Anja van Beek. Picture: SUPPLIED
Anja van Beek. Picture: SUPPLIED

What is agile human resources (HR)?

It is about moving away from the traditional focus on control and alignment, and involves organising the HR function to encourage adaptability, match workforce fluctuations to demand and help organisations become more responsive and adaptive.

Tell me about your consulting business and the work you do each day.

My days are divided between working one-on-one with coaching clients or teams and facilitating workshops. I am fortunate that I love what I do, and it is difficult to choose my favourite aspect of my work. The agile HR work is close to my heart as I can relate to the challenges HR and leadership teams face in the fast-paced, complex, ever-changing world of work. The agile way of work has traditionally been used in R&D teams — it involves a critical mindset, and principles, values and practices to help navigate the future of work.

You left the corporate world and started your own business in 2017. What led to you to make that decision?

That was a big step for me, stepping out of my comfort zone and the luxury of a steady income after being at a corporate for more than 20 years. I had a great career as the HR director at a big software multinational, yet as a mom to four children, I was in dire need of a change and trying to find some sort of balance. Last week, someone in my network made a remark, saying it seems as if I’m thriving. I cannot agree more: starting my own business was the best (yet scariest) decision. Don’t get me wrong, it has ups and downs, but it has allowed me the opportunity to connect with many remarkable people, and I have also learnt and grown as a human on so many levels.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown affected your business and the way you work?

My business was heavily affected. It moved from being fully booked three months in advance to almost all bookings being postponed with no real confirmed dates. A big disappointment for me was the cancellation of three international trips. I was especially looking forward to being a speaker at the ATD conference, the biggest training and development conference globally, that was due to be held in Denver, US. The coaching side of the business was not affected as I was doing many virtual one-on-one sessions even before the lockdown. I’m proud to have supported a few entrepreneurs to convert their business solutions to online offerings.

HR departments have, in many ways, been at the front-line of the challenges of lockdown and remote working What advice do you have for HR practitioners and team managers? T

The need to have a human-centric approach is critical for any business success. I have been talking about adopting this approach for the past four years and thanks to the pandemic, it has been accelerated. People are wired for connection, especially in the time of a hybrid work environment. Do regular check-ins with your teams and if all members are not in the same room ensure everyone is “virtually” joining the meeting, even the ones in the same room. And urge the team members to make use of the video functionality. Do not underestimate the power of the invisible leader — a clear common direction. Clarify the “why” and provide boundaries if applicable but leave the “how we do it” for the team to decide. Take responsibility for the energy you bring into meetings. Consider what you are radiating. Is your behaviour aligned to your expectation from the team? Remember, you don’t need to have all the answers, you need to rely on and use the collective intelligence in the business.

What lessons have you learnt from the mistakes you made in the early days of your business?

One of my biggest lessons was wanting everything to be perfect before starting. That was a big blind spot and an easy excuse to procrastinate. I would urge new entrepreneurs to be clear on the value they provide to their customers and just start. You do not need to have everything in place, for example, a website, a corporate identity and letterheads. Another lesson was to know your worth and not to underquote your services. In the beginning, you are eager to get business, so it is easy to undercut yourself.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

My grandmother has always been a big inspiration to me. She was a successful entrepreneur in the 1960s, a time when it was unusual for women to be business owners. She was the owner of Issie Bloemiste in De Aar. As a young girl, I spent many holidays helping her in the shop. I remember her dedication, waiting for the midnight train to arrive to collect the fresh flowers from the Johannesburg markets, the intentional colourful window displays and the care she took when working with brides. It must be the romantic in me that sparked my interest and thought I would take over her business one day. In many ways, I use her advice daily. It is all about the customer. How they feel after an interaction with you. The power of word of mouth, will they recommend you? But it is also about leveraging your strengths and gifts. Do what comes naturally to you and makes your soul smile. For me, it is to inspire and influence others and to live a life of abundance. ​


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