"It’s no longer a question of when"

Interview with Tjahny Bercx, CHRO at LeasePlan

Photo: Claire Bontje

"It’s no longer a question of when"

The world is changing rapidly, becoming more complex and interconnected. HR has a responsibility to act now. 'The role of HR needs to undergo fundamental change', says Tjahny Bercx, CHRO at mobility company LeasePlan. 'Stop pushing paper and become the visionary data analysts you are supposed to be.'

Sitting in his home office Tjahny Bercx looks cheerfully into the camera during the online interview. His company will rapidly digitize the coming years, he says, expanding its horizons, in line with current technological, generational, and societal shifts. ‘This is the most exciting time for HR. To work now as a CHRO at a global company is simply thrilling.’ Bercx, who started his career as a Royal Dutch Navy Officer, has been working as an HR professional for over twenty years, being vice president at ING Barings, and later at KLM, before starting at LeasePlan in 2005.

In all these years, you’ve never seen anything like this?

‘This is a special time. We’re standing at the threshold of a big technological shift, leaving hierarchical structured organizations behind us and entering a phase with fully network organized companies. This will change how people work, and how we as HR will have to recruit and connect people.

Technologies like AI and blockchain will not just make people’s work easier, but change the jobs themselves, and shift focus to interpreting the data these technologies offer. Some of these new jobs already exist. It’s no longer a question of when. The other day I read about “drone traffic optimizers”. That sounds amazing, doesn’t it? More and more companies are shifting their focus to other skills.

Technological proficiency, problem solving, analytical thinking, data literacy, creativity, design thinking – these will all be on the top of the list of many companies in the coming years.

Going forward, successful companies are likely to be the ones that behave like ecosystems, creating a dynamic web of different services. Big international companies like Google, Apple, and Netflix are showing us the way with facilitating platforms where other offer services, following the principles of the gig economy. I think it’s not a bold thing to say that the change to digital is no longer an option – it is what is expected.

Already, successful companies see an exponential rise of profits. You’ll stay behind if you’re not willing to redefine and digitize.’

Still, many companies are hesitant. And don’t they have a point? We’ve been hearing about technological revolutions for decades. ‘Obviously, no one knows exactly what will happen, even though some business leaders claim they do. We can only speak about general directions. Not only do we have to accept that a new technological reality has entered the scene, work is also changing due to social and generational shifts. These shifts will influence and enforce each other in numerous ways, as was well described by Gartner. It can be very challenging to take into account all these different aspects, and formulate a coherent vision – but it is an exciting challenge.

At the same time, people are worried they might lose their jobs. This is a valid concern. We know new jobs will appear, as the World Economic Forum also emphasized last year, but having the right skills and training in place for everyone will be key. Business leaders have a responsibility to address this concern. We are not working in a bubble here, we are part of a bigger whole. Together with different parties, we have to discuss in what kind of society we want to live. What do we find important? How can we enhance a society that is inclusive, and celebrates diversity? How do we create a system which enables both certainty and flexibility, and gives people the skills they need? The answers to such questions will for a big part determine the “narrative” of your company. To understand what is going on, you need to keep this dialogue going. Talk to different parties, read, listen carefully. How else can you be a good business leader?’

Many say that the future of HR will never be the same again. Do you agree?

‘Yes. HR should now more than ever, claim its place as a transformation manager, and refuse being simply a paper pusher. Too often, HR is forced into a reactive role, responding to company alterations, instead of initiating them. This has to stop. HR professionals have to start anticipating events. What will the future bring? How can your company best respond?

Already we know, for example, that many of the new generation of employees are digital natives: they grew up in a fully digitalized world. These “screenagers” have different expectations and needs than older generations. They are used to being part of a larger digitalized reality where they are always connected to each other without being in their physical presence.

Obviously, your company’s digital infrastructure has to correspond to this. The way you communicate with these people, but also the ways in which you offer training or coaching programs, should be adjusted to their needs.

“More and more companies are shifting their focus to other skills”

But that’s not all. Because of the technological shift, many organizations will transform their hierarchical structure into a purpose driven network, if they haven’t done so already. People are assigned to projects not based on their formal roles, but on what skills they have.

If HR doesn’t want to become superfluous, it should be prepared for this by creating skills networks, including employees, but maybe also people from outside the company. At LeasePlan, we work with an extensive database which is able to rapidly sum up the skills employees have, ranging from the ones used at work, to very informal ones, like baking cakes or playing the guitar, and link them to different projects.

The future requires different skills from HR professionals. Most importantly, they need to become experts in data analysis. At LeasePlan, they already are.

Every other week, I’m informed by HR data analysts from our locations all over the world about the latest developments. A dashboard shows me how many employees are working, how many are sick, which training programs are taking place, and so on. HR professionals don’t just have to master such technologies for administrative purposes; they also need to be able to correctly interpret the data. This data literacy is a crucial skill if you want to stay an indispensable part of the company.’

“HR professionals need to be able to correctly interpret data”

What will LeasePlan’s future look like? ‘Our business model will rapidly digitize, in line with current technological, generational and societal shifts. We aim to become a digital integrator, an organization where different ecosystems come together, and offer our customers a platform where they can find all mobility services imaginable.

We want to expand our mission to become an integrated part of the new social and technological reality we’re facing. Already we offer insurance and banking services, and are promoting the use of green energy by working with electric car dealers and green energy distributors.

We’ve even become participants in the international investor-led initiative Climate Action 100+, and started issuing our own “Green Bonds”.

This is just the beginning.

For me, this is the most exciting time. To work now as a CHRO at a global company is simply thrilling. At LeasePlan, we will need to expand our skills network even further, and find new ways to support our people.

My ideal is having our HR professionals operating like liaison officers, connecting different organizations and coordinating their activities. Together, they can be the core facilitator of the company.’

"Defining moment"

‘We find ourselves at a defining moment: the decisions and choices we make today will determine the course of entire generations’ lives and livelihoods. We have the tools at our disposal. The bounty of technological innovation which defines our current era can be leveraged to unleash human potential.

We have the means to reskill and upskill individuals in unprecedented numbers, to deploy precision safety nets which protect displaced workers from destitution, and to create bespoke maps which orient displaced workers towards the jobs of tomorrow where they will be able to thrive.’

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman, and Saadia Zahidi, member of the managing board, World Economic Forum, in The Future of Jobs Report 2020.

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