“In the temping business, changes occur at a fast pace with many ups and downs. As an agent, you’re constantly at the forefront of those changes and at the same time you can’t lose sight of the human aspect. During the ups, and certainly the downs, you have to be forward-looking. We need our street skills on a daily basis,” says Jan Verbeke and Véronique Van de Peer from the temping agency Synergie Belgium. They have three keywords for the StreetwiZe trainings: innovative, inspiring and eye-opening.
Embedding the mission
When we meet with Jan Verbeke, CEO of Synergie, he immediately starts talking enthusiastically about the first time he heard Arnoud Raskin telling the story of Mobile School and how StreetwiZe and Mobile School form a hybrid organisation. Jan shares his view on the link between the challenges in the temping business and those of Synergie with us...
“Arnoud was a guest speaker at the ‘HR Manager of the Year’ event two years ago. He presented the four street skills he had noticed street children have for their survival, and the parallel he saw with companies that are undergoing change. I thought there was a strong connection between what Arnoud tells about street skills and us. At the time, we were about to rethink our vision and mission at Synergie Belgium. We have grown from 125 to 350 employees in 10 years’ time. We needed to define where we wanted to be heading. We were just at the point of redefining our vision and mission with adhering values.”
“The challenge is not to come up with a vision and a mission, to link a few values to that and to come up with a few visuals to go along with it”, adds HR Director Véronique Van de Peer. “The challenge is to have it embedded in the organisation. We were looking for a partner who could make our written vision and mission come to life in all our employees. The model with its four street skills really convinced us because in our business you need those skills on a daily basis.”
“Synergie Belgium is doing well,” says Jan Verbeke. “We’re growing by 15 per cent, year after year. We’re one of the major players in our sector and at the same time we still value our human SME approach. The temping business certainly isn’t an easy one. Every day we employ 6,000 people in manufacturing, in office and management positions, as well as in technical professions…”
“There is always pressure, constant deadlines. We employ over 200 temporary employees in different shift systems for some of our customers. At 10am we receive the planning for the early shift and at 3pm for the late shift of the next day. So it’s constantly ‘all hands on deck’.”
Our work doesn’t end when a person signs his temping contract. We already know that roughly 5 per cent of our temps won’t show up. Customers will complain and rightfully so! But as an agent you have to know how to handle those complaints: the absence is not your fault, but it is the person that your employing that is to blame. You have to verify why that person didn’t show up and report back to the client.”
“Some of our agents dread those tough calls,” says Véronique Van de Peer. “You have to have a very positive attitude in our position because you’re constantly firefighting. We also know that we have to offer people opportunities for growth. And every team leader has to have the necessary skills to coach their people.”
All on board
All 350 employees of Synergie are signed up for the full ‘street skills’ journey. Up until now, they’ve all gone through the sessions on ‘positive focus’, ‘agility and resilience’ and ‘proactive creativity’. “How did they experience the journey so far?” I ask.
“The first impressions are very positive,” answers Véronique Van de Peer. “StreetwiZe is very good at making it stick. People also say: We’ve had already a fair amount of coaching in the past, but this one is something else! The beauty about the StreetwiZe coaches is that they start with our own expertise and values and are able to offer us very practical tips and tricks.”
“Learning to look at things from a different angle, the ‘positive focus’ is crucial to us,” says Véronique. “Don’t let yourself being caught in a downward spiral whenever a problem occurs but stay on the lookout for positive opportunities. Tomorrow is another day. Of course, you’re allowed to point out what’s going wrong in order to improve, or learn from it, but positivity has to prevail. We would like to encourage that awareness. The group always came out of that session highly-motivated and engaged. I remember the workshop in which our coach Bart asked everyone to list all the things that went well in our company. ‘What is not the problem?’ he asked. How he phrased that question is something that really struck me.”
“We want to cultivate an awareness in our team leaders to notice the things that are running well and to be complimentary about them,” says Jan Verbeke. “People can develop wings when you compliment them: ‘I’ve worked hard today, and hey, my manager noticed it’. And what’s more, it makes it easier to do the same the next day. It’s always easy to point out and complain about all the things that went wrong, but at the same time maybe twenty other things did go well. To make a difference often lies in the details. For me, I’ve set myself the objective to give three honest compliments every day. And that’s not always easy. From early on, we’ve been taught to accept that things going well is normal.”
“I’ve learned to break up big ambitions into smaller, achievable chunks,” says Véronique Van de Peer about her own learning track. “By changing small things that hardly affect other people, you start moving in the right direction. I also learned to make my expectations even clearer. That allows you to move forward more easily and more sustainably as well. That doesn’t mean you’re not setting targets but you have to offer your people clear and attainable steps to get there.”
Positive focus is important but according to Jan Verbeke and Véronique Van de Peer, the same can be said for ‘agility and resilience’, the second street skill. “Flexibility was one of our old values,” says Véronique. “But in fact, ‘resilience’ is a much better and more powerful word for it. It is about not letting yourself be knocked down when something doesn’t work, it’s about letting go of bad experiences, learning from them and moving on to the next challenge. That is the kind of mindset that is very important in our day-to-day activities. Because you will face setbacks: people that don’t show up, disappointed customers on the phone. You need to be resilient in order to survive. A positive focus and resilience are closely linked together, you see, one goes hand in hand with the other.”
Creative and competitive collaboration
The first two workshops had a significant impact on the consciousness and the alertness of our employees, say Jan and Véronique. It has become very clear to them that they can change their attitude towards difficult and stressful moments or towards tough situations. Some of them already attended the ‘proactive creativity’ workshops in which they had to brainstorm in small groups about tangible projects that are aimed to improve the way we work.
“We already received more than thirty proposals for improvement. What’s more, there are some very good proposals in there that we really want to take onboard,” said Jan. He also has high expectations for the fourth street skill: ‘cooperative competition’, which deals with how you, as an individual, can be competitive about your idea, while at the same time being able to liaise with others in a shared project. “Our corporate culture is very human-minded. We work with shared objectives and let people determine the targets by themselves. We expect a certain minimum, but other than that, people are free to fill in their own objectives. And if one of our satellites is not doing so well, we provide help from one of the other offices, or from headquarters. I expect a big impact on the way in which our people and our various offices will work together.”
Making the switch embedded in the culture
Synergie wants to completely incorporate the four street skills into the company’s culture. “We focus heavily on them in our HR tools”, says Véronique. “We have adapted our appraisal and evaluation systems towards them. People are taking their street skills into account. This way we hope that this culture will gradually catch on. This has to be radiated top-down as well, of course. If the top is not aligned, it doesn’t make much sense to send people off on trainings.”
“The StreetwiZe sessions are truly an eye-opener when you’re thinking about how you want to evolve as a company,” adds Jan Verbeke. “The real-life Mobile School stories of StreetwiZe present you with a mirror. Our people know that our investment in their training has a return to street children, you see. The fact that Synergie commits itself like that is much appreciated by them. That’s also how we want to take on the world as a company: to take long-term initiatives, to also create added value for others… That’s also when we had a small epiphany. We want to encourage our people to become more active and to live healthier. Everyone in the company has received a steps counter. And we thought, ‘What if we link this active lifestyle to the Mobile School project?’ So we committed ourselves to walk 450,000 kilometres together – the distance to Mobile School’s three new partner projects. Soon enough we will have walked enough kilometres to cover the distance to Greece. After that, we will still go on towards India and Zambia. With each virtual arrival, we partially sponsor the start-up cost of that Mobile School. And here again, we get a lot of positive responses from our people.”