News - July 1, 2014

Internal shake-ups

Rob Ramaker,Albert Sikkema

There were more than usual upheavals across Wageningen UR this year. DLO institutes battled with changing government policy and a diminishing clientele. The communication department watched its job being transformed and had trouble keeping up. In the end, there was a reorganization in three places. How did it go?

‘An understandable decision’

What was the problem?

Communication Services no longer seemed to be providing the sorts of communication that people in Wageningen UR feel they need. There is an increasing demand for innovative products such as apps and social media, whereas CS tends to focus on websites and printed material. What is more, the organization is running at a hefty loss, partly thanks to shrinking communications budgets.

What is the preferred solution?

CS is shrinking by half, leaving only a core team behind. They are going to focus chiefly on project management plus the coordination and management of online media. This teamwill be surrounded by a network of freelancers who will take on a lot of the implementation. Staff were able to apply for all the newly created jobs.

What is the status now?

In May, 19 of the 40 staff heard that they could stay. Other solutions are being sought for the other 21. Some will take early retirement, a few will leave voluntarily and for others new jobs will be sought either within or outside Wageningen UR. Anyone who does not have a new job in 13 to 15 months’ time will be made redundant. The reorganization is going relatively harmoniously. Head of communication Marc Lammers says he deliberately took the time for a painstaking procedure, with a lot of consideration for the staff. ‘There has indeed been a good level of consultation,’ says Wiebe Aans, chair of the employees’ council. ‘And also, we do understand that this decision was necessary in order for the communication department to have a future.’

What does the future look like?

CS manager Sander Fransen is pleased that he can now start looking ahead. It proved difficult to work simultaneously on breaking up the old CS and building up the new one. His main hope is that the image of CS will improve in the near future and that his ‘new’ services will be given a fair chance within Wageningen UR.


‘The attitude at the LEI has changed’

What was the problem?

Last autumn the LEI was in turmoil. The research institute was running at a loss, mainly because the ministry of Economic Affairs was giving it fewer assignments. The management wanted to fi nd new clients and to change the culture of the organization, and several managers got their marching orders. This led to disputes and a lot of grumbling about the change of course among staff.

What is the chosen solution?

The LEI has had a new organizational structure since last year. The number of departments has been cut down and four programme managers and eight group heads were appointed. The staff also set to work on what they called product-market combinations in an attempt to bring research supply in line with demand.

What is the status now?

Things are more peaceful again, says Janneke Vader, secretary to the works council. ‘It helps that the LEI’s portfolio is flourishing. It’s going better than expected now and everyone is busy.’ Vader does not think the improvement can be put down to the changes in the organization. ‘It is still too soon to see real results from the reorganization. The main reason is that many of the staff changed their mindset after the poor fi gures of 2012. It was like: shoulders to the plough, we’re going for it. Something else that has a positive effect is that there are vacancies again, and new people are being appointed.’

What does the future look like?

The vacancies are a signal that the institute is on a sound footing for the future. Nevertheless, staff still wonder what the LEI’s business model is now that central government is giving it less and less work. In order to get research assignments from the business world, provinces and water boards, the LEI needs to work on a more commercial basis and get results. Not everyone on the staff is used to this idea. The culture shift is happening slowly, says a staff member who wishes to remain anonymous.


‘The job market is against us’

What is the problem?

The abolition of the horticulture product board has meant a sudden drastic drop in assignments for Research International (PRI) and Applied Plant Research (PPO). In2012 the product board accounted for earnings worth more than 10 million euros, so its loss has been felt. The introduction of top sectors has added to the uncertainty. The business units which have lost the most work are Greenhouse Horticulture and Bulbs, Trees & Fruit.

How are the problems being tackled?

The management at the Plant Sciences group (PSG) original hoped to compensate for falling incomes with savings and gradually reshaping the organization ‘on the job’ through voluntary changes of job on the part of employees. It became clear in February, however, that a real reorganization was needed. In total, 50 fte are being lost, mainly at the applied research stations in Lisse, Randwijk and Bleiswijk. Some people will be able to come back in new jobs, though, so that ‘only’ 41 fte will really disappear.

What is the status now?

Staff will hear on 1 July whether they get to stay. Redundant workers will get help with job-hunting from an outplacement agency. If they are not successful, they will eventually face compulsory redundancy. The employees’ council understands the reorganization, although the members are critical about the ‘on the job’ approach. ‘Guiding people from one job to another sounds like a good approach, but it is still a painful process,’ says council chair Pieter van de Sanden. ‘What is more, the job market is against us.’

What does the future look like?

The search is on for alternatives to the product boards, such as a branch organization or innovation fund. The greenhouse horticulture business unit also aims to get more assignments on the market and start making inroads internationally, says Derk Rademaker, executive secretary at PSG. Bulbs, trees and fruit, on the other hand, wants to start working with companies. Expensive research facilities are being shed as well.