Great Place to Work

Genzyme is one of the world’s leading biotech companies. SAS is a leader in business analytics software and services. But what do they have in common? Both are great places to work according to the results of the Best Employer of Belgium 2012 survey. For the fifth year in a row, Genzymewas listed in the top 10 of companies with more than 500 employees, ranking sixth this year. SAS secured first place in the category of companies with fewer than 500 employees and has been in the top three for the past four years. Both attach a great deal of importance to talent management and development.

SAS – 1st in category < 500 employees

“Sometimes it’s better to let them go” [Els Brusselmans, HR Manager at SAS]

What is your company’s view on talent management?

Brusselmans: “We want to be a leader in business intelligence. This is why we look for highly skilled people who are passionate and eager to keep learning. In return, we offer them plenty of opportunities for training and self-development. We believe in a healthy mind in a healthy body. In other words, we view talent development from a holistic perspective: soft skills and mental well-being are as important as technical skills.”

What are your challenges with regard to talent management?

Brusselmans: “As a small company, keeping talent is one of the biggest challenges. Most of our people are quite ambitious and with fewer than 500 employees in Belgium, there are limited opportunities for vertical career progression. So sometimes it’s better to let them go. If you part on good terms, they’re excellent ambassadors and some even come back. Another challenge is employability. A person’s learning ability declines with age. We shouldn’t underestimate the pace of change in our sector. One day you’re a guru and the next your knowledge is obsolete. This can be quite painful and frustrating and for some it can simply become too much to deal with. We want to avoid this happening.”

How do you deal with your challenges?

Brusselmans: “We definitely don’t shun the discussion about vertical career moves. If you do, people might leave before you realise it. If you talk about it, you can try to find a compromise because there may be opportunities in the longer term or abroad. We also compensate for the lack of vertical opportunities with plenty of horizontal career moves. Management doesn’t always like to see people leave, but then I try to remind them that these people are not lost to SAS. Of course, we try to make sure these horizontal moves are not disruptive to the business.”

Any initiatives you’d like to share?

Brusselmans: “Starters follow a Drive Your Talent training session in which they are made aware of their talents and their own responsibility to develop them. If they want, employees can also do the Mentally Fit programme, which is  tailored to the individual employee and helps to find a healthy balance between efficiency, performance, work and private life. The initiative for this programme was actually taken by some of our staff. To better support career moves and stimulate employability, we’re currently formalising career paths and developing processes and tools to enable people to actively manage their careers.”

Any advice or tips?

Brusselmans: “We will all have to work longer. So, while high potentials are important, it will become even more important topay extra attention to the motivation and employability of your long-standing employees. They are what I’d call the carriers of continuity.”

Genzyme – 6th in category > 500 employees

“Knowledge is between two noses” [Wim Croonen, HR Director at Genzyme]

What is your company’s view on talent management?

Croonen: “We prefer to call it talent development. All employees should feel responsible for the development of their talent. The organisation, for its part, should provide the context in which this can happen. We also believe knowledge and competencies are developed in relationships, through exchange with others. Some say that knowledge is between two ears. Our motto is knowledge is between two noses.”

What are your challenges with regard to talent development?

Croonen: “Making people more aware of the need to take responsibility for their own development can be quite a challenge. Also, we are a knowledge-intensive organisation, driven by scientific excellence. Our people have embraced a rational, problem-solving approach to things. While this approach is valuable for solving scientific and practical problems, many organisational issues - and talent development in particular - require an extra dimension. And finally, larger companies tend to formalise and automate their processes. There's a danger that performance management discussions amount to little more than box-ticking exercises, when it’s the quality of the dialogue that matters. Being a big company, we’re not immune to this danger either. You want just enough process and structure to be efficient and sufficient flexibility to be able to invest in the quality of your talent development dialogue.

How do you deal with your challenges?

Croonen: “We use an appreciative inquiry approach. Instead of focusing on weaknesses, we try to use someone’s strengths as the starting point of our talent development and performance dialogues. We believe someone’s talents and strengths hold the biggest potential for growth and added value for both the company and the employee. It’s then up to us to create a context in which these talents can flourish. This means a context aligned with their personal values and beliefs. Putting feelings and values on the agenda is not always easy, but we try not to shy away from it.”

Any initiatives you’d like to share?

Croonen: “Pimp up your Potential is a series of open learning sessions on a variety of topics from scientific research to career issues such as burn-out, or practical skills such as speed reading. We try to find a good balance between internal and external speakers. These sessions are open to all employees and provide a platform for them to share their knowledge. Talent development, in our view, should not be restricted to the happy few.”

Any advice or tips?

Croonen: “Talent development strongly depends on the context. So try to sense what your context requires. And try to strike a balance between systems and processes on the one hand and the quality of the relationships and the dialogues supporting talent development on the other.”

Vlerick’s role in Great Place to Work

Companies are selected for the Best Employer of Belgium list of companies based on the results of the Trust Index© employee survey and the Culture Audit© management questionnaire. Both surveys are developed by the Great Place to Work® Institute. In Belgium, they are conducted by Vlerick’s HRM Centre in collaboration with the Great Place to Work Institute Europe.


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