30 years in HR, part 5: Core Competences

Next stop: KPMG

KPMG Netherlands was the next station, where I started in May 1994.  The Director HR was an old colleague from the Signaal days, and he was looking for someone who could help to improve people development (“Human Resource Development”, we called it). The nice HQ was located in Amstelveen, at the south side of Amsterdam. The KPMG organization (accountants, consultants, tax advisors, actuaries) had more than 5,000 employees in The Netherlands.

Vision 2000

I entered KPMG at the beginning of an enlightened period. The Chairman of the Board was Ruud Koedijk. He and another partner in the Board, Kees van Tilburg, wanted to change the organization, and accelerate the growth. Developing synergies through the creation of market groups (industry, government etc.), where the different service providers worked together, was key in their approach.

A project Vision 2000 was started. Key question: what should KPMG look like in the year 2000? As they wanted to be the best, the best consultants were hired to assist in the Vision 2000 process. In 1990 C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel had published their famous article in HBR: “The Core Competence of the Corporation“.

Working with Gary Hamel

Gary Hamel was hired to be the architect of Vision 2000. He was only present a couple of times (“Tell me again, which company is this?”).  Photo above was taken at the launch of Vision 2000 (Gary Hamel far left). The consultant leading the project was Don Laurie. I was lucky to be part of the internal project team that supported the process.

The project was one of the most interesting projects I ever participated in. Everything seemed to be possible. 100 partners and employees freed up 20 to 80% of their time to work on Vision 2000 for three months. The 100 were divided in three main groups: one trying to detect the real core competencies of KPMG, one looking at future trends and discontinuities and one studying the culture, and the cultural changes required. We were located on a separate floor. Quickly there was a new sub culture emerging.

Yoga at work

Every week special Out of the Box sessions were organized, where the group was stimulated by yoga teachers/ management gurus/entrepreneurs and the lot. One day someone had arranged that a construction client delivered a large concrete pile (“Heipaal” in Dutch) to the parking lot. The pile was painted and then with 50 people or so, we turned the pile around (“We can do it!).  The majority of the rest of the organization was looking at this wild bunch with some concern. If this was the future of KPMG they wondered if they wanted to be part of that.

I will not describe the complete process and outcomes here. In a couple of months I learned a lot and we had a lot of fun. The consultants drove the process with great rigor, the workload was high and the tensions in the team and between the Vision 2000 workforce and the rest of the organization were sometimes big. The outcomes were good, and I am sure KPMG benefited. Later the conservative forces regained the power; KPMG Consultants was sold and most of the ventures that were started as a result of Vision 2000 were spun off.

Competency frameworks were in fashion

After the Vision 2000 experience it was difficult to get back to normal work, but somehow I managed. My ‘piece de resistance’ was the competency model we developed, outlining the development from junior to partner in a 4×6 matrix. In those days competency frameworks were very fashionable (and the fit with Vision 2000 was great).

Connected to the competency framework was a redesign of the performance management system. The consultants liked it, most of the accountants did not. And they certainly did not like a staff manager non-partner to explain to them how they could improve their performance by making better plans and by focusing more.

The development centers we implemented (with external partner ADC) were also state of the art. All newly appointed managers would participate in a two-day development center in the year after their appointment. Actors would play ineffective employees or unhappy clients.

KPMG was a great organization to work for. The gap between partners and the rest of the employees was still big in those days. As staff employee you could never become a partner, and thus it was difficult to become part of the core of the organization. In 1998 I was called by a headhunter,  if I had ever heard of Aon (the answer was ‘no’).

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