Why Tjahny Bercx (LeasePlan) focusses on building an open and informal culture – an interview.

Tjahny Bercx (LeasePlan), CHRO of the year 2021 demonstrates how to lead business change, whilst proactively addressing employee well-being, and how leaders and fun play a role.

Tjahny, you have an impressive track record and a strong reputation within the Dutch business community as CHRO of the year 2021. Can you tell us about LeasePlan and your leadership role there?

In a nutshell, LeasePlan is a financial institution, active in 30 countries with over 8.000 employees We have a bank license for deposit holding, but our core business is car leasing. Currently, I am both Chief People & Performance Officer, and Country Cluster Director. For the People and Performance role I am responsible for the human-related topics and policies worldwide, and from a cluster director perspective I have P&L responsibility for Brazil, Mexico, US, Austria and Switzerland. Health & well-being is a key part of this, but given my position here at Headquarters, we define the Global Strategy and policies and the countries themselves have a lot of autonomy in executing these.

You are responsible for HR globally, how is employee mental health addressed at LeasePlan?

It is for sure on the agenda, but not as singled out as you mention it, it is not a separate agenda item. In my opinion, employee mental health doesn’t stand alone. Being aware of employees’ mental health should be in all layers and disciplines of the organisation. We approach mental health from a holistic point of view. We try to create an atmosphere where people feel included, feel safe, can flourish, and feel healthy both physically and mentally. We put a lot of effort into programs and support to ensure employee vitality.

We have an affiliated structure, but we try to create a very comprehensive culture where we aim for employees to really like their job, to want to be with us. D&I plays a huge role in this. We pay a lot of attention to the LGBTQI+ community or other communities in our organisation, and I strongly push for females in the top. This is obviously also part of feeling mentally well, that is what I mean with a holistic view. Physical wellness is very prominent at LeasePlan. We do a lot of sports in our organisation worldwide and we share stories of it. We see that this it motivates people to join. For example, I will run the New York marathon this year with a couple of board members and directors, and we hope more LeasePlan employees will join us. I truly believe that taking a holistic point of view and focussing on both mental and physical well-being ultimately leads to business results.

The impact of change, including awareness on how they deal with change themselves as a person, and how peers deal with change is so important, because it helps people see how they can support each other to make it work and avoid getting lost on the way.

Leaseplan is in the middle of a significant transformation to a 100% digital organisation. How do you support employees through this process with respect to well-being?

A digital organisation requires a complete change of mentality, and it is my responsibility to define a strategy to take the employees along. We focused on creating buy-in at an early stage, trusting that this prevents people from falling too deep, getting a burnout, or really feeling unmotivated.

First, we departed this impactful journey with the insight that transformation can only take place if employees are emotionally involved and are deeply aware of the need for change. The impact of change, including awareness on how they deal with change themselves as a person, and how peers deal with change is so important, because it helps people see how they can support each other to make it work and avoid getting lost on the way.

Second, we decided to embark on ‘Leaderships journeys”. This is a worldwide programme involving each level of the organisation, from the CEO to the receptionist. The idea is to enable employees to become aware of their own personality. We used the Enneagram Method for this, which distinguishes nine personality types. Employees identified their own and reflected on this. They became aware of how they behave in certain circumstances.

And the third step was the employees sharing their ‘lifelines’ with each other, for a better mutual understanding on how they could help each other to make this transformation work.

Evolving to a digital organisation, implies you need new competencies and skills. Does that generate rumour and stress in the organisation?

That is an interesting question, because of course we need a different set of competencies and skills, but that doesn’t mean that we have to say farewell to people. Both the CEO and I are examples of people that adapted successfully to new business models and new technologies. We are from the generation that worked with PCs with a floppy disk, a turntable phone, and in a very hierarchical leaderships model. We have both gone through a lot of change but are still standing strong and are successful. So, we believe we have a responsibility to help our employees to succeed in the transformation, to help them feel relevant for the future organisation, especially my generation. We owe this to them; they helped making this company successful. We support our people to understand what it means to go from an analogue to a digital organisation and help them adapt to this new world and even better, to like it! We created videos, that explain what exactly will change.

We realise and acknowledge that this is an intense process and that everyone copes differently. So, we set up extra support by organising training sessions on resilience, on mindset and more.

In addition to getting to know how each other, and providing detailed and accessible information on the changes, how else did you support employee well-being?

We realise and acknowledge that this is an intense process and that everyone copes differently. So, we set up extra support by organising training sessions on resilience, on mindset and more. In addition, we recently launched the option to connect with a psychologist through an online platform. Employees are offered three sessions, in which they can reflect and create a strategy to help them move forward or even connect with a company doctor. We hope that with these programs and interventions we can help prevent stress or at least help people to cope better with it.

LeasePlan scores are consistently high on the global engagement survey, 87 where the benchmark is 74. I am curious to know, what is the secret to success?

Well, it is a combination of things of course but I think that the fact that we focus a lot on feeling good, being happy, in our organisation plays a vital role. We are very open to endorse and enable resources to initiatives for employee health. Both HR and Corporate Affairs are on top of this. As mentioned earlier, we are really into video posts, we make them all the time, about the crucial role to perform sports to stay healthy, about the LGBTQI+ community or about the environment; we address issues that people care about. And we can shift gears, we make decisions fast and execute fast. An example is Men’s Health Week, last May, where there is amongst others, focus on health issues related to prevention of prostate cancer etc. I was recorded while boxing and emphasizing the importance of preventative tests. I believe being actively engaged with the organisation and internal communities is what makes people feel valued. All these things help to feel good!

People don’t realise that they spend more time at work than they are at home.

Very thoughtful and valuable I hear, any other initiatives you would like to point out?

Another example of our creativity and versatility was in the early days of COVID19 when we launched an Instagram platform in just one month that was focussed on body, soul, mind and transforming. Almost immediately we offered courses on how to be mindful, yoga and dancing. I offered that one, together with my wife. We gave merengue lessons. So, I was dancing with my wife and people at home followed us. There were all kinds of challenges on the website that people could do, and they could record themselves and share, you could win a price, there were book clubs.  All these kinds of things make people aware that you can do things together, digitally and that was also very helpful because we knew that would have a big impact on the mental state of our people.

I hear a lot of leader-led involvement. Have you shared any stories about your own mental health journey?

Yeah definitely! Every household has their own struggles and I think it is important to share these things with each other to understand that they are not alone in this. I’ve been in so many leadership journeys where people open up, and where I’m telling my own story as well. Members of my family have experienced PTSD from war, and mental and physical challenges, and we support them as a family. I have no shame to tell this to my peers or colleagues. I learned that when you open yourself to other people, they tend to share their story leading to a good dialogue and mutual understanding. People don’t realise that they spend more time at work than they are at home. In our search for our new organisational culture – that comes with the transformation- one thing is for sure, we will build further on our open, informal culture where employees call me Tjahny and can always reach out to me.

You mention that you share a lot yourself. What about your peers and other leaders at LeasePlan? What is their role in creating this culture?

Yes indeed, our leaders are actively engaged. We believe it is very important that our leadership are role models, and their behaviour is the key to open communications with our people. And not only that but demonstrating this behaviour both internally externally reinforces what we stand for! So yes, at LeasePlan we know each other, we hug when we see each other and there is respect because everybody works hard, and we deliver. I am very proud of that!

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