10 defining moments at Arcadis


1. Chicago: In the cupboard

It was May 2006 when I found myself in a very small office without windows at the Aon headquarters in Chicago. One of the two people in my team had just resigned (because, she said, she was doing all the work and I got all the credits). I was unable to get into the inner circle of the ex-McKinsey people who were running Aon. Time to move on. I phoned the headhunter who had contacted me six months earlier about the top HR job in Arcadis. They were still looking.

2. Arnhem: The interview

My first interview at Arcadis was with the CEO and the Corporate Director HR I had to succeed. Later I learned they had already been looking for eight months. They wanted a woman. The salary they had in their mind was below market. The Corporate HR team of this 10,000 people company was one person (the Corporate Director HR). Many candidates had backed off and no-one was good enough.
The interview was great fun. I can not remember what we talked about but we laughed a lot. My predecessor was great and for three months after I was appointed we happily worked together.
(Also read: 30 years in HR, part 7: Growing with Arcadis).

3. Amsterdam, Marriott hotel: TED Arcadis

2012. The annual jamboree of top people had been done for years in the same format. One day Powerpoint’s and motivational speakers at Hotel Huis ter Duin in Noordwijk. Half a day workshops on Saturday morning, with a closing speech of the CEO. On Friday night: BBQ on the beach. We had convinced the organising team to try something different: copying the TED format. One day with 20 presentation no longer than 18 minutes each. No Q&A. A mix of internal and external people. A variety of subjects, all related to the strategic themes of Arcadis. I was planned to talk about “The beauty of organisations”. A couple of days before
D-day the CEO got cold feet. This TED day was to risky. Would people be able to understand the concept? Would it not be better to stop after every three talks, and then have small group discussions about the lessons learned and the implications for Arcadis?
The organising team was depressed, and the energy level quickly came down. With some brute force we were able to convince the CEO, and the TED day was a big success.

4. Arnhem and Amsterdam: Building a world class team

In 2007 the corporate HR team of Arcadis doubled. Via a relation at a consultancy company, I got in touch with Nathalie. From 2007 to 2011 the two of us were the global HR team, working very well together and being very complementary. End 2011 it became too much, and we had no other choice than to ask for help (which is not something I do easily, unfortunately, and neither does Nathalie). I phoned someone who had helped me out in my Aon days, and he send someone out of their ‘HR Talent Pool’. We had defined a temporary job, with a focus on compensation- and HR analytics projects. In came Sylke. Reportedly the interview was one of my worst interviews, as I was only talking about all the projects we were planning to do (but had no time to launch) and selling Arcadis at the same time. Sylke nodded, asked some questions, and we hired her. It turned out C&B and HR analytics was not her main passion, but who cared. Later she shifted her focus to talent development and community building projects, with great success. In 2012 we were able to hire a proper Director Compensation & Benefits. Jules was found via a normal channel, a search company. Jules came in and calmly, with great dedication and determination, he started projects that we should have done a long time ago.
Somewhere end 2012 one of my tweets was retweeted by someone who added: read this blog post by my old high school mate Tom Haak. This was @mariskaijzerloo. I read some of her tweets, went to LinkedIn and got interested. Via Twitter I asked her if she would be interested to talk about a possible job at Arcadis. She was about to move to Asia with her family for three months. We talked using Skype, some other interviews were also done through Skype and Mariska joined ARCADIS without ever having really met any of us.
More or less at the same time Mariska started, after her Asian trip had finished, Nienke strengthened the team. Finding Nienke was easy, as she and I had worked together at Aon. The growth path and the opportunities at Arcadis were convincing enough to realise this transfer from AKZO-Nobel to Arcadis.

5. Washington DC: Developing Global Account Managers

In 2009 a new Director Multinational Clients was appointed. His analysis: if we want to accelerate growth, we have to accelerate the development of our Global Account Managers. With help of Gert-Jan van Wijk and his network (The World We Work In) we developed the “Winning Global Business” program. This was really a Learning 3.0 program. The interventions were tailored to the individual and group needs of the GAM’s. Key question: how can we support the GAM’s to double their business in three years time? The start was a joint meeting in Washington DC, and after that the program went in all kind of different directions. Some GAM’s were coached on consultative selling, prior to important client meetings. Others were creating a team focusing on “How can we capture Brazil”, and so on.
The downside: the Winning Global Business program was so tailored and specific, that is was difficult to see it as a separate program. If your mental model is: training is a couple of days in a conference center, and then you go back to work to implement, it is very difficult to understand the benefits of another approach. When a new Director MNC arrived, the WGB program evaporated.

6. Okura hotel, Amsterdam, June 2012: Global Leadership Forum

June 20, 2012. A beautiful day in Amsterdam. The 170 participants of the Arcadis Global Leadership Forum arrived at the Okura hotel around 6 pm. They got the instructions on their iPad. No plenary meeting, but they split in 17 groups of 10, going to 17 different restaurants in Amsterdam. Via the iPad the teams got some questions. Why are you here? What do you value? In the teams the conversations started. The teams shared group photo’s via the iPad. “Greetings from team 12: we are excited to be here!”. The AGLF 2012 was great. Designed with the help of our partner “The Future Firm”, with Gijs Pothof in the lead. A new CEO, a new approach.

7. Noah’s Arc hotel, Hong Kong, October 2013: Global Shapers

In 2012 the Arcadis Global Shapers program was launched. In 2008 Nathalie had been working on the design of what was called “Connecting the Dots”. Key question: how can we connect young people in Arcadis. “Connecting the Dots” never came off the ground, it was probably too early. In May 2012 some things came together. The biggest shareholder of Arcadis, The Lovinklaan Foundation, was looking for new projects to fund. Sylke led a team that came up with the idea of organising a global “Bootcamp” for new Arcadian’s. The young Dutch company Frisse Blikken was selected to help to design and implement the program. The first thing they did was adopt an English name for their international business: Fresh Forces. With Chantal, Fritz and many others in a very short time Arcadis Global Shapers was launched. In 2012 hundred young professionals were selected to work together on real projects. The starting question: what can Arcadis learn from the young professionals? in 2012 the face-to-face meeting was in Paris. In 2013 the Global Shapers gathered in Hong Kong, and traveled together to mainland China. The enthusiasm and the positive approach of the Global Shapers is contagious. In Hong Kong I wished I was a Global Shaper! (Read more in the book: Building Powerful Networks: The Arcadis Global Shapers Story).

8. The Grand Hotel, Amsterdam, March 2013: What is your operating model?

With a team of senior executives and consultants we gathered in the Grand Hotel to discuss the operating model of the company. For me this was a defining moment, as I realised I could contribute less in the coming phase of the company. Operating model. Blue prints. Global systems. Value propositions. I hear the words, but with me they do not resonate. Although my mind was not totally clear at that time (read “Can organisations be beautiful machines?”), the conclusion appeared at the horizon.

Eight defining moments. I could have covered more. Like the move of the ARCADIS HQ from Arnhem to Amsterdam and the CEO transition from Harrie Noy to Neil McArthur. Together that makes 10.
Nearly eight years in a fantastic company. I learned a lot, worked with great people and I am grateful that I have been part of some inspiring innovative projects.

This post is also published as Chapter 17 in the book: “30 Years in HR” (2nd edition)

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