The winds of change
Falling down and getting up again is part of life for Nienke. She has already experienced many changes, both privately and professionally. Find out what she has learned from this and how courage, openness and adventurousness have become constant companions for her.
A January morning in Amsterdam. The weather is cloudy, the sky overcast, rain lashes against the windows of hotels and office buildings. Creaking one way and then another, the flagpoles on the forecourts sway as the wind tugs at their flags. The short walk from the hotel to the ING Domestic Bank is unpleasant, the people in the street pull their hoods over their faces, but their hair and scarves still flap in the wind. Cyclone Friederike makes it difficult to walk in a straight line, many passers-by keep stopping. Wearing a grey fur vest and leopard-printed ankle boots, Nienke Lodewijk enters the lobby of the Acanthus Tower, a little late due to the storm, her hair is ruffled. In spite of this, she smiles. An orange, ING-DiBa branded telephone receiver sticks out of her bag. “I got this during my time at ING-DiBa. Hence I just had to bring it to our appointment today. The good thing is that you can actually make calls with it,” she says, laughing. Shortly afterwards, the telephone can be seen in use. Standing in the queue for the coffee counter, her cellphone rings; she connects it to the orange handset and takes the call.
Her phone rings more frequently as the day goes on. On the way through the office, she greets many colleagues and speaks with them briefly. Nienke brings people and topics together; that’s her job. The 42-year-old has been an Expert Lead in Talent Management at ING Domestic Bank in Amsterdam since the beginning of 2017. Talent Management is part of the Centers of Expertise for Talent & Learning. To complete the transformation, HR was converted to a part of the Support pillar at the end of 2016.
Open working atmosphere with attention to detail
It is already evident from the design of the building and the atmosphere that agile is a completely different way of working. The focus is on collaboration. There is no sterile office space with rows of desks. The office is furnished with attention to detail. Everything is very open, most of the walls are glass. After each desk group with a handful of workplaces there is a glass meeting room. The walls function as a portfolio wall covered with colourful post-its or displaying the tasks in the backlog. Employees discuss or stand around a whiteboard and outline an idea together. Everywhere there are sitting areas and sofas for a quick coffee break or a meeting. Nienke likes to sit in her favourite corner of the gallery; in a grey sofa in front of a large window overlooking the garden in the courtyard. That’s where she sometimes like to retreat. It is here that she tells us about her journey.
The spirit of adventure is in her blood
Her job as talent manager is almost written into her genes. “Change is the constant in my life. I move every four to five years and change my home, city or even country.” Her father was an expat and moved with the whole family due to his job. When Nienke was just six years old, the family emigrated to the United States. “I have a very fine journey behind me. Now I help colleagues on their journey through the ING,” says the native Dutchwoman and adds: “The fact that I myself have moved so many times helps with this. I know what it means to be confronted with a new language and culture as a child.” At the same time, she is also familiar with the “adventurous spirit to take a new step as an adult.”
In her current position, Nienke is now working for the Dutch market for the first time after ten years abroad. “It all started in Amsterdam. After my business degree, I worked for a major credit card company. But after four years, I got itchy feet; I wanted to change myself.” This was followed by an MBA, three years with ING in Belgium as Marketing Manager for the ING Card and two with ING in the Payments Retail Europe division. Marketing, sales, strategy and leadership are her topics – and always in an international context. The different career stages help her to keep an eye on the big picture: “I always view everything I do from the customer perspective. What benefit does something give them, what added value? And what will it do for our business?” Nienke calls this, rather fittingly using marketing jargon, her “USP”, her unique selling point.
She then had the opportunity to switch to HR. “I already had a thing for HR topics at university, but I didn’t just want to focus on one topic. Nevertheless, people are my favourite product. The opportunity to switch to talent management was perfect for me. I kind of bring supply and demand together,” explains Nienke. It was here that she came into contact with ING-DiBa and finally got the offer to come to Germany.
„In the beginning, I thought working agile wouldn’t affect me in Finance – but I was quickly proved to be wrong about this. The working method takes some getting used to. It is much more transparent who does what and how crucial it is for everyone to make an equal contribution. Otherwise it doesn’t work. But it becomes clearer more quickly if something is not working, because we give each other mutual feedback. Friction is necessary to challenge each other and perform the best we can.“
Ivo, ING Tribe Lead Finances
After the rain comes sun
Bound for Germany? “I had no fear of change. I learned as a child to be open to everything that is different. I’m positive from the ground up, so maybe that is why I’ve been welcomed everywhere and have been able to get a lot out of it, both privately and professionally,” says Nienke. Professionally, a portion of trust also contributes to being able to achieve a great deal together. Nienke goes on to say that: “I’ve seen how beneficial it is when people from different perspectives come together.”
She stayed in Frankfurt for three years and helped set up Talent Management there. “The time at ING-DiBa was the best in my career so far. A growing company that is well organised
and runs smoothly with great people and a great culture,” Nienke thinks to this day. While Nienke was playing her part in the “feel-good movie”, as she jokingly calls it, a storm was raging at the Domestic Bank. In 2015, at a time when many employees were already feeling tired after many years of reorganisation and redundancies, a further change towards agile working was on the horizon. “It’s fitting that the weather is so stormy today, as the change to agile was also turbulent. Since then, we have completed the transformation and are beginning to perform properly. But the transition was a process that took time,” she says.
Next adventure: Agility
Nienke came to the Domestic Bank shortly after the last column was changed. Out of the comfort zone, into agility. “To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t easy at the beginning. Fall down, get up, fall down. But at some point you don’t fall down quite so hard. I learned so much,” says Nienke about her experiences. She is now a big fan of agile, and it has now even found a place in her home: she notes the week’s tasks on colourful post-its and sticks them to the cupboard in her kitchen, much to the amusement of her eight-year-old daughter.
Agile places more focus on the customer and the goals to be achieved. It is much more visual with methods and tools like the portfolio wall. “Everyone brings their own perspective; that’s valuable. We work together better as a team, and can also do much more for our customers,” says Nienke. The shorter working cycles of two weeks make it easy to see how good an idea is. “I like that you don’t sit there for weeks and make a plan that doesn’t work in the end,” she continues. If something doesn’t work, it is immediately rejected when working agile. In order to achieve your goal, it can sometimes be necessary to take completely new paths. This teaches you a lot.
„To start with, we asked a lot of questions and held a lot of discussions; everything seemed very unstructured. But this is not at all the case. The support of the agile coaches was essential; they are experts in the methods and also look at whether goals and tasks fit together. Each team is responsible for achieving the set goals. Over time, this begins to work by itself and the teams achieve ‘agile maturity’. The performance of the individual becomes subordinate to the performance of the team.“
Ivo, ING Chapter Lead Customer Journey
What advice does she give to her German colleagues for the transformation? Nienke says: “The biggest hurdles are your own fears and uncertainties. Letting go of hierarchies also takes some overcoming.” She is convinced that, “my German colleagues have working agilely down pat – if they are open to change.”