Absolem attaches great importance to having a welcoming and informal corporate culture. HR is the lynchpin for connecting employees to each other, to the organisation and to their own career ambitions. With its people-driven approach, the engineering company occupies a special place within the industry. Co-founder and CEO Ank De Wilde: “We were already known as a game changer.”
Absolem helps companies in the manufacturing industry make their R&D and production processes more efficient and more flexible. The firm boosts product, process and mechanical engineering development through project sourcing, consulting, project execution and industrial digitalisation. Absolem employs some 70 engineers and has its own high-tech engineering centre in Turnhout with a unique laser infrastructure and expertise. It also has a branch in the United States, where it is an engineering partner for companies – mainly European – looking to set up a local production facility there.
Co-founder and CEO Ank De Wilde: “Some of our engineers work in-house, while others use their engineering knowledge and skills as consultants for industrial companies to manage R&D, production and automation projects effectively. So, we are mainly looking for mechanical, electromechanical and mechanical engineers with experience in specific fields, such as research and development or automation.”
As a relatively new and small player in the industry – Absolem was founded in 2010 – it is not so easy to get those scarce profiles on board. That is why, right from outset, the engineering firm has taken a different approach to recruitment from many of its peers in the industry.
HR Business Partner An Struyf: “We don’t recruit people for specific projects. When we receive an order, we look within our group to match the project and employees on the basis of their skills and competences. We invest in our people by organising a variety of training courses to enhance both their technical skills and specific soft skills.”
Reconciling personal ambitions and business goals is the common thread running through Absolem’s personnel policy. The underlying rationale is simple - people who are happy in their work feel better about themselves and their organisation benefits as well.
Absolem characterises its HR vision as value-driven and people-driven, which is somewhat unique in the rather business-like, knowledge-focused world of engineering. Ank De Wilde: “On the one hand, of course, we have business ambitions that revolve around technological excellence and added economic value. But, on the other hand, we also value a long-term HR approach in which the employee plays a central role and we wish to show that these two goals are not diametrically opposed. In fact, they are quite compatible and mutually reinforcing.”
Absolem has gained recognition outside its own industry as well – a while ago Trends magazine published their story in a series called ‘Game Changers’. “The focus on employee centricity, for example, is the exception rather than the rule within the industry”, the CEO explains. “Yet it is an essential starting point for an organisation-wide roll-out and monitoring of our people-driven vision by all parts of the organisation.”
Absolem also takes an innovative approach in its work organisation model. Ank De Wilde: “When we started ten years ago, there was no big internal structure. Everyone took on responsibilities and was involved in the decision-making processes. This felt very organic and it was one of our strengths. But, as you outgrow the start-up phase, the scope of your projects increases and your internal organisation has to adapt.”
What companies then typically do is insert hierarchical layers of middle management. But Absolem chose deliberately not to go down that route. An Struyf: “We did not want to lose our innovative way of working together on an equal footing by building a hierarchy. Moreover, it has been proven repeatedly that stratified organisations are demotivating precisely because they curtail autonomy and involvement.”
“That is why we have had a system of self-managing teams for two years now”, Ank De Wilde says. “These teams are structured around areas of expertise and have specific goals. The benefit of self-management is that we make decisions together by consent and in full transparency. And above all, we continue to harness collective intelligence – of which there is an abundance in our organisation.”
What is the role of HR in this innovative work organisation? Ank De Wilde: “Our HR team, ‘People and Organisation’, is at the very heart of the approach designed to help our employees grow individually while keeping them connected to each other and to our corporate culture. During one-on-one meetings, we encourage them to grow within the scope of their talents and outline potential career paths. In other words, a deep, personal working relationship as a cornerstone.”
A few years ago, Absolem joined forces with SD Worx to help the firm achieve its ambitions for a sustainable, people-driven HR approach. Ank De Wilde: “If you want to be (and to be seen as) innovative as an organisation, you have to extend this to everything you do, from your core business to your support services including your HR partner. Only this way can you be genuinely innovative.”
An Struyf: “Encouraging people to take their careers into their own hands is one thing. You will only achieve this if you also provide them with the right tools. Consider, for instance, tailor-made remuneration. That is why, in the spring of 2020, during the first lockdown, we launched flexible remuneration. Although it’s not easy to organise this kind of roll-out remotely, we managed to do it creatively and professionally – together.”
“Actually, we felt a click from the very first meeting with SD Worx”, An Struyf concludes. “Just as we put a lot of energy into cultivating a close relationship with our colleagues, they took plenty of time to get to know us truly. And like us, they are not satisfied with the status quo and dare to push out boundaries. It’s clear that we’re on the same wavelength as SD Worx.”