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April 30, 2008

Finding the right balance

Finding the right balance

Creating a work-life balance, a gender balance and corporate social responsibility balance are three of the issues on the mind of Roger Dassen. The Deloitte Netherlands chief executive tells Carolyn Canham how cultural change is needed.

Roger Dassen says he’s not a good example when it comes to work-life balance. But the Deloitte Netherlands chief executive is adamant it is possible for young up-and-coming accountants to make partner without putting in the long hours Big Four firms are notorious for.

“If you had raised the question in my firm ten years ago – can you become a partner on a part-time basis? – I bet you that 90 percent of the partners would have said it can not be done,” he says.

Today, Dassen says the facilities are in place to allow for part-time work. People just need to be convinced it is not just rhetoric. “If you think about it, it is a significant shift in culture,” he explains.

“I believe 40 or 50 percent of the partners today would say ‘this is a business imperative, if we do not facilitate different work-life styles and combinations, we’re just excluding ourselves from a huge population of talented people so we shouldn’t do that’… 30 percent or 40 percent will say ‘yes, we should enable that’, but that’s more out of political correctness. And about 10 percent would say ‘it can’t be done’.”

Dassen has been with Deloitte since the regional firm he began his career with merged with the Big Four firm in 1991. He says Deloitte doesn’t find it difficult to recruit enough talented people. “It’s not hard to get them. It’s hard to keep them,” he says. “Our recruiting position on the Dutch market is phenomenal. In the past year we have been able to recruit some 1,200 people, which I think is a phenomenal success in the Dutch marketplace – it’s a tiny country, 16 million people. The key thing really is to retain people and there are a few things that we need to address.”

One challenge is keeping young auditors interested. “For the auditors, the key problem that we have is in the first two years. Because of the organisation of the audit process, there is a lot of ticking-the-box exercises on the check list and guess what, the young people get to do that work. So these people get away from college, they have been flooded with conceptual thinking, great theories, you know, really inspiring stuff, and then you go through a check list. So unless you are able to show those people what purpose this checklist serves – what is this checklist in the grand scheme of things? They’re going to get bored.

“Obviously, there is a lot of time pressure on people, not just the juniors, but also the seniors, so where they cut corners is on the coaching side of life. And that’s the behaviour that we’re in the process of changing.”

A second challenge is retaining staff in a “fairly intense” labour market.

The third challenge? Work-life balance. Dassen says Deloitte needs to work on its success in diversity, particularly gender diversity, which in recruiting is close to 50:50. “But the more you go into the higher ranks, you see it drops, and that’s a bad message. We lose more women after four or five years… and there the key thing is indeed the whole notion of the work-life balance and the only solution there really is culture. Everybody agrees that the facilities are there… but we really [need to] inspire trust in people, that your career is not jeopardised if you slow down for family reasons,” he says.

Dassen believes that for all the efforts to retain staff, firms have to accept that Generation Y change jobs more quickly than their predecessors. “Here in the Netherlands, if you walk from [Ernst & Young] to Deloitte, people still regard that as an act of disloyalty as it were, which is a bit nonsense, but that connotation is still there. I think that with Generation Y we still have to learn to see that that’s more common that people migrate for good reason,” he says.

He says incentives to encourage Generation Y employees include “a lot [of] coaching, giving them instant feedback and reward, but it’s also… purpose beyond profit”.

Dassen says an example of “purpose beyond profit” is through displaying leadership on issues such as corporate social responsibility. Deloitte is set to release the second edition of its corporate social responsibility report, Impact.

“The energy that this has unleashed within the firm is just phenomenal… it only took one e-mail, I think, for 50 people to say ‘this is great and we want to be part of this process’,” he says. “That truly has released incredible energy within the organisation and I believe that if we channel that in the right way, you know you really can set yourself apart from others.”

Dassen tells how Deloitte issued a report 18 months ago on public safety, which found the country lacking in security in an event such as a terrorist attack, sparking a debate in parliament.

“If you can do that and you can do that on socially relevant things it is great, and it makes your people feel great, it makes your clients feel proud and you do give something back to society,” Dassen concludes.

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