Fortune Magazine has visited LEF in the Netherlands. The place which has drawn the world’s a<en=on as to how the Dutch have managed their traﬃc and water related issues by shiCing paradigms and seDng new world class standards. LEF is the Future Center of the Dutch Ministry of Water Management and Transporta=on. Here they have turned what seemed to be impossible poli=cal challenges into sustainable no nonsense solu=ons. And it all started four years ago…..
When you walk through the doors at LEF, the ﬁrst impression you get, is a sense of ambience. From all corners of the interior there are sounds of ac>vity. In the far end corner a group of engineers is working intensely on a new traﬃc management system. In another place people are working out a project plan. The smell of freshly brewed coﬀee comes from the lounge area not far from where I stand. People are hanging out and drinking coﬀee, reading a magazine or engaging in conversa>ons. What strikes me about the room is the feeling of space and ac>vity. It’s almost like a bazaar; where goods, are exchanged with thoughts, ideas and plans. There are large and beau>ful pictures hanging on the wall and in the center of the room is a big virtual earth which works like a search engine of projects on a global scale!
Flex-‐posi=on The Flex-‐posi>on is in the centre of the building. The Flex-‐posi>on is an interac>ve exposi>on room showing ﬁnished projects and work in progress. Right now, a mix of people are working in small groups, and some others are, apparently, just enjoying the exposi>on. Watching more closely, there is a high level of interac>on opening up opportuni>es for visitors to come with sugges>ons on solu>ons or improvements. The room challenges and s>mulates the senses in many diﬀerent and playful ways. With an abundance in images, colours, light and even fragrance, the Flex-‐posi>on really invites to get involved! All this is part of the LEF way of doing things. They believe that this enriches crea>vity, helps to break down mental barriers and be ready and open to change. LEF has been opera>ng now for four years and the ﬁrst results are visible, not only here at the LEF Future Center Flex-‐posi>on but also in Dutch society!
Figh=ng Dragons One of the ﬁrst clients of LEF was Mr. Leeghwater. His project on Dynamic Traﬃc Control is the current exhibiCon. Fortune asked him what LEF means to him
You were the ﬁrst client of LEF, what made you decide to become a pilot project? “For me, this was a very diﬃcult project, with huge technical and poli>cal issues. Dynamic Traﬃc Control is about traﬃc conges>ons and how to avoid them. And, in Holland, both the parliament and the Dutch people always know beRer when it comes to cars and roads. But I knew as soon as I started working on this, that this wasn’t going to be a technology or ICT driven solu>on right away. The concept of LEF, however, was at that stage preRy vague to me. It really felt like taking a big risk by consul>ng them.” Why did you decide to work with LEF then? “Some>mes you simply have to choose to work in a diﬀerent way than what you are used to, because you feel that the tradi>onal working methods won’t give you the answer. Actually, I really didn’t have a choice. The dragon was too big for me to ﬁght all by myself.”
Now you sound just like LEF, talking about comfort zones. “Well, I really got to know their working methods, that’s for sure! It’s funny how quick you get to feel comfortable, energe>c and crea>ve at LEF. OK, it was a long journey, but never a dull moment! Kind of being introduced to your dragon, but s>ll having to ﬁnd out yourself how to ﬁght it. That’s what you learn along the way.” And are there any results? “Oh, yes there are. We have found a sustainable solu>on that in the end is so simple, that everybody loves it. Even the opposi>on in the Dutch parliament does! The solu>on could be used immediately – hence the exhibi>on now, only four years later. By the way, it turned out not to be technological at all.” Next =me, would you consider consul=ng LEF as well? “Not for all assignments. Some problems can s>ll be tackled in the tradi>onal way. LEF is great in helping you think in diﬀerent ways and se[ngs. So, whenever these big, mul>disciplinary, poli>cally tough projects come up, that need to be considered diﬀerently, then I know where to ﬁnd LEF for assistance and advice. And my boss supports me in that now. In the end he was impressed by the results. I really look forward to mee>ng my next dragon and ﬁght it together with LEF.” Can you tell me more about the process of working with LEF All through the process of working with LEF our organiza>on and especially the project team has been challenging, provoca>ve, suppor>ve and surprising. I think you can say that we have had a cri>cal best friend in LEF. A friend that trusts, supports and cares about us, but also a friend not afraid to ask the hard ques>ons. This has become apparent both in approach and methods used throughout the process. We have been taken through 7 phases in the process: engagement, contracCng, design, realizaCon, evaluaCon, follow through and sustaining the learning. We are s>ll in the last phase where we are guided and coached by the team of LEF. Throughout the process the LEF team has been what I call change agents. Not only helping us ﬁnding really good solu>ons, but also in a change of mind. In our daily opera>on we are now more conscious in our thoughts, ac>on and behavior.
Phase 1, engagement. First >me I met the LEF was at a café in Utrecht where we discussed the challenge we were facing. The mee>ng was unlike what I have tried before. Under the discussion the guy from LEF drew, and wrote on the tablecloth. What happened was that it helped me understand my problem beRer, and when I got back to the organiza>on it was both a fun story to tell, but showing the tablecloth actually also helped me explain the others in my team what had been going on. A`er the mee>ng I was surprised about what had happened but also energized and op>mis>c. I remember that I called them a couple of days a`er agreeing to set up a new mee>ng with more people to discuss more in depth if and how we would work together.
Phase 2 Contrac=ng In the contrac>ng phase the LEF team proved to be very competent in handling that process. They were very good at clearing expecta>ons, and se[ng up a framework for ways of working. In this phase they also introduced us to some guiding rules and objec>ves which we have followed throughout the process. When I’m looking back, this phase was really important, since it was in this phase that the trust between my project team and LEF was build. We had faith that we would be guided through change in a professional, challenging and playful way.
Phase 3 -‐ Design I’m amazed at how the LEF team managed to put together a powerful divers group of people to guide the process. The ﬁrst thing we did was to make a quick scan analysis of the environment and the current situa>on to get everybody on the same level, and agree on the need for change and the importance of ac>on. A`er this we created a vision for the project and laid down a strategy and project plan of how to do go about it. In the project plan the LEF team was very keen on planning for short-‐term results as well as the long term goals. Later in the process of implemen>ng this really helped keeping people focused, engaged and energized about the project. The LEF team was through this phase very visual which helped us translate it further into our organiza>on. Also in this phase we were challenged to test out our plans and actually produce small pilot projects and prototypes. Then evaluate and reﬁne. The process of quickly prototyping helped us get out of our heads, so thinking and doing go hand in hand. (One of the ground rules of LEF)
Phase 4 -‐ Realiza=on Realizing the project was a very challenging period since the project is so big and complex. We did involve all the stakeholders in the process and tried to have our ears, eyes, all our senses open all the >me to adjust the plans according to the feedback from the outside world. We really learned that the plans never match the territory. The LEF team helped us stay on track by forcing us to evaluate and reﬂect con>nuously and adjust along the way. They helped us form a communica>on plan to make sure that as many others would understand and accept the vision and plan we had developed. We also worked very hard on involving all stakeholders, opening up possibili>es to help this become a reality. As men>oned earlier we also were consistent in showing results along the way and celebra>ng them to keep up the good spirit. The LEF team was in this phase very determined, really pushed us to the max, and always driving for change a`er change un>l our goal was reached. But they did it in a way so we as a team and organiza>on understood that it was crucial not to give up or take the easy way.
Phase 5 -‐ Evalua=on As part of the process so far, the LEF team had made us evaluate the project o`en and then change it. But, we didn’t only evaluate the project, we also evaluated, personal behavior and development. I think that this helped us be more proac>ve and conscious about what choices we take and the eﬀect of them. We were also asked to evaluate how the process of working with LEF had been so far, so they could use it to improve their internal organiza>on. The evalua>on is an ongoing process that con>nues today, and has become one of our new habits. Phase 6 – Follow through This phase is what I think makes LEF unique. The commitment from the LEF team didn’t stop a`er the realiza>on. They con>nued to follow and guide us for several months a`er, to follow the project through. In this phase they worked more like coaches and mentors and provided us with tools we could use to hold on to the new ways of doing things and make sure that our new goals are met in a way so they replace the old outdated ways of doing things. They helped set up an advisory board to help sustaining the project, and introduced LEF awards and diplomas which were given to the team, persons or the organiza>ons when a milestone was reached or a remarkable ini>a>ve was taken. Internally it meant a whole lot to receive an award and people felt very proud when they got one. It helped keep the ‘ﬁre’ burning and going. I personally think that this is LEF ‘s greatest advantage, that they see themselves as a ‘World Class’ service provider to the rest of the organiza>on.
Phase 7 –Sustaining the learning The phase we are in now is educa>on for the whole organiza>on so learning is sustained. This is done as part of crea>ng a new culture. This was actually a part of the contract. It said that they expected from us that we would take the learning phase as serious as the rest. That this is part of a healthy project. We hope that we in the future are able to carry out these kinds of projects by ourselves. To reach that goal we are now teaming with LEF ‘s ambassadors for change, responsible for educa>ng more people in the organiza>on.
So who are actually these people behind the scenes? How is this powerful workforce of LEF working? The ﬁrst impression you get when you see them is that it could be a team from any crea>ve business. They are energe>c, playful and when they talk you feel that they are passionate. But these people are very carefully put together so the group is divers and supplement each other in the best way possible. You can be sure that they will have conﬂicts with each other, but only because they are enthusias>c about there work. They seem however to be able to work construc>ve with conﬂict and use that as an opportunity. There is a good mix of young and old and in gender. One thing you can be sure of is that if you work with these people, things will happen and start moving. So be ready for it, they will for sure have the guts to challenge you and brake down your mental barriers. And well, then they are also really good story tellers.
Fortune have talked with the CEO of LEF Future Centre. Looking back at four years of LEF Future Centre, what comes to mind? First thing that comes to mind is that we really pulled it oﬀ. Then follows a sense of pride that we indeed delivered on what we had promised. What are you thinking about, what has been delivered? Our approach and the interven>ons resul>ng from it have had a dis>nct impact on Dutch society. For instance we helped reduce the amount of traﬃc accidents measured on an annual basis by 60 %, traﬃc jams decreased last year by a good 30%; the program ‘Beyond the Dykes’ has been able to avoid forced evacua>ons of people in spite of the drama>c water level changes in de Dutch delta over the last three years.
You have probably one of the most densely populated deltas in the world. What’s the secret of your success? What you have to keep in mind is that the ‘LEF way of working’ means: ‘Working with and through eight thousand (8000) people of the ministry plus many other partners in Dutch society and abroad’. With our approach we have an incredible mul>plier eﬀect. Fast cycle, full par>cipa>on! That’s our secret. And of course, I’m tremendously proud of the team here at the LEF Future Centre, who are the ﬁrst ones responsible for kick-‐star>ng all this great movement. When you started in 2007, or when you began your thought process for the future centre did you have a vision for the future? Oh yes, we sure did. First of all we wanted to make a signiﬁcant contribu>on of making Holland the most dynamic knowledge economy in the world! This implies working through and partnering with many ‘strands’ that comprise the whole ‘fabric’ of this challenging vision for Holland. For us this has meant to seek diverse partnerships to share experience knowledge with 16 other Future (like) Centres in Europe and the rest of the world. In the process of doing this we have realized that this is nothing more than ﬁnding new and beRer ways to make democracy work!