The call for change was waiting around the corner in the province of North–Holland when four of its municipalities merged into one in 2012. The newly established municipality Hollands Kroon (HK) completely innovated local government by decreasing bureaucracy, promoting self-managing teams, implementing flexible working hours, and stimulating its employees to have more contact with local citizens. However, to successfully implement these changes in an organization with employees that are used to work in a traditional way, Hollands Kroon needed a fresh outlook, creative approaches and enthusiasm. Who has more of the above than the talented graduates, who are eager to face the real-life challenges? With this in mind, Hollands Kroon initiated a two-year traineeship programme open to recent graduates from all disciplinary areas, who would like to support the municipality in undertaking change whilst developing their professional skills.
The five fundamental values of HK
Hollands Kroon is responsible for 48.000 people in the third largest region in the Netherlands, and employs around 350 people that are working in 30-40 self-managing teams. As the municipality of Hollands Kroon has undergone many changes in recent years, the needs of the organization changed over time as well. The content of the HK traineeship has been adjusted to what the organization Hollands Kroon needed. The first generation of trainees were ‘daring communicators’, the second ‘service providers’ followed by a generation of ‘connectors’. To make sure HK selects the right applicant, Hollands Kroon developed an unusual selection procedure. In order to find the daring communicators, for example, the first selection round was based on the format of the talent show ‘The Voice’. Applicants had to pitch and convince the executive board to turn their chair. In the search for service providers, however, HK hired actors who played help requesting passers-by at unexpected moments during the selection procedure. Although the set-up of each election procedure varied, the final round always consisted of a conversation between the executive board and the last remaining applicants.
Daring communicators, service providers and connectors
The HK traineeship programme is team and project-based in nature. In total, four to six trainees are selected, who together, form a self-managing team. Next to three individual assignments, trainees also execute four to six team assignments during the programme. The coordinator presents available assignments at the start of the traineeship. The trainee-team distributes these assignments among each other and formulates an action plan in which the trainees outline what they are going to do, what their goals are, and how they are going to share their activities. The executive board has to approve this plan. After approval, the trainees can work on their group and individual assignments. However, over the course of the traineeship trainees are expected to come up with new assignments themselves – identify the problem, see the potential and generate the solution. The progress of the trainee is supervised by the programme coordinator during each assignment. Additionally, trainees are supervised by stake holding HK employees and provided with personal mentorship for further advice.
Former trainees, for example, worked on the transition to self-managing teams, innovating the planning and control cycle and exploring the future of information technology and its security in HK. The current trainees are already working on process optimization in the municipality and have shifted their focus towards the extremal issues in the area – employability in the north of the North-Holland province.
Opportunities for non-stop learning
The traineeship at Holland Kroon distinguishes itself in various ways. First, it has a creative selection process and focusses on personality traits rather than on academic background. Second, HK trainees become the engines of organizational and cultural change within the organization. Third, operating in self-managing teams inspires independence and strengthens the leadership qualities of the trainees, while working on multiple projects in a multidisciplinary surrounding fosters the ability to think outside the box and therefore changes one’s perspective. The experience also allows the recent graduates to develop transversal skills such as time management, teamwork, and multitasking.
The majority of the trainees who completed the traineeship stayed to work in Hollands Kroon as civil servants. Many have mentioned that the traineeship helped them to better understand their own strengths and weaknesses and perhaps more importantly has helped them to identify the path they want to follow in their future career.
This article is based on a case study originally written by Anna Silvius (University of Groningen) developed as part of the Erasmus + Knowledge Alliance Project “Integrating Entrepreneurship and Work Experience into Higher Education” (WEXHE).
Cover image credit: open resource, https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:Hollands_kroon_vlag.svg by Arch
In-text image credit: Hollands Kroon