Newly-composed family

SD Worx Staffing Solutions is a young employment agency for lower- and higher-educated profiles. They offer services on temporary work, secondments, hiring and selection, career counseling, outplacement and specific payroll solutions for temporary hires. But young does not equal new.  SD Worx Staffing is composed of existing, smaller employment agencies. Zijlstra: “We’re like a blended family”.

SD Worx Staffing Solutions is SD Worx’ answer to the growing market of flexible work. SD Worx is Belgium’s largest payroll agency on the market, with over 1,800 employees. Taking into account the international businesses in France, the Netherlands, UK and Germany, the total adds up to over 4,000 employees. That is a big lever. From now on, companies besides payroll and HR services, clients can count on reinforced support for recruitment and flexible employment.

Some years ago, SD Worx noticed the evolving market demand for a more flexible workforce. The organisation responded: in October 2017 and July 2018, it acquired VIO Interim and Flexpoint Group. This allowed SD Worx Staffing Solutions to get started not only on the Belgian, but also on the Dutch employment market.

SD Worx Staffing Solutions started with the acquisition of temp agency VIO. “VIO’s focus was situated in East- and West-Flanders and stretched via Antwerp as far as Limburg”, Zijlstra explains. “In September 2018, the Flexpoint-group joined, with Limburg and Dutch Limburg as its centre of gravity, reaching as far as Antwerp and East- and West-Flanders. Trace also belonged to the Flexpoint-group, with offices in Wallonia and Brussels. So we now cover most of Belgium and a part of the Netherlands.”

Common values and culture

The different acquisitions each brought their own company culture with them. Didn’t this result in growing pains?

“Absolutely”, Zijlstra answers. “We are a ‘newly-composed family’. We have new colleagues from the acquired companies, we have attracted new hires, and we have colleagues from SD Worx. Together, we are one new organisation.

“After our last acquisition in September 2018, we started thinking about a common set of values and a common culture. The management did some preparatory work and came up with a collection of values that we believed were a good fit to our new organisation and linked back to the values that were known in the acquired companies. But we needed to assess and refine these values.”

“We asked StreetwiZe: ‘This is our history. We originate from very different organisations. Can you guide us and help us uniting everyone around one common set of values, and a common culture?’.”

Exercise with 30 cultural ambassadors

Zijlstra explains the approach of this values exercise: “The top of the organisation reflected on the vision, mission, values and interpretation of these values. We then cascaded down from the top to the director- and management levels of both countries. It was vital to us to avoid the ivory tower. Vio Interim already worked with a team of internal cultural ambassadors. We extended that concept to the entire organisation. We considered this a powerful sign that we wanted to create a support base and allow for feedback.”

The group of cultural ambassadors was very representative for the organisation. 30 People in total, including 20 from Belgium and 10 from the Netherlands, as well as diverse profiles like consultants, business managers or regional directors.

“StreetwiZe organised workshops with these cultural ambassadors, accompanying the translation of the values to the different target groups: clients, candidates, employees and management. How do you interpret it? How do you experience it, as an employee? Is what we are saying equally valid for the temporary worker and the paying client?”

“Our five values, extraordinary quality, fun, integrity, passion and freedom are very much in line with what was going on in the different acquired companies”, Zijlstra continues. “Some values were close to identical. But others were open to interpretation. We actually asked our ambassadors to validate the preparations made at the top and by our management, to make it more concrete and provide feedback.

Veerle Coffé, marketing & communication director at SD Worx Staffing Solutions, was present at the off-site workshops with the directors, management and cultural ambassadors that took place in January 2019, a little over three months after the final acquisition.

“Things went really fast”, Veerle Coffé says. “People still have to get to know each other. It was very important to create a forum where people could meet each other, as soon as possible. That’s why we planned a kick-off in Belgium and the Netherlands, in February. A kick-off really marks a moment. We wanted to be able to communicate on a number of concrete things, like how we defined our values at the 4 levels: clients, candidates, employees and management.”

‘The StreetwiZe coaches motivated each group to think about everyday behaviour in line with our values.’

Exercises with 480 employees

In May and June, all employees then continued working on the values.

“StreetwiZe guided us in what we called a series of one-day-workshops in the field, up to twenty participants per workshop”, Veerle Coffé says. With StreetwiZe’s support, we rolled out the values exercise to all 330 field workers in Belgium and 150 in the Netherlands.

“The StreetwiZe coaches motivated each group to think about everyday behaviour in line with our values. That made everything very concrete and close at hand. What does it mean in your dialogue with a client? How do you behave towards a colleague, towards a client? How do you address people, based on these values? When we say, ‘extraordinary quality is a core value’, then what do you expect from your management? When we say, ‘having fun is one of our values’, what promise do you feel we are making to you?’

Everyone, each employee, spent a day in such a workshop, guided by StreetwiZe. The only involvement of the directors was to make a brief introduction, with the story of our mission and vision.

Best captured

Hanna Zijlstra en Veerle Coffé explain why StreetwiZe was chosen to guide this journey.

“StreetwiZe proposed to bring on board the entire organisation and all employees in this exercise. They were the only ones looking at things from that perspective”, Coffé says. “If you allow the values to grow from inside the organisation, giving all people a role to build and realise the story, you get stronger results.

“We started with three candidates, but StreetwiZe captured our assignment the best, in the most appropriate way”, Zijlstra says. “Also, Arnoud Raskin was a speaker at both our kick-off events in Belgium as well as in the Netherlands. He spoke about Mobile School, about the world of street children, and how StreetwiZe fits into that world. And we really wanted an inspirational story like that. It really helped in shifting to our own story!”

“Another important aspect was their proposal to translate the values into concrete behaviours, how people experience these values bottom-up, linked to a personal experiment: ‘What can I do myself? What can I realise myself, in my environment and within my own context, to make these values come true?” Coffé adds.

“StreetwiZe coach Eric also gave that assignment to the group”, Zijlstra says. “If we want to go for freedom as a value, then what can we specifically do in our offices to make sure that this freedom is expressed? And it was nice to see that people really worked on that. The resulting cases were shared between the different regions.

‘What can I realise myself, in my environment and within my own context, to make these values come true?’

Personal experience

I also ask Hanna and Veerle how they would describe the StreetwiZe experience. [[nl]]Ik vraag Hanna en Veerle nog hoe ze de StreetwiZe-ervaring omschrijven.

“It was really intense”, Zijlstra says. “We went really fast and managed a lot on a very short term. The organisation itself was still evolving. We were still in the process of becoming one family. Emotions were vented during the workshop. At the end of each session, there was always something unexpected and the question ‘How do we deal with that?’ would pop-up.

Throughout the program, StreetwiZe continuously adjusted, very hands-on and pragmatic. We even organised formal feedback moments to top management, during lunch. “Every time we said ‘This is not what we expected’, StreetwiZe would react immediately”, Coffé agrees. “Sometimes even within a session. I remember the culture session with the ambassadors, where we weren’t getting the expected result. This was immediately picked up: a new exercise was introduced, to help us uncover exactly what we were missing. Our feedback was always taken into account, very constructively and positively, and translated into the program. What I’m trying to say is they could just as well have reacted defensively.”

‘Our StreetwiZe coaches had to manage an intensive change as well as a cultural exercise simultaneously.’

“We actually moved through a change as well as cultural trajectory,”, Zijlstra concludes. “Our StreetwiZe coaches had to manage an intensive change as well as culture exercise simultaneously. But it’s very good that we went very fast, very deep through the organisation. If we hadn’t done so, the values would have kept floating in the air and everybody would still interpret them differently. You could feel that the people of StreetwiZe were very committed. They wanted to make our culture and values exercise a success, together.”