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.

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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.

 

Jozef Opdeweegh: Why the first two weeks as a CEO of a new company are the most important

No matter if you are an entry level employee or a company’s brand-new CEO, the first day on the job can be nerve-wracking. Even so, your path to professional success begins the moment you walk through the door. Read on to discover why the first two weeks as the CEO of a company are the most important.

The recruitment process:

When considering an individual for a leadership role, the candidate is typically subjected to numerous interviews by recruiters, the board, and shareholders. Oftentimes, the final recruitment process stage involves the candidate providing example insights and an example strategic plan for the business. The candidate would then present the plan to the board, mapping out key strategic goals and proving why they (the candidate) are the best pick for the role. The audience will assess the plan and presentation through the lens of what the company may look like after three to five years under the candidate’s leadership.

The first week on the job:

Once the chosen candidate successfully passes all the hurdles and negotiated a satisfactory employment agreement, it is time for them to assume the leadership role. The first week is an important week, and longtime CEO, Jozef Opdeweegh, recommends spending those first days like this:

Day 1 – 2: Establish a vision, mission and core values/behaviors

Day 3 – 4: Map out the key drivers of success

Day 5: Draft the strategic plan

Opdeweegh says, “it is my experience the senior leadership team gathers in person to attend this 5 day-exercise. Of course, the size of that group depends on the size of the company, but I would caution against groups in excess of 40 -50 people because the ability to interact openly and effectively diminishes with an increased group size.”

Day 1-2

The first two days are really all about culture. “In the mission statement, you define the company’s current business, its key goals and the key milestones to achieve those goals,” says Opdeweegh. The vision statement describes how the company’s future state will look. And then finally, the corporate culture is defined by a set of shared core values and behaviors that will best enable the company to achieve its goals. Opdeweegh says, “it is paramount to focus on core behaviors early on: the future success of the company, and therefore your future success, largely depends on it. You cannot have a large group of associates work towards a common set of goals if they do not share a set of collective beliefs.”

Day 3-4

The following two days center on the key drivers of success. Opdeweegh suggests asking, “What do we need to focus on to be successful?” Obvious topics include financial success, and to satisfy the board, shareholders and lenders. It may sound somewhat counterintuitive, “but in my experience, many members of the senior leadership team do not necessarily have a good grasp of what the main drivers of financial success are. An extensive tutorial may be in order,” notes Opdeweegh. Topics that require discussion are historical valuation of a relevant peer group and the drivers of those valuations: compounded annual rate of revenue growth, EBITDA-margins, EBITDA-multiples, evolution of earnings per share, level of diversification across customers, geographies, industry verticals and product or service offerings and many more. “You need to ensure the leadership group acquires a sufficiently large level of financial literacy in terms of balance sheet, cash flow and P&L to allow them to monitor the financial performance of the company,” advises Opdeweegh.

Day 5

Finally, on day five, Opdeweegh says, “you should present a draft-summary strategic plan that consists of a P&L, balance sheet and the key strategic goals for the next five years.” This draft is then open for discussion with the group. At the end of day five, a subcommittee should be appointed with the specific task to develop a more detailed strategic plan within 30 days and to present that plan to the group. The executive team needs to be intimately involved in this exercise.

The 2nd week on the job

In the second week on the job, Opdeweegh recommends, “organizing a roadshow to get in front of the rest of the organization. You need to be out there and allow the associates to get to know you. You should spend time on the shop floor, demonstrating a decent level of understanding of the operational processes, but more importantly, you should interact with your coworkers.”

In your first couple of weeks on the job, and during your entire leadership tenure, it’s important to be relatable and approachable. Work to be humble, kind and authentic. You are human, and there is something very endearing about sharing stories about how you have faced challenges in the past and how you have successfully dealt with them. They need to see somebody who is fair, inclusive and open to new ideas. You are nothing more than member of the team who is there to support his co-workers. A good CEO does not find authority in his job title, but rather in tangible achievements.

6 Ways Corporate Culture Works As An Instrument To Guide A Company Through Transformation And Change

Transforming a business from its current state to a desired future state demands not only passion but also disciplined planning. In line with his view of corporate culture as a change agent, Jozef Opdeweegh outlines what such a transformation requires: a well-articulated and concise strategic plan, a message to associates detailing the future state of the company, a reassurance to the associates of their mission-critical importance, and a clear look at the company’s trajectory, including key milestones and goals along the way. Opdeweegh says, “I’m a true believer in corporate culture as an instrument to guide a company through transformation and change.”

Whether you have taken the bold decision to start your own business or have been tasked with running an existing company, the asset you are managing may well have multiple areas that deserve your special attention. For example, your business may be lacking organic growth, its leadership team may need to be recruited or upgraded, and the organization may require a couple of tangible successes to reinvigorate the team.

 

Any transformational activity is largely facilitated by a shared corporate culture. According to Opdeweegh, a Miami businessman with over 17 years of experience as CEO, Chairman and Board Member of private and public companies, “Corporate culture plays a critical role in the success of a company. The value and impact of a set of shared beliefs and behaviors can hardly be overstated when convincing a group of people to meticulously undertake a challenging change initiative.”

Opdeweegh cites 6 core behaviors that are very powerful in driving the right strategic initiatives of the organization. He encourages using one or more of these for discussion purposes as you go through the collaborative process of defining your corporate culture.

  1. Creativity: “Think outside the box and share your perspective.”
  2. Customer centricity: “The customer is central to everything we do.”
  3. Empowerment and accountability: “Push decision making down in the organization and hold people accountable.”
  4. Fairness: “Be fair and respectful in everything you do.”
  5. Openness: “Be open and open-minded, listen and allow the best idea to win.”
  6. Speed: “Make quick, analytics-based decisions.”

Opdeweegh uses a definition of corporate culture based on a commonly shared notion that a company’s culture consists of the sum of beliefs and behaviors that determine how associates and management interact with each other inside and outside the workplace, as well as with other relevant constituencies, such as customers, suppliers, the board of directors, lenders and other outside parties. Notes Opdeweegh, “Corporate culture, however, should ideally also extend to the development of a collective perspective on societal and environmental considerations, for instance, the role of the organization in the broader community, or the efforts to minimize a corporation’s carbon footprint.”

Opdeweegh adds that when suggesting a set of core values to the organization, it is important to come forward with values that are highly relevant to the corporation and its success, yet are universal in nature, and impossible to contest. Says Opdeweegh, “Nobody will object to a core value of ‘fairness.’ Nobody will raise their hand to state that they do not believe in ‘creativity.'” He notes that the process of agreeing on the most relevant core values or behaviors for an organization is an iterative and democratic process, with the ultimate end-result coming from many group sessions with a relevant diagonal slice of the company’s associates.

Jozef Opdeweegh: The Advice to Give Someone Assuming A CEO Position

What advice would you give someone assuming their first CEO position?

I would say never, ever compromise on your integrity. Never. Always stay true to your core set of beliefs. I would say focus heavily on instilling a set of core behaviors that you believe in in the organization. I would say be perseverant, because the journey ahead is not going to be an easy one, and there are going to be difficult moments. If you’re going to be the person who’s at the helm of the organization, you’re going to have to wade through those difficult waters. You have to be a hard-working, self-organized independent individual, but you also have to be a fun-loving individual. You have to be an outgoing individual. All of this has to be combined with trying to find the right balance between the corporate life and personal life

Jozef Opdeweegh: The Strength of Corporate Culture

What is the strength of corporate culture?

I’m a true believer in corporate culture. I’m a true believer in corporate culture as an instrument to guide a company through transformation and change. Not everybody may be a believer, but I very much am. I believe that the more daunting the task is, the larger the degree of changes a company has to go through, and the more important corporate culture becomes.

I’ve been CEO of a number of different businesses, some of those startups, where it’s easy to implement your own corporate culture, and some of those inherited businesses of size, where it’s a lot more difficult to impact corporate culture.

Your first couple of days as CEO, regardless of the scenario, should be spent on determining the core behaviors you believe in and establishing the core behaviors everybody can embrace. If you talk about fairness nobody’s going to say, “Hey, I’m opposed to fairness.” If you say inclusiveness, nobody’s going to say that he or she is opposed to inclusiveness. So, there should be sort of universal, almost humanistic principles guiding the way a company is managed.

The strength of corporate culture and core behaviors are the players guiding this organization through its next phase – whether it’s an up-phase or a down-phase. Whenever somebody doesn’t adhere to that corporate culture you don’t have to necessarily address that individual directly, but you can point to the fact that the person is not adhering to the corporate culture that he or she had subscribed to in those first couple of days when you walked in.

That’s the strength of corporate culture: it is a very subtle way of gradually driving behavior. Does it work for everybody? No. Are there people who are ultimately still going to continue to display behaviors that are unacceptable? Absolutely. Should those people be part of your organization in the long run? No, they shouldn’t be.