Mr Danny Vandormael, CEO Seris Belgium  

People governance, major support in a service company

People governance: what does it mean?

First up, I’d say that a people governance charter is a philosophy, mentality and style. Given the rapidly changing environment we operate in and the human relations that as a result take on another dimension, I attach growing importance to the expression “corporate governance”.

In the past, we’d readily talk about “human capital”, “human resources”. For me, these are passive forms of what is now a community at work. This approach goes beyond figures and words.
Finally, a sizeable number of managers were practising corporate governance, but didn’t realise it. Talking about it gives it added impact and opens the door to new horizons. It’s extremely important. I believe in it even more so since Seris is a service company. We are therefore particularly focused on human resources management, the involvement of people in the process of providing services and their contribution to putting together a structure.

The Board of Directors chose you to implement this governance. How did that go?

A year after arriving at Seris, the Board of Directors (Board) asked me to act as manager of this people governance, basically providing written and moral support. I soon gradually began providing content and applying my professional experience. I proposed guidelines – approved by the Board – which, after amendments, were disseminated and put into practice.

Having guidelines is one thing. But do you still need to ensure they are applied?

In terms of organisation, we immediately proposed an application model as an active service company in Belgium. The guidelines always make reference to the reality of the company and its projects. Our staff go out to the customers; so the information needs to be well circulated.

I add an “innovation” section to this application method. This is vital for gauging the ideas and creative potential of all our staff. It is run by an organisation set up by and for people. I realise the extent to which new things are accepted insofar as, after having been selected, they resulted in a high level of involvement from a maximum number of people. At Seris, we end up with a descriptive system of reference and project groups. This is when hidden talents naturally reveal themselves, when promotions happen, and when new people in the company decide to get involved. 
Of course, none of this can take place without training at different levels that helps develop skills and that evolves over time in terms of effectiveness. This evolution doesn’t diminish the other values mentioned: a manager has to bear consistency in mind when it comes to action taken and focus on its proactive nature. Finally, performance reviews have proved essential; they reinforce a positive culture of human relations. In general, they look too much at the quality and content and too little at the style and way of being and evolving. So I add these pieces of information when writing the annual report which, naturally, refers to people governance. I get those working close to me to take the same approach so that the message trickles down and becomes a natural reflex for the majority of staff in the company. I have a maximalist vision: you always need to promote, to strive for improvement, within the boundaries of what is acceptable and achievable of course.     
The guidelines expand on cultural values that need to be supported and upheld: everyone needs to apply them in practice. They were already there, but we now need to add this people governance component as a tool for promoting and reminding people how things operates as a whole and as the main thread in this operation, all of which is applicable at every level. The most difficult thing is getting this message to trickle down two or three levels from where you are. Getting staff to understand these guidelines is not easy, but it is essential. And this needs to be done in the most natural and rapid hierarchical manner possible. Their incorporation, itself also natural and rapid, depends on this approach.  

In concrete terms, what is people governance at Seris?

The 1 500 staff at Seris Belgium work in the security field, in two main areas: logistics for small parcel (not money) transport, and security such as guarding, electronic surveillance and installation of camera, access control and fire detection systems. Apart from official training, we also have our own training school available to staff.

Getting back to the practical side of our profession, I’d summarise it by saying that “we work when others aren’t working”. But it’s not that straightforward!
We introduced “agent night”. What happens here is management staff take turns to spend a night on the road and at locations and building sites, across the entire country. Every senior manager visits clients and work stations, chats with agents and passes messages on to them. This is also a way of getting feedback: have agents felt the change? Do they have enough contact with superiors? It’s a way of showing that our agents do work that is taken into account and that we expect their involvement and feedback. It’s also an opportunity to gauge where the talent is.