VX Company, the Netherlands: Fostering employability
VX Company is an IT company whose employees work all over the country with client companies. In this type of organisation, it is more difficult to achieve organisational learning and competence development. Therefore, the company has created a system to support the employability of their employees. The policy seems to be successful and the company was elected as best employer by an organisation called Great Place to Work.
VX Company is an IT company, established in 1988. They specialise in automating enterprise systems and develop, integrate and manage business-critical applications. The company has over 250 employees and the workforce is highly educated. The mean age is 37 years and about 20% of the workforce is female. Employees are also shareholders for 12.5% of the total capital stock. These shares are placed in a foundation that is administrated by a board of employee representatives chosen by the personnel. The foundation represents the employees at shareholders’ meetings.
VX Company has a works council, but management prefers to involve all the staff in important decisions and wants everyone to think about and contribute to strategy and organisation. The works council is only active in official decision-making processes for which their consultation or approval is formally needed. In order to keep the employees involved in the development of the company, several activities are organised. Formal meetings for personnel are planned to discuss the company strategy. Moreover, the company management organises weekly informal meetings to get acquainted with the personnel and to exchange ideas about policy and strategy. Every employee attends such a meeting three times a year.
There is no collective agreement about working conditions. Salary and perquisites are agreed on in individual arrangements. Arrangements concerning all personnel are discussed with the works council and/or with all personnel. Union density is low (the exact figure is unknown, but is estimated at less than 20%).
Description of the initiative
Organisational learning and competence development are more difficult to realise in a virtual organisation where employees do not work at the premises of the company, but rather all over the country with client companies. Coaching and training must be organised in a specific way in order to prevent employees being left on their own with regard to their skill development. Therefore, the company has created a system to support the employability of their employees.
The basic principle of the organisational structure at VX Company is that management should support employees as best they can in order to facilitate their work. For that reason, employees are supported by four managers: the business unit manager, the operational people manager, the operational quality manager and the operational technical manager. Employees are coached intensively by them to support and facilitate the development of all necessary skills, be it technical and professional skills or inter-personal skills. The system is meant to support the employability of individual professionals.
The guidance of employees is a yearly cycle, the starting point of which is a career planning interview. Management and employees discuss their goals for the next year. A performance interview takes place once a year, and halfway through the year an assessment interview takes place, including a discussion about salary. During the year, employees are coached intensively to support their development. Four support roles are defined:
- Business unit manager: The business unit manager leads the assessment interviews and decides on the employee’s daily activities. Agreements are made about professional or technical developments that will be evaluated by the end of the year. The business unit manager often consults with the other support managers to be informed about the employees.
- Operational people manager: The operational people manager is responsible for the personal development of the employee. A coaching interview takes place every six weeks (on average) between the operational people manager and employee. In this interview work-related issues will be discussed, but it has a personal aspect as well. Possible topics of the interview are involvement in the company, possible requests for mobility and career steps. Employees have indicated that they appreciate these interviews in particular if they work for clients outside the company, as it stimulates their commitment to the company.
- Operational quality manager: The operational quality manager is responsible for the quality of service and the client-oriented approach of employees. Every six weeks, an interview takes place during which the employee receives feedback on his work at the client company. Sometimes the client will be present.
- Operational technical manager: The operational technical manager is responsible for the technical knowledge within the company and of the employee. Therefore, this manager monitors the development of employees in the field of professional knowledge and involves employees in projects aimed at the growth of professional knowledge.
- of these roles are particularly important for employability. The operational people manager is responsible for the personal development of the employee. The operational technical manager is responsible for the (technical) state of knowledge within the company and of the employees, including the monitoring of employees’ skills. In addition, by dividing the roles of unit, people and quality manager, individual competence can be developed and guided at different aspects without the usual double agenda of managers (organisational profit vs. individual career) that makes the interests of the organisation come before individual development.
A budget for training is available for every employee. On average, 80 hours and about EUR3,500 per employee are allocated for this purpose yearly. For young people and for more specialised training, more time and money are available. Most training is carried out by external instructors, although internal training is offered as well.
In general, workload is heavy and pressure high in the IT sector. The result is often that employees are primarily guided in reaching their financial targets. The different support roles within the system of VX Company prevent the exclusive focus on these targets and guarantee the development of employees’ skills.
The company does not have a system to monitor the success of the policy. Therefore, there are no data on career evolutions of the employees.
In 2003, the company was elected as best employer by an organisation called Great Place to Work. To rank high on this list, the opinion of the employees is the most significant factor. Evidently, employees of VX Company were very satisfied with their jobs. Besides, sickness absence is only 3% (about 4.8% nationwide). Employees’ job satisfaction is also monitored by the regular meetings with the operational people manager and the weekly sessions management has with employees (employees take turns attending these meetings; every employee attends about three times a year). Exit interviews also indicate the job satisfaction of the ones that leave the company. Practically no one leaves with hard feelings. Reasons for leaving the company are based on personal circumstances or a career move.
Another indication for the success of the policy is satisfied customers. The company endured the economic recession in the sector better than most companies in the sector.
Exemplary and contextual factors
In the IT sector, skill management is hard to organise, since employees are often not physically working in the company. Also, an IT company strongly depends on a highly qualified and specialised workforce. Therefore, training and up-to-date knowledge are imperative for the survival of the company. Also, employment within the sector is uncertain. Therefore, it is important for employees to develop a broad range of skills. In this sector, it is not enough to offer the opportunity to attend a course or receive training. The work in client companies, instead of in their own building, has implications for how skill management is organised. VX Company has created a system to overcome the difficulties an IT company will experience with its employability policy.
Swenneke van den Heuvel , TNO, Hoofdorp