“When giving presentations to senior managers, I point out that in books on management everyone acts as though managing is something mysterious and incredibly difficult. I tell them I totally disagree. My basic management concept has always been: A is where you are now and B is where you want to be. So you have to do two things. First, you have to be able to explain to everybody in two or three minutes why you want to get to position B. Then, when you’ve described B, ask yourself: what will everyone need to do to get from A to B?”
According to Van der Veer, it’s the task of leaders to communicate succinct statements verbally on the current and envisaged future state of the business and the journey between A and B. “The vision needs to be realistic to gain credibility and the statement should make it clear why change is necessary.”
“Managers must listen to the shop floor teams and not talk or interrupt until the last ten minutes. People must never think they’re a victim of continuous improvement, they must think they’re players.”
The second concept is tenure. Van der Veer believes that a leader should be in a role between four and eight years. Less than four years would lead to short-term thinking and insufficient execution while more than eight years might result in empire building. Following from this is the third concept of ‘enterprise first’ – self-interest and sub-optimisation can’t be tolerated.
With the fourth concept, Van der Veer cautioned that “middle and senior managers in large companies run the risk of becoming facilitators, that is, people who say ‘I have a problem. Shall I quickly pass it to the next desk or shall I request endless advice and studies?’ That isn’t a manager’s job. Leaders should lead. Sure, you have to listen, but then you have to manage with a firm hand rather than facilitate. Create active followers and control the speed of change. People expect this from their managers, especially in times of uncertainty”.
Van der Veer calls his management philosophy ‘ESSA’, which makes up the fifth concept: Eliminate, Simplify, Standardise and Automate. This, he said, is of particular importance in a process industry. “The E, eliminating unnecessary activities, is absolutely essential. If you don’t eliminate, you run the risk of standardising and automating the wrong things, which only results in disaster.”
The final concept is simple communication. “Concentrate on effective delivery and ensure expectations are clear. Communication is about simplicity and consistency. That’s how you stabilise a business in times of change. Only then can you move it forward.”
In terms of continuous improvement, he recommended that leadership should organise shop floor listening sessions. “Managers must listen to the shop floor teams and not talk or interrupt until the last ten minutes. People must never think they’re a victim of continuous improvement, they must think they’re players.”
Jeroen van der Veer was chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell from 2004 to 2009. He’s currently a non-executive director of Royal Dutch Shell plc, a non-executive director (vice-chairman) of Unilever, vice-chairman of the Supervisory Board of ING and a member of the Supervisory Board of Royal Philips Electronics. In 2009, Van der Veer was appointed vice-chairman of a group of international experts who will draw up recommendations for a new NATO strategic concept.
*Taken from onTRACC Volume 3 2010