Find a balance between being firm and being flexible
In conversation with Gert-Jan Bravenboer, Town-Clerk of Barendrecht, The Netherlands
Most of you might already know Mr. Gert-Jan Bravenboer, an inspiring leader, Town Clerk of the municipality of Barendrecht in The Netherlands. How would you know about him? Gert-Jan and his governmental organization are frequently part of our training's by an intercultural business case on leading change.
Over the years, Gert-Jan became a good friend. Topics like change, passion, leadership style, employee commitment and values are always part of our conversations. What we like about Gert-Jan is his openness about his approach and style towards managing people. This might give you inspiration too. So let's listen to Gert-Jan's story.
What is Barendrecht all about?
Barendrecht is a small village in the Netherlands, located as a suburb of Rotterdam in the province of South Holland. The municipality has a population of 48.000 (2016), and covers an area of 21.73 km2 (8.39 sq mi) of which 1.90 km2 (0.73 sq mi) is water. The municipality went through a major development between 1998 and 2008. Barendrecht has doubled its number of employees (from 120 to 325 employees) and citizens (from 20.000 to 45.000) by constructing new houses with 500 MLN Euro's of public funding.
Gert-Jan's work and responsibilities
I have been working for the public administration since I was 22 years old. Ten years later I became part of the management and was responsible for Welfare, Management and Services. My passion is to take care of citizens and provide them a high quality level of affordable services. My role is to prepare the decision-making process of the governing board and make sure the decisions taken are being executed accordingly. Together with my two fellow-Town Clerk's, we lead an organization of more than 800 employees supporting the three autonomous municipalities: Barendrecht, Albrandswaard and Ridderkerk. I am driven by four values: positivity, engagement, passion and performance. I am convinced that once people take their own responsibilities with a positive mindset and enjoy their work it will benefit our citizens tremendously.
Currently, we are in the middle of a change process, which started on January 1st 2014. This process consists of merging the three municipalities into one public service organization. Quite an impactful change if I may say so, especially when you are part of the Board of Directors, focusing on cultural change constantly and given the fact that each municipal organization has its own culture. Barendrecht has a more business-like culture whereas the municipality Albrandswaard has a more collaborative culture as opposed to the municipality Ridderkerk which has more personal and social elements in its culture. I feel encouraged to find the unity in these diverse cultures.
In order to implement the merger successfully, my two fellow-Town Clerks and I went on 'road shows' to initiate dialogues with our employees. From my perspective, change processes always have to be linked to the organizational objectives. Why? Because change processes, in general, require intense communication with everybody involved. In my experience, a clear vision supports a change process and more importantly commitment from the management and employees is a must. You will only be able 'to buy' commitment once everybody knows how to contribute to the organization's objectives. That's the reason for change. Especially in a complex governmental organization like ours, it requires a clear and strong communication. By the way, I love dialogues with my people!
Leading people through change
First of all, we look at people, Gert-Jan said. We look at their profiles, their responsibilities and their experience with the organization. We try to find the story behind resistance, if any, when we observe people aren't fully committed to the change process. Is it a lack of competencies or a lack of willingness? If people are simply not able to manage the change, then we have a thorough look at their competencies. Is it a certain lack of skills or a lack of knowledge and experience? As a leader of an organization in change you are responsible to find solutions in these cases. If people are simply not willing to deal with the change then we have to look beyond and try to find the story behind the story. There is always a reason for the unwillingness to change. I have the experience, as a leader, that if you understand the story behind the lack of will or the resistance, you will together find a way to move on. At times, the person's environment may also be a hurdle which has nothing to do with lack of competencies or willingness. In these cases I focus myself on their environment and I reach out my helping hand. The challenge is that although everybody has a personal story, the organization has to move on, simply because the world moves on including our city. My motto is to find a balance between being firm and being flexible while managing change.
Our change progress is being measured via two performance indicators: the quality level of various services provided by us to citizens and the satisfaction level of our employees. Due to the enormous impact of the merger process, a significant drop of the quality of our services was predictable in 2014-2015. Those results have now improved and we are back on track. I am happy to share with you that the employee survey results of 2016 showed that most of our employees enjoy working for our organization, are aware of their own growth opportunities within the organization and perceive the organizational culture as extremely 'innovative'. That's great news, isn't it?
Looking back at this entire process, I realized it made a huge impression on me. By being part of this process, I became better in leading change. It made me realize even more that once everybody works towards the same goal with commitment, every organization is able to reach for the stars.
You can understand we look forward to another cup of tea with Gert-Jan.