Bie De Backer (Durabrik) on the balance between performance and relationship-building

At construction company Durabrik, everyone gets an opportunity for continuous development. This not only benefits employees and customers, but the company's operating results as well.

Changes within an organisation or a team start with the manager’s development, according to Joost Callens, CEO of construction company Durabrik. They must be prepared to analyse not only their strengths and talents, but also their uncertainties and areas in need of improvement. He calls it 'holding a mirror up to yourself'. Once managers start working on their own professional development, they can't help but give their employees the opportunity to do the same.

Of course, actions speak louder than words – and Durabrik certainly knows how to walk the talk. When Joost Callens took on the management of the family business, he went on some experience-based training courses. It was the 'Leading by Being' course he took in 2008 that had a major influence on him. Together with a few key figures in the company, he walked part of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. Whilst they were walking, they talked about the values of the company and its employees. In the years that followed, a raft of initiatives and training courses, including 'mini-caminos' for all employees, helped the new culture to spread throughout the organisation.

What are the company's corporate values, and how does development help to roll those values out across the entire organisation? We asked Bie De Backer, HR Director at Durabrik since April 2012.

Bie De Backer: “Initially, the core values were summarised by the acronym ROSIE. The R stands for 'Respect en Vertrouwen' (Respect and Trust), the O for 'Ontplooiing en Ontwikkeling' (Growth and Development), the S for 'Samenwerken' (Cooperation), the I for 'Innovatief Ondernemerschap' (Innovative Entrepreneurship) and the E for 'Eigenaarschap' (Ownership). ROSIE has sort of become the DNA of our organisation. We of course translated these concepts to the workplace itself. Our employees know exactly what they mean in practice both in the office and at the construction site. For construction workers, for example, 'ownership' means everyone fully shouldering their responsibility. If you are building a home, each link in the chain has to complete their job fully. That of course requires 'cooperation', too. I've noticed that these values are now so deeply embedded that I'm finding it less and less necessary to talk about them explicitly.”

Durabrik constructs houses throughout Belgium with the help of its 220 employees and hundreds of subcontractors. Mindfulness and walking tours alone won't cut it in this competitive sector. That is why another guiding principle in Durabrik's corporate culture is the balance between performance and relationship-building.

Bie De Backer: “We're an ambitious company. Once a project has been successfully completed, we immediately start asking ourselves what we can do better next time. The bar is set very high. On the other side of the scales you've got relationship-building. We want to be an empathetic company, where our employees are kind and caring to one another. It is a question of keeping the two in constant balance.”

The training courses on offer reflect that philosophy. Practical and technical training courses are included, but that's not all.

Bie De Backer: “We strongly believe in experience-based learning, especially when it comes to personal development. This development is only possible if there is a certain emotion attached to it: something that touches you, gets you thinking, spurs you into action. So it is also on that basis that we select our training providers. We look for development opportunities that are tailored to individuals. An employee that was struggling with public speaking was aware that his problem was not primarily a 'technical' one. He wouldn't really have benefited from a PowerPoint or public speaking course. Instead, it was a question of self-esteem: he had the impression that he didn't deserve his place in the organisation. Thanks to a tailored training course, he is now able to assert himself in his position. Another example is that of a manager who felt that her messages were provoking a certain amount of hostility. Not so much due to the content of those messages, but due to a lack of a connection with the recipients. A course involving a number of coaching sessions helped her to adapt her communication style and better tailor it to the needs of her conversation partners. These kinds of results can't be achieved in group training courses.”

Manual workers have a right to self-development, too. For them in particular, life-long learning is highly important. After all, what do you do if your back or your knees give out but you still have to work a few decades longer?

Bie De Backer: “The list of construction workers with a long-term incapacity to work is growing, and that is a matter of great concern to us. We think that our society has an obligation to do something about it. The challenge is that a mason, for example, can't imagine doing anything else with his life, not even working as a flooring installer or a roofer. Last week, we invited our manual workers and their partners to a training course on career guidance with the Flemish Employment service, the VDAB, and the Confederatie Bouw employers' association. They have a right to career guidance just like everyone else, but the threshold is usually too high. The attendees were on the edge of their seats when an ex-construction worker was talking about how he had suffered back problems and was no longer able to work. He took a course, and now drives lorries transporting chemical products. We know that such initiatives might mean that our employees, even though they are physically able to continue working, choose to follow a different career path. But I'd be just as proud if that were the case. That individual has been able to grow, and who knows, perhaps they'll come back and work for us again in future.”

Even 'mini-caminos' and mindfulness sessions can be organised for manual workers. However, it's better to call them by another name.

Bie De Backer: “For example, we go out walking for a day in small groups, and talk about different objectives. Most recently, we talked about talent. They tried to identify their own talents, those of their colleagues and finally those of their team, and how these could be applied within the company. They really enjoyed that, spending a whole day being complimented on the things they're good at. If you give them a bit of space and vocabulary, these often become the most authentic and vulnerable training episodes.”

It might sound a bit airy-fairy, but the effect this has had on results is very real. Whereas in-house teams of manual workers were less profitable than subcontractors in the past, their efficiency has since drastically improved. What's more, the work they do is always top notch, which can be a sticking point with some subcontractors.

Bie De Backer: “Each team focuses on its own performance. They know how many hours and resources are available for a specific site, and meeting that deadline is a matter of pride. At the same time, job satisfaction is much improved, and staff turnover has fallen dramatically.”



Training (young) managers is a top priority

The top priority of Belgian HR departments is leadership development. The focus is (perhaps too much) on young managers and formal training. Informal training and on-the-job training are lagging somewhat behind.

Talent management – attracting, developing and motivating talented employees within the organisation – is the number two priority for Belgian HR departments. Number one? Leadership development. These are the findings presented in the HR Barometer Study, a study conducted by the Vlerick Business School and HR consultant Hudson. They surveyed 46 companies, and asked them two questions: what is your current HR priority, and how familiar do you feel with that subject? The results were compared with the 2015 HR Barometer Study. What were the main changes?

New ways of working (perhaps working without fixed hours/a fixed location has become the new norm?), diversity (a subject that, oddly enough, is still not much of a focal point in Belgian companies) and employer branding (which nonetheless remains a real buzzword) were all subjects that the respondents in 2016 accorded less priority to than in the previous year. Climbing up the list of priorities we find leadership development. This subject was also valued highly in the previous year, notes Professor Dirk Buyens, head of the HRM Centre at the Vlerick Business School.

“The quest for high potential employees – the CEOs of tomorrow – never stops. In a predictable world, that wasn't so hard: you went looking for really intelligent people with specific expertise and traditional managerial talents. Today, however, the world has become very unpredictable. You don't know what kind of expertise will be needed tomorrow. Your high potential employee of today might be your social liability of tomorrow.”

At the moment, the key concept is 'agility': the manager of today is agile, flexible and adaptable.

Dirk Buyens:

“What is currently a key to success can quickly turn into the reason for a lack of success. In that case, as a leader you're running into a brick wall, no matter how good you are at what you do. The question is: how do you teach such people to pick themselves back up again? Successful people are not used to failing. That's important to remember. A good tool might be, for example, 360° feedback. This involves asking those people around you – both in your professional and personal sphere – for their opinion about certain skills. You might also wonder whether organisations wouldn't be better off looking for a different type of leader from the get-go. People with a 'colourful' career path behind them are sometimes unjustly overlooked.”

This edition of the HR Barometer Study took a closer look at the subject of leadership development, asking which methods managers use to develop their managerial and other skills. The respondents answered that their managers only acquire 42% of their knowledge on the job; they acquire 23% via coaching and 33% via formal training. That is not exactly in line with the 70-20-10 model recommended in L&D literature.

Dirk Buyens:

“Traditional formal training should, in theory, only account for 10% of any training package. Today, it takes a slightly larger share. The top five formal training methods are traditional courses, seminars and presentations, tailor-made courses for managers, blended learning and programmes offered by external institutes. Self-study and new types of formal training such as games and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have not yet been taken up across the board.”

The fact that Belgian companies still rely heavily on formal training is also apparent from the CVTS study (Continuing Vocational Training Survey). Together with countries such as the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France, our organisations are top of the ranking for employee participation in formal training. According to this study, our country has an on-the-job training rate of 21%, slightly higher than the European average of 20%. However, when it comes to the other informal types of training, we score significantly worse.

Employees over 45 left by the wayside

Leadership development initiatives are primarily targeted at middle and senior managers and high potential employees, according to the HR Barometer Study. The main target group is employees aged between 35 and 45. Older employees appear to be left by the wayside. Dirk Buyens finds this somewhat odd: '”The majority of employees are managed by people over the age of 45. And it is precisely this category that is receiving less leadership development training. The question is: do companies think that older managers don't need it because they're 'too old', or is it older managers themselves who are dismissing training opportunities?” 

Age groups targeted by leadership development initiatives



Five trends in Learning & Development

According to Professor Dirk Buyens, Head of the HRM Centre at the Vlerick Business School

1. The end of the competence gap model

The idea behind competence management was to close the gap between required job competences and existing employee competences by way of training. That was wishful thinking. Personal development on the basis of people's weaknesses often fails. The new idea is to start by looking at people's capabilities, then sculpt the job and the team around that (job crafting and team crafting).

2. Unlearning instead of learning

These days, it is no longer possible to just accumulate knowledge. Too much knowledge can even blind you to new opportunities or threats. Learning to discard knowledge is the new learning.

3. Anywhere, anytime and all for free

Webinars and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are turning the world of L&D on its head. In the case of MOOCs, course material is disseminated online for free. People can take courses day and night, seven days a week, wherever they want. Tutors and course participants can also interact with one another on discussion forums, so there's no need for a classroom.

4. Short, shorter, shortest

Learning can be done on the go, thanks to smartphones. Programmes that used to be on the heavy side are increasingly being split into bite-size pieces that are worked through gradually: short sessions of 5 to 10 minutes, elevator 'learning vignettes' and games that create a virtual world in which employees can learn from their mistakes.

5. Performance appraisal apps

An increasing number of organisations are putting an end to performance reviews and annual evaluations and performance appraisals. Are performance appraisal apps filling this gap? Performance appraisal apps are pieces of software that allow feedback to be provided quickly. If an employee was well prepared for a meeting, you can just send them a thank you or a smiley via the app. After a few months, patterns start to emerge that indicate how an employee is performing. Younger employees also enjoy this kind of instant feedback. Waiting a whole year for an appraisal doesn't tally with the world of PS4s and Facebook that they have grown up in. 



How much Belgian businesses invest in trainings: mixed results

Belgian companies are not scaling down their investment in training. But how are we faring in comparison to other countries? The answer to that question varies from one study to another.

Life-long learning and continuing training are Europe's leverage in equipping its citizens for the jobs of tomorrow. There are three European sources available for comparing efforts in the various EU countries.

  1. CVTS (Continuing Vocational Training Survey) = a survey conducted every five years among employers with more than ten employees in industry and the commercial services sectors
  2. EWCS (European Working Conditions Survey) = a socio-economic survey of people in employment
  3. LFS (Labour Force Survey) = a socio-economic survey of households

All three studies collect information about employees' participation in training courses, among other data.

  1. According to the CVTS (the last edition dates from 2010), around 52% of all employees have received a formal training.
  2. The most recent EWCS survey (also from 2010) concludes that the average participation rate stands at 39%.
  3. In the LFS survey (last conducted in 2015), a figure of 7.4% is given.

The differences are huge. This is largely due to the set-up and methodology of the studies, explains Wouter Vanderbiesen (Steunpunt Werk, KULeuven).

“The CVTS is a voluntary company survey that collects information on training offers. Companies with a focus on training are probably more likely to participate in such a survey. The reference periods are different, too: one year for the CVTS and the EWCS, and one month for the LFS.”

So there is a reason behind the major differences between the three sources. A bigger problem is that comparisons with other countries produce rather erratic results, too.

  1. According to the CVTS, Belgium is a top performer in Europe when it comes to training, with a participation rate of 52%: the European average is 38%. Only the Czech Republic is performing better. We are also ahead of the traditionally strong contenders in the field of training, such as the Scandinavian countries.
  2. With a score of 39%, the EWCS study puts us at around the European average of 37%.
  3. The LFS score (2015) of 7.4% is rather poor in comparison to the EU15 average of 17.4% (see table below).


Wouter Vanderbiesen:”If you ask companies, like in the CVTS, our country seems to perform much better than when you survey employees, like in the EWCS or LFS. The latter two sources are the most closely aligned when it comes to their rankings of the various EU countries: countries that score highly in the LFS usually also score highly in the EWCS. So whereabouts does Belgium come in the ranking? I expect the truth is somewhere between the two extremes: around the European average.”

Training investment versus labour costs

In addition to participation in training, the Continuing Vocational Training Survey also looks at the financial investments companies make in training their employees. In 2010, these costs were equivalent to 2.4% of total labour costs. This includes not only direct costs (such as payments to training providers), but also indirect costs such as the labour costs for employees taking a training course during working hours. In Belgium, the latter accounts for almost two thirds of all investment in training. In our neighbouring countries, it's a little less. The European average is 50/50. One of the reasons for this is the high labour costs in Belgium.


Formation : les entreprises continuent à investir

L’économie connaît des hésitations. Ce qui n’empêche pas les entreprises belges d’investir en 2015, à nouveau près d’un milliard d’EUR en formations formelles. Avec cependant des différences entre régions, secteurs et sexes.

Économies, restructurations, licenciements, incertitude… Les temps sont durs pour l’économie belge. Pourtant, le volume des formations n’en laisse rien paraître. On y pratique le ‘business as usual’. Bisnode, expert en données et analyses (, a étudié de près les bilans sociaux de 17.000 entreprises belges qui représentent ensemble environ 1,2 million d’employés. Bisnode a ainsi pu évaluer leur niveau d’investissement en formations formelles (des cours et des stages généralement dispensés par des enseignants externes). Selon Bart Vanbaelen, business unit manager B2B de Bisnode Belgique, le résultat est plutôt satisfaisant.

« Si l’on totalise les investissements de ces 17.000 entreprises en 2015, on atteint presque le milliard d’euros dédié à la formation du personnel. Chiffre qui reste tout à fait dans la ligne de 2013 et de 2014. Au sein des entreprises qui s’engagent sur la voie du L&D (Learning and Development), plus de la moitié des employés répondent positivement à l’offre. En 2015, près de 785.000 personnes ont suivi une ou plusieurs formations. »

L’analyse révèle que ce sont les plus grandes entreprises qui ont consacré le plus de fonds à la formation. Les 191 plus grosses sociétés (des entreprises de plus de 1.000 employés) ont dépensé 43 % du total du budget, pour 39 % de personnes qui ont suivi des cours. Les entreprises dont la taille est légèrement inférieure – de 500 à 1.000 employés – ont organisé les formations les plus coûteuses.

Nombre de grandes entreprises ont leur siège à Bruxelles. On s’attend donc en toute logique que ce soit la capitale qui détienne la moyenne la plus élevée en dépenses de formation, ce que confirment les chiffres. Les sociétés bruxelloises dépensent en formation une moyenne de 1.893 EUR pour un homme et de 1.173 EUR pour une femme. En Wallonie, la dépense s’élève respectivement à 1.411 EUR et 919 EUR, et en Flandre, elle est respectivement de 1.360 EUR et de 858 EUR.

Bart Vanbaelen explique :

« En Wallonie, les chiffres sont un peu biaisés par le Brabant wallon, une province qui se porte économiquement très bien et compte quelques-unes des toute grandes entreprises. Le coût moyen d’une formation est encore bien plus élevé qu’à Bruxelles : 1.861 EUR, par rapport à 1.586 EUR. Dans les autres provinces wallonnes, le coût moyen est comparable à celui des provinces flamandes. Autre fait remarquable : c’est précisément à Bruxelles que les plus petites entreprises investissent le moins dans la formation. Plus de 60 % des employés ayant suivi une formation dans la capitale travaillent dans une société qui compte plus de 1.000 employés. »

(Source: Bisnode)



(Source :  Bisnode)


La conclusion la plus remarquable de l’étude de Bisnode porte sur la différence entre employés masculins et féminins. 68 % des femmes suivent une formation (ce qui représente une nette augmentation par rapport à 2013 et 2014), tandis que les hommes ne sont que 58 % à le faire (en léger recul). Par ailleurs, les formations suivies par les hommes sont nettement plus longues et plus chères que celles des femmes. Si les dames suivent en moyenne 22 heures de formation par année, les messieurs en suivent 27. Pour les femmes, le tarif est de 952 EUR, pour les hommes, de 1.509 EUR, ce qui représente une différence de 37 %.

Bart Vanbaelen déclare :

« Il est probable que ces écarts s’expliquent par les différences observées entre secteurs. Ceux qui permettent majoritairement aux femmes de suivre des formations sont les soins et la santé. La plupart du temps, les sociétés souhaitent proposer des formations, mais en général elles ne disposent pas de fonds suffisants pour acheter des programmes coûteux. Compte tenu du vieillissement de la population, il s’agit essentiellement de secteurs en pleine croissance, ce qui pourrait expliquer pourquoi le nombre d’heures augmente ces dernières années. Les sociétés au sein desquelles les hommes sont nombreux à se former relèvent surtout de secteurs comme le transport, la chimie, ou même le commerce. Les salaires y sont en moyenne plus élevés et les formations plus techniques. Par exemple, le secteur « fabrication de produits chimiques » consacre à la formation un budget moyen annuel de 1.880 EUR ».


(Source : Bisnode)


La conclusion générale de cette étude le souligne, malgré les conditions difficiles, les entreprises belges continuent à investir dans la formation.

Bart Vanbaelen conclut :

« Non seulement c’est un fait remarquable, mais c’est aussi nécessaire.  Pour la chasse aux talents (war for talent) d’une part, car les employés plus jeunes estiment qu’il est parfaitement normal de continuer à apprendre et à se développer. Mais aussi pour la rétention des talents (care for talent). Quand une entreprise offre à ses collaborateurs l’occasion de se former, ces derniers se sentent mieux valorisés et accomplissent leur travail avec plus d’expertise et de motivation ».




Export plans? Make sure you talk to our experts first

To prepare your international adventure properly, ask yourself the right questions and talk to people who have done it all before: partners, customers, fellow exporters and experts.

BNP Paribas Fortis listens to the questions asked by international entrepreneurs and offers reliable advice. "A lot of exporting companies ask for our help when it's too late", Frank Haak, Head of Sales Global Trade Solutions, says.


Entrepreneurs with little export experience are often unaware of the bigger financial picture. So what do they need to take into account when they set up a budget for their export plans?

Frank Haak: "Budgeting and pricing are affected by a lot of crucial factors: working capital, currency exchange risks and currency interest, prefinancing, profit margins, insurance, import duties and other local taxes, competitor pricing and so on. We always advise customers or prospects to start from a worst-case scenario. Quite a few companies are insufficiently prepared for their first international adventure: they see an opportunity and they grab it, but quite often disappointment and a financial hangover are not far away.

Our experts have years of export experience and the BNP Paribas Group has teams around the world. This means that we can give both general and country-specific tips. Let's say a machine builder wants to design and manufacture a custom-made machine. We recommend including the machine's reuse value in the budget: can this machine still be sold if the foreign customer suddenly no longer wishes to purchase it or if export to that country becomes impossible due to a trade embargo or emergency situation?"


What type of companies can contact BNP Paribas Fortis for advice?

Frank Haak: "All types! Entrepreneurs are often hesitant to ask for advice. Sometimes they are afraid that it will cost them money. However, the right advice can save them a lot of money in the long run. For example, we recommend a letter of credit or documentary credit to anyone exporting goods to a foreign buyer for the first time. This product is combined with a confirmation by BNP Paribas Fortis to offer the exporter the certainty that it will receive payment when it presents the right documents and to assure the buyer that its goods or services will be delivered correctly."


The consequences of not seeking advice: what can an exporter do in case of non-payment without documentary credit?

Frank Haak: "If you are not receiving payment for your invoices, the counterparty's bank can be contacted in the hope that it advances the payment on the customer's behalf. However, we shouldn't be too optimistic in that respect: the chances of resolving the issue without financial losses are very slim. Once you have left your goods with customs, you usually lose all control over them. Hence the importance of good preparation: listen to and follow the advice of your bank and organisations such as Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT). It will protect you against a whole host of export risks."


BNP Paribas Fortis

  • is the number one bank for imports (approx. 40% market share) and exports (approx. 25% market share) in Belgium (according to the statistics of the National Bank of Belgium): it offers advice/financing and can help you to discover new export markets through trade development;
  • is proud that Belgium is one of the world's 15 largest export regions and is pleased to give exporters a leg up, for example by sponsoring the Flemish initiative ‘Leeuw van de Export’.


Source: Wereldwijs Magazine

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