Inside Our Company • 15 min read

Changing our company culture, thriving during COVID-19

Marjan Bolink May 19, 2020

It’s been 15 years since I started working in HR at TenCate, but the most exciting changes are happening right now, hands down. We are three years into a company culture that’s shaking up the way we hire, educate, inspire and motivate our people to become best in class. Because we set that strategy in motion years ago, we’re reaping the benefits now during the COVID-19 crisis — our people are remarkably resilient, with the coping mechanisms to thrive in uncertainty. They’re flexible, creative, and think and act innovatively. This didn’t just happen overnight, though. It’s had everything to do with change management, finding clarity about the types of people who are a good cultural fit for our company, and coaching TenCate Protective Fabrics employees to unleash a mindset of entrepreneurship.

How a “best in class” mentality became the driver for culture change

We didn’t copy-paste our culture change from others, or lock it into rigid planning documents. It grew organically. Roughly five years ago our company — and company culture — looked very different from what it is now. TenCate Protective Fabrics was part of Royal TenCate N.V., a Dutch-originated stock-listed multinational. Like many other departments, Human Resources was centrally organised. Then in 2015, the operating companies (including TenCate Protective Fabrics) received investments and were separated, allowing them to operate as fully independent entities.

Our HR team started with a general idea of the direction we wanted to grow towards as a company, but the biggest driver for change was our new senior leadership team. They helped us determine 5 new strategic pillars, one of which is “Be best in class.” To us, this means we aim to attract the right talent, then facilitate their growth with coaching and support. By investing in their personal development, we empower them to become world-class professionals who in turn feel invested in the success of our company.

When the best in class strategy was born, the puzzle pieces really started to fall together. As an organisation, we began to reshape our strategy, vision and mission in relation to the North American, Asian and European markets. And as HR Manager at TenCate Protective Fabrics, my biggest question became: “How can I positively stimulate each employee within our organisation to take responsibility for their health, motivation, and career development?” 

1P6A4605-aMarjan and HR colleague Linda working together on making a positive impact on employees

Unleashing entrepreneurship

To pave the way for a best in class team, we chose sustainable deployment as an essential new building block. At TenCate Protective Fabrics, we want to stimulate people on many different levels to unleash their entrepreneurship. That’s why we are shaking up the way we coach and educate our people, encouraging a sense of ownership and pro-activity to improve themselves and the teams they work in. 

As we navigate COVID-19, an entrepreneurial mindset has helped our employees show resilience, act quickly, and take responsibility together for each other’s safety.

We’ve adopted an extra measure of flexibility and generosity as the foundation of our work while quarantining. Staying agile as an organisation during a crisis requires trust, something we’ve been steadily building through our culture change programme. They may be juggling many priorities, but the entrepreneurial mindset has become second nature to TenCate Protective Fabrics employees by now. That’s why we trust them to perform their jobs to the best of their ability with our support.

Setting up norms in uncertain times should also be based on mutual trust. We’re very proud of the way in which our entire organisation came together to roll out and adhere to the new safety measures. Everyone contributed suggestions which were immediately put into effect. Within 4 hours of the government's initial announcement about COVID-19 restrictions, for example, our engineers were already carrying new safety protocols on the workfloor. It’s given us a true sense of togetherness.

culture-changeEmployee vs. entrepreneur model that we have used for cultural change directions

Employee vitality in practice

Another important element powering culture change at TenCate Protective Fabrics? Employee vitality. We place a tremendous emphasis on supporting the physical and mental health of our employees. You better believe that means more than just offering a free subscription to a gym! If people feel good in life, they feel good at work, too. Not only can it reduce sick leave, it also boosts productivity.

Last year, we introduced ProFit as a way to structurally improve employee vitality at TenCate Protective Fabrics. Built on collaborative research with Erasmus University and partnerships with personal training and behaviour professionals, our vitality programme is a mix of intense sports, core stability, yoga and mindfulness activities as well as nutrition and health education. During the COVID-19 quarantine, we’ve brought some of these activities online for employees to do at home.

The feedback so far has been resoundingly positive. It’s amazing to see so many employees actively taking part in our vitality programme. Not only does it improve their health and well-being, but team building is also stimulated because the activities are cross-departmental.

ProfitProFit - our employee vitality programme

Flexible working conditions

Culture change doesn’t just come from HR, it circles back to transform HR as well! We’ve completely revised the way we hire and employ people, since a best in class mentality asks for best in class people. This means that as an HR team, we do our best to learn what people need in their career, what they expect from us, and how we can integrate their feedback effectively.

Originally, we had bundled TenCate Protective Fabrics working conditions in a detailed document called The Green File. Not long after, we realized our approach could be much less regulated and directive. So we changed tack and began giving people the freedom to take responsibility for their own work-life balance. We also set up an employees’ council. This led to a new set of working conditions, adapted to modern times and the wishes and needs of the employees in our company — ones which we are continuing to adapt during the pandemic.

With so many of us working at home in the past months, flexibility is key. Some of us have young children and need to balance working hours with childcare, while some of us are undisturbed and working more productively than ever. We try to operate out of empathy and understanding for each other. For those still on the workfloor, we’re trying to make it as safe and comfortable for them as possible. Everyone has a unique situation that deserves respect. That’s never been more true than during COVID-19.


Change is our new norm

As COVID-19 continues to influence the way we work, we’re making weekly (sometimes even daily) changes to navigate the shifting circumstances. Thanks to the investment we’ve made in our employees and our culture, our entire organisation has shown itself to be remarkably resilient. TenCate Protective Fabrics has become a place where we give our employees the freedom to work more independently. Greater mutual trust creates a space for everyone to contribute.

Whether with great leaps or baby steps, we’ll continue to refresh the way we work at TenCate Protective Fabrics. The new culture that we’ve built around best in class and entrepreneurial mindsets has led to exciting changes. It’s transformed the way we hire, educate, inspire, and motivate our employees in both the best of times, and the most challenging of times.

I’m very excited for the future — I can say that after working here for 15 years, we’re just getting started.

5 key HR takeaways to kickstart culture change

  • Actively involve management as a driver for change. The "best in class" management strategy translated to a practical question: “How can we positively stimulate each individual employee within our organisation to take responsibility for their health and vitality, as well as career development?”
  • Step back to unleash an entrepreneurial mindset. We coach our employees to take responsibility for their physical and mental health and work-life balance, proactively improving themselves and the teams they work in.
  • Employee vitality is never a one-off. We’re structurally improving employee vitality with a holistic programme that combines sports, core stability and mindfulness activities with nutrition and health education.
  • If people feel good in life, they feel good at work, too. Investing in your employees’ well being can reduce sick leave and increase productivity.
  • Involve everyone in culture change. We are constantly improving as we search for effective ways to integrate employee feedback. Project groups and the employees’ council are both great motivators.

Picture of Marjan Bolink

Marjan Bolink

HR Manager | TenCate Protective Fabrics