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On a mission to make Datenna truly people-centric

Joost van Rijn, Head of People and Culture at Datenna, shares the defining moments in his career that led him to shift from conventional Human Resources to embracing a ‘People and Culture’ approach.

Joost van Rijn, Head of People & Culture at Datenna

Reflecting on your career, what stands out as your most significant learning experience?

“In 2017 I became HR Business Partner at a consultancy company. I thought I had found my dream job, because it combined my commercial skills with my people skills. But it turned out to be a disaster. All that I thought to be important in HR, they didn’t practice. Their HR philosophy was very top-down and business minded. I was disappointed, is this really what HR is about? Am I the only one who thinks HR should be about the people first?

I did some thorough self-investigating and reading before joining The Disruptors, a consultancy company of 3 guys that shared my perspective. They showed me I was not alone. As an entrepreneur under their name, I consulted companies on how HR could be done differently and how self-organizing teams give people responsibilities, trust and ownership. We reinvented HR: instead of lengthy job descriptions, heavy salary structures, and top-down management, we gave HR back to the people and got rid of bureaucracy. We placed the people at the center of organizations and simplified HR, using new techniques like Design Thinking, agile working and/or scrum.”

How did this experience influence your following professional choices?

“After Covid I decided that I wanted to work at a company where I didn’t need to change existing structures but could paint on an empty canvas based on the experience from my work with The Disruptors. This empty canvas was Datenna. When I joined, we were less than 30 people and HR was just contracts, offer letters, and laptops.”

So what did you paint?

“HR at Datenna is called ‘People and Culture’. It’s about placing our employees at the center while ensuring a strong social culture. It is important that people feel acknowledged, are valued, and know that they matter and that their voices are heard. Also, a feeling of ownership and entrepreneurship is what we try to achieve by involving our people in the development of our company. This way we empower our people and create an environment where they can take initiative and truly thrive.

Instead of just assuming what people need, we started doing employee surveys to understand the actual needs of our employees. This determines the agenda of P&C: a new onboarding program, revise the employee benefits, create guidelines for learning and development, create a feedback culture, improve on internal communication and so on. By consistently and actively listening, we stay connected with our people and can respond to their needs with agility.”

What do you like about Datenna apart from your job?

“It feels like a genuine community. We have a very international group of people with diverse personalities but still there is so much chemistry. Our employees truly enjoy spending time together. Having fun or thoughtful conversations at lunch, sharing hobbies, or going together to a restaurant or pub after work.”

How did you achieve this?

It's the people here – they make a real impact. We give them the opportunity, they take the initiative, spontaneously suggesting drinks or dinner. They've formed groups for bouldering, running, and padel, just based on what they like. All we did is select the right people.”

What’s next for you and Datenna?

"2024 is about growing (up) as a company. We aim to double this year, but we also want to become more mature as an organization. To make that happen, our culture should adopt more of a result-driven approach. Themes like accountability and ownership come into play, while maintaining the strong social culture that is the foundation of Datenna.

When companies grow, they tend to become overly structured. It’s important to me that we avoid slipping back into old ways of thinking as we expand into a larger organization. We need to consistently ask ourselves, how can this be done differently?"