Orionis Walcheren: a learning organization
2015 – Orionis Walcheren is an organization specializing in social services and employment. Located in Walcheren, which includes the municipalities of Vlissingen, Middelburg and Veere, Orionis has strengthened the ‘methodical working’ of its client managers. This has been done in collaboration with TNO and other involved parties (among others Divosa, a branch association, and Dariuz bv, a spin off organization of TNO). People who work methodically respond to similar situations in consistent ways. Also, they act systematically on the basis of (evidence-based) effective methods (KWI, 2013, p. 54). In order to enable client managers to work methodically, eight steps were developed (KWI, 2013, p. 57); conceptualization, screening and judgments (diagnosis), decision making regarding the plan of action, deciding a job seeker’s best way to find a job, carrying out the job seeker’s plan, measuring the results, evaluating the result and adjusting the method if necessary.
Client managers guide unemployed individuals as they attempt to re-integrate themselves into the labor market. Although there is a lot of scientific research available on the effective re-integration of unemployed individuals, it often seems difficult to apply this knowledge in more practical settings. In order to address this difficulty, TNO implemented a pilot study at Orionis Walcheren. During this pilot, TNO and Orionis developed and implemented several instruments to stimulate client managers to work methodically.
The underlying intention of methodical working is to increase the productivity of client managers, to enhance their professional development and to expand their innovative capabilities. As a result, the organization as a whole will both facilitate and benefit from employee learning and development, and thereby become more productive. The process was monitored and evaluated.
The development and implementation of the instruments was a participatory process of change. From August 2013 to December 2014, TNO and Orionis combined scientific knowledge with the knowledge and experience of the client managers. Moreover, efforts were made to monitor and evaluate the process in order to continually improve the new working process.
It is interesting to shed light on the exact processes that took place at Orionis. First, Orionis and TNO tried to professionalize the occupation of client managers by finding a reliable and valid method of diagnosis. This has been done with the help of Dariuz, a diagnostic system that supports client managers in the design of a plan of action. This plan of action supports job seekers in finding a job and is based on self-reports of the client. The idea behind Dariuz is that it attempts to expand the thought process of job seekers and keep them positive to find a job. Dariuz stimulates job seekers to develop a more active attitude. This active attitude enables job seekers to go to Orionis in order to find a job instead of going to Orionis to receive social benefits.
Efforts were also made to continuously evaluate the effectiveness of the work and therefore create an effective and learning-oriented organization. An important program used at Orionis is ‘Functional Performance Measurement System (Functioneel Meetsysteem, FM), a program developed by TNO and client managers. Before FM was implemented , client managers felt that they had to insert a lot of administrative information about job seekers and therefore lost a lot of time. This administrative information was mainly relevant for external parties such as SZW (Dutch ministry of social and work-related affairs) and did not reflect personal performance. ‘Functional Measurement of Performance’ is a new data system that registers the performance of the client manager. The data registration is still useful for external parties as well. Client managers use the registered information about their behavior to reflect on their personal performance and therefore stimulate their own development. The goal was to create a safe environment where client managers feel comfortable to learn and develop themselves, and this was achieved by allowing for experimentation with FM. Potential disadvantages of such a system were also mapped.
Approach: from gut feeling to methodical working
Methodical working was developed by applying theoretical insights during the pilot at Orionis. This process started in August 2013 when Roland Blonk, researcher at TNO and Utrecht University, first came to Orionis. Before the pilot started, it was decided which scientific instruments would be implemented during the pilot. Before implementing the instruments, however, Blonk first spent two months communicating with the custom managers. The intention behind these conversations was to let the custom managers get used to the new instruments and build their trust in them. Moreover, during these conversations Blonk specifically created time to hear about possible problems experienced by client managers. Client managers shared their problems and discussed how they could solve them.
After a period of two months, TNO and Orionis started with the actual implementation of the instruments. This was again a participative process of change whereby client managers and job seekers of Orionis actively started to change their working process. Similar to Dariuz, the implemented instruments are intended to change the thinking process of both client managers and job seekers. The instruments encourage both client managers and job seekers of Orionis to think for themselves about a plan of action in order to manage their work or to find a job. The instruments try thus to innovate the search for a job and the working process of client managers. For instance, the instrument ‘New Professional Style’ provides client managers with a toolkit that helps them to develop themselves continuously within their profession. The pilot has just concluded and the client managers will continue with the implemented processes on their own. The instruments are now part of their regular working process.
Results: more positive employees and more job seekers finding a job
Because of the increased knowledge on re-integration, the pilot has yielded positive results for Orionis. As a consequence, the aggression towards employees of Orionis, the number of court cases against Orionis, and the cost for social security have all dropped. This data is tracked by Orionis. Other results were not directly measured. However, scientific research has shown that one out of three participants in the Dariuz program is successful in finding a job.
The client managers have learned how to work methodically and how to improve their skills. Due to the emphasis on participation, evaluation and development of the work process during the pilot, the innovative capacity of client managers was stimulated. Also, due to their experiences with the new work process, client managers are stimulated to continue improving their innovative capabilities. Innovative capacity refers to the capacity to acknowledge possibilities for improvement and also to implement these improvements. Moreover, since they have now undergone training themselves, client managers are now better able to understand the perspective of the client, who has to undergo trainings and work on their professional development as well. As a consequence, client managers are now better able to guide a client towards finding a new job.
It is not known whether client managers also feel more involved with their organization, whether they experience more autonomy or experience possibilities to develop themselves. However, Blonk indicates that he experiences at least less resistance towards change among the client managers. Before Blonk arrived at Orionis, the organization had been through a big reorganization. There was a lot of resistance during this transition to the new organization because the interim management guided this transition with a very harsh structure. The instruments implemented by TNO have the opposite character: they provide the client managers with the time and opportunity to find their own solutions to their problems. According to Blonk, this bottom-up strategy has led to decreased resistance among client managers.
Factors that contributed to the success
The scientific approach is the main factor that contributed to the success of the pilot, according to Blonk. He also points at the attitude of the management as a requirement of the success. The new management had a positive attitude towards the pilot and its initiative to create a learning-oriented organization within Orionis. Lastly, it is important that the client managers have a positive attitude towards guiding unemployed individuals in finding a new job, and that this positive attitude is transferred to the job seekers at Orionis. This positive attitude is mainly caused by the new way of working that provides the client managers with autonomy. Client managers perceive that they are being listened to and have the time and opportunity to solve their own problems. As a consequence, they have gained a more positive attitude towards their jobs.
Blonk, R. W. B. (2015). Reïntegratie die wel werkt. S&D, 72, 48-53.
Goosen, C. & Blonk, R. W. B. (2015). Procesverslag pilot Functioneel Meten
For more information you can contact Wouter van der Torre:
Wouter van der Torre
TNO | Work and Employment
T +31( 0)88 866 32 35
M +31 (0)64 684 72 94
Blonk, R. W. B. (2015). Reïntegratie die wel werkt. S&D, 72, 48-53.
Monitoring & Evaluation, Self organisation, Smart working, Workplace innovation.