Article: Offer the right balance of what people need: AkzoNobel’s Bert Jan Oostenbrink

Employee Engagement

Offer the right balance of what people need: AkzoNobel’s Bert Jan Oostenbrink

The top-of-mind concerns for talent today include flexibility, diversity, and hybrid work. Organisations need to incorporate these into their EVP, and importantly, need to find a balance of what people need and want. AkzoNobel’s regional HR director Bert Jan Oostenbrink shares more.
Offer the right balance of what people need: AkzoNobel’s Bert Jan Oostenbrink

Employee expectations are driving an evolution in organisations’ strategies for attracting talent and communicating with them. For a look at what one major international corporation is doing, People Matters asked Bert Jan Oostenbrink, Regional HR Director, South Asia Pacific, AkzoNobel, to share a bit about the kind of value employees expect from employers today. Having been with AkzoNobel’s HR function for over 17 years, he’s observed how these expectations have changed and what has worked best to meet them. Here’s what he told us about AkzoNobel’s attraction and engagement strategies.

The AkzoNobel employer brand names people as a main focus. Which areas of this focus do you find have gained the greatest traction among current employees and potential hires?

Our focus on people covers many different aspects. It's about ensuring a safe and diverse work environment, developing our talented workforce, embracing our values and our approach to human rights. It also includes creating a diverse and inclusive working environment where our people feel safe and empowered to be their true selves.

This ties back to what Great Place to Work discovered in their research on company culture, which showed that employees are attracted and remain in workplaces where they are treated fairly regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or age.

And indeed, in recent years we have seen greater interest by potential talents in the diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies of the company.

We thus focus our D&I initiatives on three action areas – fostering an inclusive culture, expanding our D&I networks, and strengthening our leadership diversity with emphasis on gender balance. In fact, our global ambition is to expand D&I to the top-most levels, with 30% women representation at the senior executive level by 2025.

When communicating your employer brand to talent outside the company, what strategy works to reach out? Do you find that different approaches are needed for different demographics?

We have to be ready to adapt our strategy to changing situations. For the past two years, people have been working remotely, so we turned to social media to reach talents. 

While it is always possible to utilise traditional approaches, such as placing posters at our manufacturing sites, what we have learnt during the pandemic is when a crisis or lockdown hits, the situation changes fast and we need to adapt our approaches in order to communicate effectively to potential talents. 

Creating awareness is probably the first step towards getting the attention and interest of potential talents. Our main approach in talent attraction and recruitment currently is to utilise our own channels such as AkzoNobel’s corporate Linkedin, Facebook, social media pages and our personal networks to share stories and posts about AkzoNobel. This includes not just posting on recruitment related matters, but different topics of diversity, sustainability, community outreach. 

We apply local flavour and local language to reach different groups of people. We also adjust our approach according to behavioural habits we observe. For example, Facebook works better for blue-collar workers in Vietnam, whereas LinkedIn does not. In India, we trained Brand Ambassadors to build their personal brand and then approach social media in posting stories and topics related to our brand. We then leverage their networks to share the stories out into the markets.

This is where we reinforce our company’s focus on People – by making space and adapting to the diverse habits and preferences of our talents.

The key thing is to have constant and continued communications on who we are and what we do, our core values and why we are different – all these have been very effective in attracting the right talent for our company.

Having been with AkzoNobel for almost two decades, how have you seen people's expectations of the company change - both current employees and potential new hires? What do you think drives such changes in expectations?

Recent research by Qualtrics suggested that employees’ expectations post pandemic will include more workplace flexibility, greater connection with their colleagues as well as bringing their whole selves to work.

Hence, one of our main considerations is hybrid work and how to implement it effectively. Remote working can be a significant disrupter, yet we believe that employees still expect to be engaged and motivated. Through our “AkzoNobel Cares” program, we seek to communicate and connect with employees by providing holistic employee wellbeing initiatives like a counseling helpline, medical support, health related webinars, Hospital Insurance & Life insurance enhancement and others.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, in recent years we have seen greater interest in our D&I policies. Employees are attracted to and remain in workplaces where they are treated fairly regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or age.

There often seems to be a bit of a gap between what prospective hires are looking for and what the HR team is prioritising. What are your thoughts on this? What do you see people focusing on?

It depends on the candidates’ demographics as their needs are different at the different stages of their careers. We find that candidates in their 40s and above prioritise health, well-being, and flexi working more than younger candidates. 

In general, younger candidates tend to join us because of our sustainability profile while mature candidates look at our talent management programmes. 

In order to attract the best talent globally, we want to maintain a shared corporate culture of innovation and inclusiveness while still achieving our corporate ambitions through a high-performing workforce. Therefore, we focus our efforts on being a top employer in the chemical industry in the marketplace. Our recent recognition as a European Top Employer suggests that we are on the right track and we are determined to do even more to enhance our position as a leading employer.

In discussions of employee value proposition, we tend to hear about three main types of value: the value that a job brings to someone's immediate circumstances, the value that it brings to their career development, and the social/ethical value that people derive from the company's image. Do you recommend any best practices to boost each of these?

I believe that in order for us to attract, recruit and retain the right talents, we need to offer the right balance of rewards, leadership, company reputation and work-life quality.

At AkzoNobel, we provide employees with clear career paths and/or development plans. We recruit both internally and externally – with policies designed to encourage women to make lateral moves to try different areas for growth. The Marketplace is a global program in which our employees may voluntarily take up projects that have no boundaries, under the mentorship of our global leaders. 

We also focus on the social and ethical impact that AkzoNobel brings to our communities. Under our AkzoNobel Cares umbrella, the AkzoNobel Paint Academies in India promotes D&I in the predominantly male dominated decorative painter community. Our ambition is to have 30% of trainees passing out of AkzoNobel Paint Academies be women and/or from the LGBTI+ community. Over 50 women are already successfully empowered and gainfully employed as professional painters. 

Separately, as a part of a rehabilitation program for prison inmates and children in conflict with the law, 76 prison inmates and juveniles have been successfully trained as decorative painters. Our skill training program for transgender people have helped many to kickstart their careers as decorative painters with confidence.

We believe that the right balance can be struck only by looking at all of these categories in tandem, putting equal weight on each instead of focusing on one or the other.

Only by continuing to be innovative, authentic and staying committed to creating equal opportunities for employees, can we continue to be the employer of choice recognised by talents in the wider marketplace.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, #RedrawingEVP, #HRCommunity

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