Blog post

"Talent management at AkzoNobel is all about looking forward"

Sander Kars
Sander Kars 22 January 2015

An improved focus on talent management. A greater impact of HR on the entire business. With uniform HR processes throughout the company. And at lower costs. That has been Marten Booisma's personal challenge since he started to work as AkzoNobel's Chief HR Officer in late 2013. He is building a renewed HR organization, based on the Ulrich model. All transactional activities are located in a shared service center enabling the HR business partners to focus on talent management, performance management and succession planning. “It is these very processes that bring added value for AkzoNobel's future,” says Booisma. 

According to Booisma, an efficient and uniform HR organization is a precondition for further professionalizing talent management. “We come from a situation where AkzoNobel's business units carried out their own policy with their own processes and systems. We wanted to make this more uniform.” In late 2014, AkzoNobel completed the implementation of the new HR model in the top nine countries where AkzoNobel is active. The other countries will follow in 2015 and 2016 when the HR business partners have formalized their positions in the business units. Specialist HR issues are handled by a Center of Expertise.

Performance management

The new organization structure will bring more clarity and uniformity to how HR and the line management work together. Booisma: “The HR business partners will be given the processes and systems they need and so they will be able to concentrate on their key tasks. And line managers, for their part, know what to expect.”

Further professionalizing talent management features high on the agenda. AkzoNobel is further standardizing the way in which managers hold talks with their employees and assess them. Managers follow special training courses for this while the HR business partner’s role is to maintain uniformity and unambiguity in the process. In addition, we carry out an employee commitment survey every year. If we then find out that a department's employee commitment is lagging behind the other departments, the HR business partner will draw up an improvement plan together with the responsible manager.

Succession planning

Besides performance management, succession planning is also a key priority for AkzoNobel. “It's crucial for the company's continuity that we have a good view of the talent in our organization,” says Booisma. “That's why we work with a talent grid that helps us map our people's potential and performance. But succession planning is about more than just having the right data. It also means talking to each other about how talent should be defined and in what position it is needed.”

According to Booisma, this dialogue starts at the top. AkzoNobel reviews its top 200 managers three times a year and their performance and potential are then discussed. How do they perform in their current functions? What is an appropriate next step for them? And if they take this step, who can take over their functions? Booisma: “Talking about this helps us build a common framework of reference. And it helps ensure that any succession decisions are not taken on subjective grounds. It also gives people a broader perspective of their own business units. This improves our people's employability in terms of breadth and sustainability.”

Good succession planning is also important as regards specialists in key positions, says Booisma. For example, AkzoNobel's site managers play a crucial role in monitoring the quality and the safety of production processes. “We need to have the right people ready in good time to fill these positions.”

Measurable HR policy

A next step is consistently measuring and monitoring who moves on to another position, when they do so, and what the results are. Booisma: “This will enable us to make even better succession choices together.” Increasing the degree to which HR can be measured is also important to Booisma in other respects. “I greatly believe in accountability. HR must be as transparent and as measurable as possible. That's the philosophy I've been advocating within AkzoNobel from day one. When implementing our renewed HR model, we integrated lots of measuring points into the process. For example, we consider many different figures in service level agreements and we have adopted quality KPIs. In this way, everyone can see and understand the progress we're making and we can talk to each other about aspects that must be improved.”

Looking ahead more

The trick is selecting the right KPIs, adds Booisma. “Going back to the essentials, that's what it's all about. How many high potentials do we have? How many people move to positions in other business units? It is these questions that determine AkzoNobel's future.”

Booisma wants to look ahead as much as possible. “HR people are accustomed to looking back a lot. For instance, we try to find out in retrospect how a peak in staff turnover was caused. Sure, that's important. But the success of HR will really be defined by how well we use our data and insights to forecast future developments.”



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Sander Kars

Content marketing manager

+31 6 21 27 38 38