Working for a Dutchman
Featured in Globe Magazine January 2017
Short lines of communication, little to no hierarchy, and an informal work environment. These are but a few of the cliché examples that come up when discussing working for a Dutch company. But how do foreign colleagues working remotely really experience the business culture of a Dutch company, and how do they deal with it? Several foreign employees discuss their experiences.
“I made a conscious choice to work for an international company,” says Brecht Warlop, Valmont’s Belgian salesman. “I wanted this because there are more career opportunities in an international company, but also because of the broad job description. It’s nice to be given a lot of responsibility and to be the face of Valmont in Belgium. The headquarters in the Netherlands is great because of the language and its proximity.” The British Stephen Belfort, Area Sales Manager UK, Ireland, and Scandinavia for AmbaFlex, also had specific reasons for working for a foreign company, though not a Dutch organisation specifically. “Because of my previous experiences with both British and non-British companies, I knew I wanted to work for a foreign company. AmbaFlex was an opportunity to lead a Dutch company’s sales team in an international region, and that was the perfect challenge for me.”
Many Dutch companies wish to extend their success across borders. With the knowledge that their Dutch modus operandi was successful in their own country, they want to expand that strategy into foreign countries. “Doing business in Belgium is completely different. Dutch companies need to take that into account,” explains Warlop. “I’ve noticed that the Dutch customers, in particular, are less critical. They are much more demanding in Belgium. Belgian customers are looking for a long-term partnership, so they take longer to convince. In the Netherlands, you can get down to business faster, but it’s also easier to lose customers.
In Belgium, you need to establish trust, but once you have a customer, they are often a customer for life. There is more loyalty.” The difference in culture took some getting used to, both for him and his new employer. “It’s going very well now though. It’s clear what is expected of me by the people in the Netherlands, and they take the cultural differences in the Belgian market into account.” Belfort knew he would be entering a different culture and praises his current employer. “The main differences lie in the co-workers’ work ethic, the enthusiasm, the drive, and the focus on the company’s end goal.” Pierre Kervegant, sales manager for France and Maghreb for Firestone Industrial Products, sees the Dutch directness as a positive aspect of his daily routine. “It prevents simmering arguments between co-workers. It has a positive effect on the results of both the employees and the company as a whole.” He does add that it took some getting used to for him too. “It can seem negative if you are not prepared for it.”
“The experience is better than I originally expected,” says Belfort. He expected a positive attitude in his colleagues, and experiences that in his daily contact with the Netherlands. “All employees are working towards the same goal, in line with the company’s strategy. They are thoughtful in their work and are always prepared to help. It’s refreshing. In the UK, there is a clear separation between management and other staff. That creates an uncomfortable work environment and challenging conditions. Because of the open lines of communication, we have never experienced a situation where we were unable to solve a problem through open discussion.” Warlop says that that same open communication is the reason he was able to adjust quickly. “We stand alongside each other, rather than above and below. Management does not force their opinion on the rest. I am given the chance to provide input, and they actually listen to my input.”
The trick to dealing with the Dutch clichés regarding business culture lies mostly in a new colleague’s attitude. Foreign professionals who start their new job with a positive, open mindset appreciate the approach taken by Dutch companies and are often looking for that method. As born optimist Kervegant puts it: “There are no problems, only solutions. I easily adapt to situations. Every country has its own customs; this can even vary per region.” On the other hand, it is important that employers are receptive to ideas put forward by their foreign employees. That is the only way to get everyone on the same page and it establishes an ideal breeding ground for the development of an effective strategy for conquering foreign markets.