thinking about this issue at the moment, but the staff within our organisation are particularly vulnerable in certain regards. They have often built up a great deal of specific knowledge around the implementation of laws, knowledge which they can only use at the SVB. It’s not something you can readily utilise elsewhere. This makes them dependant on the SVB. However, as is the case at many organisations, the work and the environment in which we operate are changing at the SVB. In order to be able to keep up, an employee must be able to adapt and develop, and managers must be able to discuss this effectively with them.
There has also been more dialogue as a result of the HPO diagnosis. The Development & Renewal department – responsible for the structure of processes and systems, instructions, etc. – is working on a structure plan and, following the HPO diagnosis, has been out talking to people on site. This results in a very different type of discussion and a different outcome from that which you would get if you draw up a plan yourself before entering into such discussions.
It was also noteworthy that at a location with multiple managers the HPO findings raised doubts about whether they were actually working in the right place. Agreements have been made with them about leaving or taking on a different role. This was all done through a process of consultation. It was a very conscious decision, and they have explained their decision to change to their staff themselves. However, we know that this sort of thing still can lead to rumours elsewhere in a large organisation like ours. When I visited all of our sites in the autumn I talked to the team leaders about this. There was a need to explain what has happened, but it is also a good opportunity to talk openly about what you expect of managers.
Learning from each other
The high HPO scores in certain departments also prompted us to learn from them. We are looking closely at the Finance & Control department, where a great deal has improved in recent years, and we are using and applying their experiences within other departments. One of the learnings is to implement ‘lean’ where improvements can be made within one’s own sphere of influence. This is something that we will now also be doing within other departments. ‘Lean’ may be the tool, but here too the most important thing is the dialogue and collaboration between managers and staff. The managers must create the space, make it motivating, and make it a fun project to work on. It requires creativity and insight, as well a celebration of achievements. That is also how the Finance & Control department has succeeded. Improve the processes, but ultimately it is the soft aspects that make the real difference.
Implementing our strategy
Finally the HPO diagnosis showed that staff were unclear about our strategy. That issue has been addressed by the Executive Board. We reassessed our strategy last year and described it in a blueprint. The risk is that this just remains a piece of paper without acquiring any real significance. We have therefore implemented it in very practical terms. The essence of this is that we work together under the slogan ‘Team SVB: Learn-Do-Together’. That will be our credo for the coming years. We prepared this with the managers. We discussed what this slogan meant to us, and how you should apply it. This was presented at all our sites and discussed with staff. This dialogue makes the strategy tangible, and a conversation takes place between staff and senior management. We are emphatically not implementing this slogan from the top down – our aim is to explain what it means and why the terms are important to us. The practical implementation then comes from the staff themselves in the form of ideas and agreements. What do they feel is important in their work, and how can they help to bring about improvement through their day-to-day work? If we really think it’s important for people to have a say about how things can be done better and how processes can be improved, you need to give them the chance to do so. We believe that this offers an opportunity for dialogue and improvement. Our learning from the quality circles that we had in the past was that this approach had been over-imposed. We now want to offer more space for staff to take the initiative themselves. The only requirement we put on managers is that
they need to have a dialogue within the team and that there must be a practical result.
This therefore means a new way of working for managers within our organisation. The guiding principle for management is to work on the basis of trust. This requires adaptation. We have grown up in a world of systems and we tend to look to rules and frameworks, but the playing field needs to be broadened so that staff are invited to contribute to the improvement process. That requires a different kind of behaviour at all levels, and that begins with yourself, with senior management, and with the location managers. And it applies throughout the entire organisation, since the support departments also have to participate, otherwise it just will not work. But it’s quite an undertaking. One person’s changes have an impact on others. This may cause some friction, but we will make sure that everything works out in the end. Not raising issues and not holding one another to account for the sake of a quiet life will in the end solve nothing.
By Lilian Kolker and Caroline Soffner
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