YourConnector’s Aleid Haenen on why people are key to success

19 February 2020 7 min. read

People are the most important ingredient to a business’s success. They are the driving force behind all aspects of a company; growth, ideas, revenue, customer relationships and products. What’s more, happy employees are the fuel to boosting business performance whilst also increasing talent retention and maximising positive brand awareness. 

Often, however, people fade into the countless layers within a business, and companies end up seeing their employees as a resource. A work culture that positions employees as inanimate cogs in the big wheel of the business is likely to lose them, which not only incurs significant financial costs (and time), but also lets valuable talent, experience and skills walk out of the door. 

A healthy work culture starts with a people strategy, and that’s where YourConnector comes in. Started in 2012, the Netherlands-based HR consultancy wants to help companies “become the best employer to shape the future”, believing that to thrive, a company has to connect its business strategy with its people strategy. 

YourConnector isn’t, however, just about improving work culture; they want to help businesses define their purpose and identity, understand what drives their employees and build a positive internal and external employer brand. It’s all wrapped up in the knowledge that people are, and will be for the foreseeable future, the leading factor in a healthy, happy and successful business. 

A discussion with co-founder and chief operating officer Aleid Haenen about the ideas behind YourConnector, the future of people in business and how to deal with stress. 

Aleid Haenen, COO of YourConnector

How did YourConnector start?

My business partner Nicole Solleveld started YourConnector and we met ten months after. That’s when we started to build the company together. I have a background in psychology, and I believe that people are the driving force behind a company’s growth. After all, if you want to be successful, it’s people that make the difference.

When I started in the people business, I realised three things within the field that translated into opportunities. Firstly, it’s really important to connect your business strategy to your people strategy. You’d be surprised at how often this isn’t the case. Secondly, I saw that the customer-centric approach found in ecommerce and retail was often not being utilised in a company’s people approach; if you want people to flourish in your business, you need to truly understand them. 

And thirdly, it’s important in any business to test what works and doesn’t work. You need to use data to test if you’re successful in every step you take. These core thoughts led me to build a company that tied in with those ideas. 

Why are people important to a business?

It’s an easy answer; any result you want to reach, anything you have in mind or you want to accomplish, will be realised by people. Only with the right people in the right place and with a motivated team will you reach your goals. 

Is a people strategy just as relevant for startups as it is for bigger companies?

Yes, specifically because when you start your business you have the opportunity to build up your culture the right way from the ground. Culture is expressed in behaviour, it’s the way people interact, it’s the dynamic within a group of people. And if you look at those dynamics, it’s behaviours that brings you closer to success. So, if you can build a business with a culture that thrives on innovation or growth (or any other goal you have), you’re on the right path. 

Why do you think people in a business are often not prioritised as much as they should be?

An entrepreneur starts a business because they have a belief of some kind, but sometimes one thing they miss is how others can be part of that belief. Founders, leaders and managers especially are often focused on everyday business and sometimes in that focus and enthusiasm, they forget about their people. Whereas people make a business happen!

“Any result you want to reach will be realised by people. So only with the right people and with a motivated team will you reach your goals.”

Do you think people will continue to be just as important in the face of technological progress and automation?

Even in the face of drastic and fast-paced change, our mission at YourConnector to build the best employers to shape the future will remain the same. So rather than seeing advances in technology as a threat, we recognise the potential of automation and technology. How many people are doing repetitive things that could be automated? If you did automate those processes, how much talent could you release and harness? I see it as a healthy challenge, and one that opens up a lot of opportunities. 

How do you deal with stress?

Exercise is really important for me (at least four times a week) and that helps a lot with releasing and managing stress. When you run a business, there will always be highs and lows, so it’s important to take regular reality checks. I also meditate which has been really beneficial. Admittedly, in busy times I lose meditation first, but I’ve learned how to do it in various situations rather than having to sit down in a position in silence. 

Adapting the practice and learning methods that are in line with running a business makes it more realistic. Another way of dealing with stress for me relates to one of our core values at YourConnector; we team up. When stress piles up, I know my team steps into it. Dealing with a stressful situation is always better (and of course more fun) with your team than alone. 

Because part of your work is building people strategies, are you more aware of flaws regarding this topic in your own business?

Of course, I need to be. It’s our mission! If we help our clients to define their culture and their core values, and I wouldn’t be able to define mine, they wouldn’t take me seriously. However, as a typical entrepreneur who is result driven all the time, I ask my team to challenge me always to stick to our values. This keeps me sharp and shows the strength of our culture. 

How do you personally like to grow?

I listen a lot to podcasts, I read, I listen to the radio, but the thing that I learn most from are the conversations I have with other people. On a daily basis I’m talking to CEOs, managers and employees of all kinds and that teaches me about what’s actually going on and what are the needs and challenges that people and companies have. If you want to create change in a company, you need to understand your people. That process of understanding YourConnector is so passionate it's how I learn the most. 

How can a business start improving their work culture?

Start listening to your people. If you implement before you talk to your people, you might invest a lot of time and money not knowing if the action will suit the wishes of your people. And when you implement something, always test it. If it doesn’t work that’s okay. Learn from it, adapt it and make sure you bring your people into that process; make them responsible for their own work culture. 

Most importantly, if you don’t know where you’re heading, what your strategy is and what your purpose is, you won’t be able to build the necessary culture to get there. Know where you’re going, tie that to your culture and you will have your strong foundation to build a successful company and team.

This article was drafted in collaboration with B Amsterdam, a large start-up and innovation ecosystem.