In Dalfsen, looking out over the River Vecht, the decision was taken: ‘We’re going to off er our employees Personal Vision. If Achmea’s organisational vision provides so much for our organisation, a Personal Vision should also provide a lot for the individual employees. Our vision gives us as an organisation the confidence and peace to re-evaluate continuously. You should find the same in yourself, as a person.’ Those are the words of Henk Bot, a board member of Achmea Non-Life and Income and head of HR in his division. We talk with him about the impact of Personal Vision in a large organisation: ‘So far 1,500 employees have followed the programme, and I’m going to let the other 1,500 do so as well.’
Henk Bot began his career with the Dutch Royal Navy, where he quickly moved into Human Resources. After a range of HR posts he joined Achmea in 1999. He is a down-to-earth northerner who, as soon as he starts to talk, lays his emotions bare on the table. What you see is what you get. ‘I come from a family of five: father, mother, two brothers and me. My passion for time and talent comes from my father. For me this is the essence: what do you do with your time, talent and energy? My mother taught me not to worry about what other people thought of me. That is less important.’
Can you completely shut yourself off from that?
Yes, from the negative aspect. For example, I can be really happy when other people appreciate that I can be of value to them. You should be true to yourself. Only then can you continue to trust yourself. Personal Vision helps with that. It is not so much the quartet of values (higher goal, audacious goal, core values, core qualities), it is the consciousness-raising. Personal Vision makes the subconscious conscious.’
Is Personal Vision your first encounter with consciousness-raising?
‘No, I’ve been working on my personal development for years. At a particular time I started to work on myself. I began to read books and each year I write a life guide where I ask myself fundamental questions. What I want is to get everything out of life. For me, children are the benchmark. They are so pure. Take a look at a school. There’s so much more energy than in a company. You lose that as you go through life, due to all kinds of circumstances, consciously or subconsciously. Covey recounts an anecdote about that. ‘A man and a child are on a train. The child is noisy and irritates the other passengers. A woman says to the man:“Can’t you raise your child better?,” to which the man replies: “Sorry, we’re on our way back from his mother’s funeral.” Judgment and condemnation make life so difficult for people. What makes people beautiful is not what they do well but their shortcomings.’
What is your Personal Vision?
‘Be yourself, show yourself, see the other person, let the other person live their life. In other words: consciousness, trust, acceptance, connection. I believe in the here and now and living accordingly. That is also the core of the vision for me. If you turn it into a strategy, you don’t experience it. I live my quartet of values, regardless of the context. If you achieve that, you can turn the context to your advantage. Then you live fully. Fear often gets in people’s way. Is fear bad? Is pain bad? Life is so full.’
What is your audacious goal?
I don’t care much about goals. As soon as you reach one it’s gone. I do have an image of the future. In about seven years I want to retire. Then I plan to do other things. Give back to society. It’ll have to be something to do with children, talent, transfer.Time and talent, that’s what it’s about for me. I have a clear vision of time. Do you spend your time usefully? In my current job I can always talk about time and talent. As an organisation we must get the best from people. We have a conditioned profession based on competences. But I want character. If people can be genuine, you empower them.’
Is that why you have chosen Personal Vision for your employees?
‘Our view was that if Achmea’s organisational vision provides so much for our organisation, a Personal Vision should also provide a lot for the individual employees. Our vision gives us as an organisation the confidence and peace to re-evaluate continuously. You should find the same in yourself, as a person. Achmea had a fleet philosophy with room for individual brands and divisions. But at a certain time it became more difficult to make choices. We had to go back to our roots, so we created a vision: why do we exist? That process led to a quartet of values for the entire organisation. When that identity was established, the question was how to make sure that everyone in the Achmea organisation lived out the vision. And that question led to the choice for Personal Vision because Achmea’s identity could also be the sum total of 18,000 individual identities.’
So was it a reversion?
Not entirely. More a case of approaching the process from two sides. It was a logical impulse. We had no business case, no goal. Only the knowledge that Achmea’s organizational vision delivers a lot. During an Achmea leadership day in Dalfsen, where we talked about subjects such as leadership, ownership and vitality, we were having a discussion on the banks of the Vecht and wondered what would happen if every employee had the opportunity to formulate his or her own vision? We had to do it.’
How did you tackle it?
We believed so much in the strength of Personal Vision that we thought that if we could get a few people on board, more would follow. We decided to offer it as a gift because Personal Vision should touch and inspire people. And if it grows, it will gain a place in the organisation. We considered that the first group should be a reflection of the organisation. And so we got down to work. At the first meeting 50 people were in the room and during the kick-off I had an opportunity to say something, about myself. Someone stood up and said in front of the whole group that my words had touched him. Those 50 people became 150, and after eighteen months there were 1,500 people, half of the employees in our division.’
What has it delivered so far?
‘The essence of an organisation is that people are with you and you have to maximize their potential. Internally there is a general increase in raising consciousness. Achmea is a social employer active in various areas of sustainable employability. Personal Vision is a perfect fit for this, leading seamlessly to sustainable employability of people. They are much better able to handle help, feedback, resources and direction. They develop leadership. I have received many e-mails from people telling me what they have done as a result of Personal Vision. My own leadership grew again as well. It delivers so much: personality, strength, empowering people in the right place, making hoices, put an end to waste. People learn to stay true to themselves and depend less on their context. This goes so far that even the loss of a job, however sad that may be, is not the end but part of a process.’ ‘We had to start Personal Vision on the basis of conviction. That grid was essential. But it has long since ceased to be just a nice exercise; it has become a necessity. So much is changing in the world. Currently there’s a shortage of money and a surplus of products. It’s the first time that this has happened since the start of the Industrial Revolution. It is no longer about enrichment but about developing maximum strength in difficult circumstances. That change has consequences for Achmea and for each individual Achmea employee. And then I should mention the important connection between those two: the team. Personal Vision has an enormous impact on team performance.’
Are there strings attached to Personal Vision?
Not really. The only thing is that you must embed it properly in the organisation. It’s a unique concept that revolves around consciousness-raising. And if that becomes part of an organisation’s system, you must make sure it doesn’t become a tool: a workshop which people can apply for. You must constantly energise it. And no strings attached for the teams either. Personal Vision is very easy to guarantee at team level.’
Do you have any final observations?
‘Talented people are valued. They want to grow, lead their lives in the circumstances that they find. They are people driven by longing. On the other hand there are people driven by fear. They need a prod in the back to make choices. Because you always have a choice and ultimately everyone can paint a picture of their future. However, from that future you must turn back to the here and now. Personal Vision helps with that. If people have a clear picture, they will start moving.’