Honesty is the best policy

Friday, March 11, 2022

Honesty is the best policy

Ninette Klooster is Smart Analytics Team Manager at Axians and is leading their partnership with RightBrains in 2022. From building successful relations within a company to steering inter-organisational collaboration, Ninette has lessons to share on the power of working together to create change. She talks to us about collaboration, people development, and the benefits of taking an approach based not on figures but on feelings.

Ninette began working as an account manager for an organisation that just happened to be in IT, but it wasn’t long before she discovered that the field would become part of her career mission. “I thought IT was interesting, would be nice to work in, but I learned that it was about more than just the technical side. I knew I wanted to make a change in this area; a change in how we address feelings, a change in the customer journey. Not a typical customer journey, but one with feelings and sentiments as well as the newest technical innovation. Combining those in the right way with the right people, that is my mission.”

Ask questions

Ninette explains that often there is too much pushing, for example with sales. “If we are more relaxed, we will be more successful. I say to my team, if you don’t get something on time, just give me a sign, be honest, we will have a conversation, and find out why it’s not working.” She says that especially given the global circumstances of the last two years – when work and private life are less distinctly separate from one another – it’s important to ask questions. “What’s going on? Is it something at home? Too much work?” Whatever it is, Ninette asks the questions up front, as they arise, instead of waiting until the end of a project when the damage is done. “We have a discussion, and then people feel more relaxed. There is also a lot of freedom with what time of the day people work; flexibility is important. When the team is really happy, it’s not only nice to see, but it’s also why the figures go up, the billable amount goes up.”

Figures or futures?

Ninette describes how this is often not the case in IT; it’s often predominantly about the budget, the failures, the sales… “Just ask the questions! How are you? How are you feeling?” She believes the space for honest communication begins with managers. Leadership styles have to change: we need to combine the technical with the emotional; figures with feelings. “I’m not focused on the figures as much as I’m focused on the feelings and the future. What are we going to do in the future, together, as a team? A leader is someone who helps everyone, which then helps innovation, helps development; that’s a true leader. Not a strict manager, that’s the old way. We need new leaders who make people happier, who are greener. So many of us are always busy, busy, busy, and that’s not good. I want success, but we need people for this. We are not machines.”

Feelings for performance

Ninette has impressive evidence of the business success of her philosophy. She quickly transformed the department with the lowest billable amounts in the company into being the best-performing team; now it sits at the number one spot. “I did this with only one thing: the skill of feelings. It’s purely about the feelings in the team.” Despite the proof, Ninette has had a difficult time convincing other managers that feelings are an important area to focus on, but as she continues to lead by example it becomes more difficult to dismiss. “The feeling is always number one, and when the feeling is okay, the figures come, the projects come. Now I work with other teams to help them on the same track, to get the right person in the right role, that’s the point.”

All about the people

It’s very common for organisations to think about people development through the lens of talent retention: to train brilliant team members for their role, and then do everything possible to keep hold of them. Ninette explains that this attitude can actually be a block to success, both for individuals and for the wider company. Flexibility is important, and team members are first and foremost people. Axians describes itself as an organisation with a 'human touch', and Ninette reflects this in her approach to her teams. She describes the importance of sharing conversations and experience, and helping one another to see new sides of projects, to learn new things. "If I don't know something or I'm not the expert, I need other people around.”

Networks of experience

As well as the team within the company, Ninette finds a broader ‘team’ in an external network of collaborators, and she believes this is crucial to business development. “Partnership brings training, discussion, advice. I can look at another company and see if they do things the same as us, at what works and what doesn’t. We can share experience, and therefore increase our experience.” Collaboration can also help keep things fresh; Ninette believes that while it may cost you a lot of energy or work to convince your own team members of an idea, that same idea could easily be received positively from a stranger. “A stranger, and seeing how it is on the other side, is always more interesting in a story.” So partnering with organisations who share values and who can transmit ideas both internally and externally can help to achieve shared goals. For example, the collaboration between Axians and RightBrains “will be a really good start. It will help to grow knowledge of diversity in our teams by getting the conversation going. If that’s a hard discussion, that’s okay – we need it, so let’s get started!”

It’s working!

Ninette’s goals for the future? “More honesty, more transparency, more empowerment. To mix the feelings with the technical. To make changes in the thinking of leadership and to lead by example. To say ‘Hey, I’m doing it like this, and the people are staying, there’s development, there’s money, and there’s projects – it’s working!”

Meet Ninette during our live Spring Event on 14 April!