Building thriving workplaces: lessons from 'Leading Change' Industry Exchange

10 June, 2016
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On 2 June at the Amsterdam Campus, Hotelschool The Hague was pleased to present an Industry Exchange event on the theme “Leading Change - Reaching Our Full Potential” which was inspired by many sources which all suggested we are at a tipping point in terms of needing to rethink how we lead and design our organisations. It was clear from the start that the theme resonated with all involved and the afternoon was full of passionate and inspiring conversations exploring themes related to building thriving workplaces.

One of the sources of inspiration was the Deloitte 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report which we strongly encourage you to read. We were delighted to have Ronald Meijer, Partner Transformation, Leadership & Governance Financial Services Deloitte open the event with an inspiring and insightful presentation which addressed the 10 trends the report covers. Ronald’s key messages for what is required to build workplaces where people can thrive were:

  • Use Purpose and Values as a daily compass for priority and goalsetting
  • Make sure strategising is done via an organisational dialogue and permanently linked to leader development
  • Select leaders on the basis of their potential and their drive to help others perform and develop
  • Design your organisations from the individual UP and from the client IN, not from the top DOWN
  • Use ‘scalable learning’ as an organising principle and basis for the KPI-tree
  • Make sure every individual has a ‘Home Team’ of maximum 10 people
  • Learn to develop organisational capabilities, starting with design thinking
  • Systematically gather and combine big (eg digital) with small (esp anthropological) data
  • Measure engagement regularly and at different levels via not more than 20 questions
  • Reinvent performance management on the basis of self-guidance, continuous dialogue and feedback and get rid of ranking and scores.

Ronald’s tips provide plenty of opportunity for looking at your own organisation and seeing where there are opportunities for improvements. His presentation was the perfect conversation starter for the 11 concurrent workshops which followed in 2 rounds. At each of these sessions students, industry representatives and Hotelschool employees discussed and participated in activities around the themes of the day.

We also asked our workshop hosts who came from across The Netherlands, Europe and the USA to share with us their key messages they would like spread, about what needs to be done to build workplaces where people can thrive. Their words offer plenty more sources of inspiration for you to look at different ways of working in your own organisation.

Joseph Roevens has been ‘teaching’ participative forms of Leadership, and Semco-style management internationally since 1997. He joined us for the day from Belgium to share his messages about leadership in his “Leadership Tango” workshop. Joseph says that two of his favourite approaches to help people thrive is to provide safety and appreciation. He says “As the leader of a 5 person team with the power to hire/fire, I make sure that everyone knows that I care about their job. Then they relax, open up and dare to make mistakes. I also provide them with regular, personal, clear appreciation about the so-called ‘small’ things: how they interact with a student, how they organised an event, how they create team spirit. Appreciation for small things, and not only for ‘big achievements’ helps someone to move forward with pride, and achieve ever greater results. Even in a society that’s still blinded by the “Be Nr.1” ideology.”

Perry Timms, a Chartered Member of the CIPD from the UK, who has led business change and organisation development for 20 years, challenged participants thinking in his “Changing the World of Work” workshop. Perry believes that Humane Workplaces are Helpful; Understanding; Meritocratic; Adaptive; iNclusive and Energising. He maintains “those are words we want to think of, for the place we call work - so how do we make it so?  By being tuned in.  Tuned in to being helpful - because when you are, others reciprocate.  Understanding - when you understand you do the right thing.  Meritocratic - because it’s about your impact not your title. Adaptive - because everything shifts and transforms.  iNclusive - because we all need our differences not our sameness.  Energising - because your kinetic power creates our centrifugal force towards better.”

Margit Takacs, Associate Director of Global Change Management Deutsche Post DHL and Certified Life Coach & Speaker joined us from Germany to share her thoughts on diversity in her "Leadership 'Sans Frontiers' " workshop. Margit says that "diversity in Leadership is a fascinating topic that can be approached from various angles, holistically: it is essential not just at work, but also in families, communities etc. We can make a difference in each of these areas! To help people thrive, there is a need for different leadership approaches in style but also a need to help both women and men blossom, and be the best they can be." One of Margit's student participants Rui Luo said "I was so accustomed to the mentality that women are in an unequal position, therefore the organisation has to “offer special treatment” to lift them up. Today I get inspired by Margit that women themselves also need to speak up, team up, stand up for themselves. In summary, women’s intrinsic motives are the main force will drive our world change.”

Judy Lundy, a member of Hotelschool faculty from Australia joined with Jeanine van der Bas a recent graduate of the school to explore the importance of emotionally intelligent leadership in their “Head and Heart” workshop. Judy and Jeanine believe that leaders can support the development of thriving workplaces by being in tune with their own emotions and appropriately managing their emotional responses while simultaneously striving to perceive and understand emotions in others. Being in tune in this way helps minimise the unproductive influence emotions can have and maximise their productive qualities leading to healthier workplace relationships. Judy and Jeanine encouraged participants to consider ways of enhancing their own emotional intelligence by firstly getting an insight into their current levels which can be done by undertaking a scientifically validated emotional intelligence test such as one of those listed on the Emotional Intelligence Consortium Website at

Jan van der Meer who has worked for the police in Amsterdam since 1998 and initiated a collaboration between the police and ‘Challenge Day Nederland’ touched participants with his “If You Really Knew Me” workshop. Student Julia Volgers who was one of the participants said, “If you open up, you can truly connect and establish trust”. Jan believes that connections can be forged with the following line ‘if you really know me you should now…’. He believes that this is a simple but not always easy tool which includes the gift to talk for 2 minutes and the gift of only listening in response. He maintains that we don’t need to be fixed, we need to be heard and seen. He urges us to ask what you/coworkers/family/friends need to be 100%, arrange, help and guide them. He believes that to be the best organisation you need to find and be the authentic you. Be the Change!

Carla van Stralen has been a change leader for 15 years and managed organisational transformations, innovation funnels and internal ventures. Carla inspired participants in her "Leading Change on the Fast Track" workshop. Carla says that some practical things we could do to build workplaces where people can thrive include:  

- Invite your team/ employees to sit in a circle (no tables or beamers) and engage with them on the changes that are going to affect your business, determine together how you are going to react on them and let every individual team member reflect on what this means for her/his role and how she/he wants to contribute.

- As a leader think about the following question: "what is the legacy I want to leave behind?”. Then act on it.

Oscar van Tol who has spent many years studying the development of people, teams and organisations joined with Hotelschool alumnus Reinier van Dieren to present their “Hospitality Leadership” workshop. Oscar and Reiniers’ key message from a Hospitality Leadership point of view is that the one key element to creating a better workplace is a genuine interest in each other as a person, where you put the other person first from an honest, authentic, hospitality point of view. At this point in time, you get asked more questions in five minutes by your server at your local cafe, serving you a € 2,80 cappuccino than your manager asks you in a full year. Does that not seem strange? To create that better workplace, start asking questions. Start getting to know your co-workers, your employees, your manager. Find out their needs, their desires, their passion and fears. Only then you can truly and successfully work together. 

LeeAnn Mallorie, Founder & CEO of Leading in Motion, Leadership & Sustainability Coach travelled all the way from the USA to guide participants through her “Fully Embodied Leadership” workshop. LeeAnn believes that modern business culture has led us to overuse our brains, to the detriment of our bodies. She says, “We sit for long hours in front of computers. We relate to one another via our intellect. Yet our bodies carry a deep wisdom. It holds the solution to the problems we face in today’s workplace. The way we do anything is the way we do everything. Our movement style is a perfect metaphor for the unconscious ways our personality takes charge when we lead. Mindfulness toward our body sensations, emotions, posture and pace will help us skillfully design the workplace of the future.”

Corporate Rebels, Joost & Pim have a purpose of making work more fun. They inspire employees and organisations to make a change towards more happiness and more success. On their search for ultimate employee happiness they visit plenty of great and inspiring workplaces. Pim and Joost say, “Most often we encounter places where people can thrive and be themselves. Again and again these places are manned by truly unique people with habits and practices that are often perfectly tailored to their particular needs. There is no universal blueprint to success but we see some common trends. Don’t be afraid to experiment, be yourself and listen to the people that do the work. Try to collectively find and chase a higher purpose and work according common values. And don’t forget; have some fun!” If you want to follow their search to find the world’s happiest workplaces you might like to have a look at their website or subscribe to their blog at Corporate Rebels.

Joep C. de Jong is a freelance lecturer at Hotelschool The Hague who has had a successful career in business, lastly as CEO of consultancy / leadership training organisation. Joep shared some of his wisdom in his “Appreciative Leadership” workshop. Following the wonderful “Leading Change” event he shared his reflection on the question how to realise our ambitions when it comes to reaching our full potential. He maintains that from an Appreciative Leadership perspective that starts with practicing a few ‘daily routines’. Firstly learn to see the possibilities and the potential of everyone you meet, even if you strongly disagree or even may feel under ‘attack’. Secondly learn to change your need to control a situation into a wish to hold the space for others. And lastly grow your understanding about the possibility that our lives might be about ‘simply recognising each other, always!’

Thom Olschansky a local from The Hague comes from a classic hospitality family. Thom took attendees through a very different experience in connecting with people in his “Energy Field Management” workshop. Thom is a strong believer in the philosophy that happy customers start with happy employees which have a happy management team with a happy CEO. He maintains that the key is through connecting with people. He says that to do so we need to look at our beliefs and convictions and to do the same with those around us. He maintains that through applying an attending attitude, non-judgemental intent and ownership that we can find the right click within and between ourselves and others. 

The collective wisdom of our “Leading Change” speakers gives plenty of food for thought about real and tangible actions which can be done to build thriving workplaces. By looking at your own workplace practices and adopting some of these ideas you can be part of the solution. By doing so you can help turn around the alarming trend of chronic levels of disengagement and epidemic levels of psychological distress our workplaces are causing. There are plenty more sources of inspiration in great books, blogs and associations relating to themes such as human centred design, leadership, emotional intelligence, appreciative inquiry and many more. If you would like to read further, the following are a few book suggestions to get you started.

  • Maverick by Ricardo Semler
  • Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
  • Work Rules! By Laszlo Bock
  • Under New Management by David Burkus
  • Reinventing organizations by Frederic Laloux
  • Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't by Simon Sinek

We truly believe from the bottom of our hearts that the quest for workplaces where people can thrive is not an impossible dream. We would like to thank all involved with this event for believing this too and thinking along with us. Together we can be the change!

“Returning from work feeling inspired, safe, fulfilled and grateful is a natural human right to which we are all entitled and not a modern luxury that only a few lucky ones are able to find.”
Simon Sinek

José der Kinderen
Conny Valk
Judy Lundy 

About the author

Hotelschool The Hague

Hotelschool The Hague was founded and funded in 1929 by the hospitality industry to create a central place where industry partners could gain and share new insight, skills and knowledge. Since its foundation, the Hotelschool has become an international school specialised in hospitality management offering a 4-year Bachelor's degree in Hotel and Hospitality Management. This degree course is also available as the accelerated International Fast Track programme. Our 13 month Master Hospitality Management programme is designed to deliver the next generation of hospitality innovators.

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