• Interview with Jasper Den Ouden

Best Way to Steer Through the Crisis

By Maximilian Junck Jasper Den Ouden

© SR Technics


Contributor

Jasper Den Ouden is an HR Executive with 20 years of experience in multinational companies. As the CHRO of SR Technics – a service provider in the aviation industry with more than 2’200 employees worldwide – he operates in a sector which is strongly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Here are his thoughts on HR, the crisis and the best way to steer through it.

The crisis has significantly increased the pressure and expectation on HR”

Interview

Mercuri Urval: The aviation industry has been hit hard by the crisis. What impact does this have on your role as CHRO?

Jasper: The role of and the pressure on HR has increased as well as the expectation of HR to deliver. The expectations are that HR supports the restructuring, ensures the health and safety of our employees but also drives transformation at the same time. These are the top three elements where the company expects us to step up altogether as a team. Alone you are nowhere, it is the team and my colleagues on the management team that give me the inspiration and drive not only to go through the crisis but also to imagine a new future.

Mercuri Urval: HR has always been a multidisciplinary function. Where do you see the big changes compared to your work pre-Covid-19?

HR needs to guarantee a constant dialogue within the company in order to provide transparency to employees about what is happening, meaning that the communication of change management has become part of the HR portfolio."

This of course depends on the maturity of HR and the HR leader. However, when we look at the months before the crisis, it was more about ramping up the organisation and modernising the HR delivery. I do not think that this has fundamentally changed that much per se, but the awareness of HR and its importance has increased due to the realisation that people are at the core of a company, either from a cost, a motivational or a collaboration perspective. What else has changed is that HR needs to guarantee a constant dialogue within the company in order to provide transparency to employees about what is happening, meaning that the communication of change management has also become part of the HR portfolio. Nonetheless, it is more important than ever that HR has a close relationship with the business and other functions like finance – for example, to generate savings. In addition, the crisis boosts digitalization and creates new opportunities in HR to improve processes but also to work and collaborate better. Boundaries are blurring in organisations and we need to fight complexity or, said differently, strive for simplicity. This is best reached of course through optimised processes, but above all through people working together cross-functionally and seamlessly. Companies are seen much more as an end-to-end process rather than a conglomerate of separated functions.

Mercuri Urval: This sounds as if Business Partnering has become even more important. What have been your biggest learnings in this respect and what advice can you give your HR colleagues?

Jasper: Get yourself involved. If for example, your weakness is reading a balance sheet or understanding the basic financial operations of the company then nobody stops you from reaching out to your financial controller, “I would like to learn more about our established processes, please”. And of course, you have to know the basics of your function. Being open-minded and having a continuous learning attitude helps.

Mercuri Urval: Covid-19 has proved once again: Things can change rapidly. What tools can you recommend to cope with change?

Jasper: A transparent communication on where the company stands, what the strategy is and how the environment reacts are key, as is enabling dialogue between interest groups. I think that companies need to take much more outside-in perspectives as the acceleration of digitization as well as the crisis will only accelerate change in the industry.

I think that companies need to take much more outside-in perspectives as the acceleration of digitisation and the crisis will only accelerate change in the industry."

Jasper: For example, the aviation industry experiences an unprecedented disruption, putting many airlines at risk. However, it is very likely that the aviation industry returns to growth. It is not a question of if but of when. Investors, therefore, will continue to move in, and a very dynamic environment will emerge such as start-ups that take over parked aircraft and start flying them again for example. Following the trends in the industry and investing in your network of professionals is key.

Mercuri Urval: Obviously, business models have to change and adapt to new circumstances more frequently. How can you as an HR Executive prepare an organization for operating successfully in a constantly changing environment?

Jasper: I think it's all about the mindset and culture and being well organised. What you want to achieve is people having a learning attitude in moving across their functional boundaries. More and more work will shift towards projects. I expect people to develop a strong core of their function expertise but really to work more cross-functionally in other areas as to be able to contribute. I can give you a positive example: Recently, we have finalized an interview with a colleague who works on the shopfloor in operations for an article in a well-respected newspaper in Switzerland. I was impressed with how wisely he captured the strategy and translated this into his own activities. This is not about strategy, but about the learning attitude and the capacity to adapt.  There are, however, also colleagues that have real difficulties to adjust and find a new mission when the environment changes. Here, our duty is to explain, guide and hopefully get the colleague engaged and positive.

Mercuri Urval: What makes you successful when steering through those challenging times?

Jasper: I am generally very open-minded and tend to see the opportunities that arise from challenging times. These are usually great accelerators. I personally see the glass as half full and I do not have much patience with negative views, although these are also needed for optimal decision-making.

As mentioned earlier, I really rely a lot on my team, my colleagues on the management team, my network outside the company, family, friends, all of who give different perspectives that keep me grounded but also to navigate with the big picture in mind. Previous challenges gave me resilience and the capacity to hang in. Most important is the knowledge that there are people out there whom you respect and trust.

Personality traits are also important such as an open mind, learning attitude, passion for what you do and making calculated risks. Bill Gates and more great entrepreneurs like him are all open-minded passionate people who continuously test the boundaries. They did not get to where they are today by saying, “No, it’s not possible.” At the same time and within a certain spectrum, you need all points of view, and ideas need to be counterbalanced by reality checks. So, in a team, it is fine to have all of those different personality traits.

Mercuri Urval: Jasper, thank you for taking the time and sharing your thoughts with us. As always, it has been a pleasure talking to you. Best of luck that markets will recover soon.

Conclusion

The crisis has significantly increased the pressure on and visibility of HR. New tasks connected to cost savings and crisis management have become part of the existing HR portfolio in most industries. Teaming-up and connecting with relevant stakeholders seems to be the most valid solution for Jasper Den Ouden (CHRO of SR Technics) to tackle these new challenges. In line with empirical studies, being open-minded and positive helps Jasper to steer through the current crisis. Although every advice has been heard before, it is inspiring to see that Jasper was actually able to make it his own and to build a modern HR-organisation on this basis.