Leadership Insights - Operations: Maxim Smolders

Benedict Leong

Banner Image with Maxim Smolders folding his arms in front of the conference room of Spaces 410 North Bridge Road

To Janio’s Head of Operations, Maxim Smolders, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to organise and lead operations teams. But having data, accountability, discipline and focus while staying flexible should be at the heart of how an operations team should function.

Accountability and Responsibility and Being Part of the Team

When asked about his leadership style, Maxim mentioned that he sees himself less as a leader and more as one of the guys within operations. Following others who have inspired him, he believes in setting examples for others to follow. He strives to be the most hardworking person in the room to inspire others around him.

To Maxim, nobody is the same and he doesn’t like to benchmark everyone against the same set of criteria. As such, he aims for his team members to find their own strengths and weaknesses and does that by open communication, so he and his team members can balance each other out.

He mixes his open communication style with an emphasis on accountability and responsibility for one’s own work. A balance he tries to strike with his team is giving them enough flexibility and ownership of their problems to solve them on his own without overly micromanaging his team.

“That means that I try to avoid micromanaging as much as possible, but I do want to be in touch with them to see what’s going on. So striking that balance is very difficult but that’s the aim that I have. Giving them freedom to discover themselves. Finding their strengths and their weaknesses while also giving them the responsibilities and the accountability for their failures and successes. That is something that I’m trying to achieve, without giving them the feeling that I’ve abandoned them or that I’m overly managing them.”

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Data is Part of his and his Team’s DNA

Starting his first job as a business intelligence consultant, data has always been part of Maxim Smolders’ DNA. In his experience, data helps as an overall structure to guide you on what’s important, what is not important, what is improving, where are certain solutions working and where they’re failing.

He mentions that data helps to provide perspective on the situation especially when exceptions occur during deliveries. By checking through KPI and SLA data, we are able to get a truer sense of the situation and what urgently needs to be fixed:

  1. Reviewing the data gives you a sense of reassurance that whatever you’re doing is working if the data validates that situation and;
  2. Puts things in perspective which is quite important for your mindset and stress levels you are having

Validating problem statements with data is also key to making sure that issues gets solved as efficiently as possible:

“What I always tell the team to do is that when you know there’s a problem: frame the problem statement and make a hypothesis. The next step is to leverage data to confirm that this hypothesis is correct. Then you can start defining the solution and measuring whether the solution had an impact.

If you make your hypothesis without validating it with data, you’re just going on a whim and you might lose a lot of time. You might lose 6 months implementing a solution that won’t change the topline or doesn’t solve the problem, if you’ve never validated the problem statement to begin with.”

A Disciplined Way to Enable Open Communications

With data forming the backbone of how he works with his team, Maxim is able to provide more focus to his team while giving them the flexibility to come up with their own solutions. Maxim puts his communication style to practise by implementing a very disciplined cadence of follow ups. During these follow ups, he makes sure that he and his team don’t drift off into the noise and topics that are not impactful.

This data is used in both his team-wide meetings as well as one-to-ones that he has with his team members. This forces discipline on both his end and his team’s end so they continuously and consistently keep in touch with each other. With how critical communication is, he rarely postpones these meetings so that everyone in the team has a chance to speak to him whether in a group or an individual setting.

“There is always going to be a time for you to speak up, either in a team connection, or if you prefer it in an individual context; you can do so during our one-on-one. That’s a guarantee that everyone in the team has.”

For instance, during country operations follow ups he and the local operations teams zoom in on what they have done, summarise as much as possible within that meeting and have a holistic view on finding out together what can be done better. Local heads of operations’ portfolios also include their financials so they are empowered to make their decisions on their own. With all this data available they can make decisions, like volume allocation based on their estimated impact on country cost and performance.

During these meetings, Maxim makes sure to have time to discuss finer details or important questions his team may have. Throughout these conversations, he makes sure that they have the right strategy and perspective on what’s important and what is not.

This perspective critical as they are able to focus their attention on items that they know will drive the biggest improvements. This underpins the flexibility and focus that’s needed especially when tackling unforeseen events that could occur at times in the logistics industry and what it takes to work on getting SLAs back on track.

Maxim’s Recommendation on Trying the Startup Life

Maxim encourages young, highly driven people to try working at a startup at least once:

“I think startups are quite amazing. The reason why I think startups are amazing and why I encourage young graduates to consider joining them is that the learning curve is extremely steep but very rewarding. There’s a direct correlation between the effort that you put forward and the rewards you reap.

If you look at more traditional companies, they will prefer seniority as a primary factor for career advancement; how much time have you spent with the company rather than your added value. They’ll look at variables such as age, and they’ll correlate age to say, bonuses or promotions or what not. These things matter less when you are working in a startup, which is more focused on impact.

The only thing that a lot of startups are going to look at is what kind of performance have you put forward? What kind of contributions have you made to the company, regardless of age, regardless of time in the company itself.

So, if you are highly driven, especially if you are a young graduate I would highly recommend it to see if this is your kind of lifestyle. For the ones who like it, it will become very addictive. For the ones who don’t like it, at least you’ll never have to wonder again at a later stage in your career. Because it becomes a bit more difficult once you reach a certain age to revert from a traditional company to a startup. It won’t be easy to adjust to a new rhythm if you’ve already established yourself working 10 years in, let’s say, a traditional company.”

Maxim’s Focus in Janio and His Thoughts on the Company

Maxim’s aim here in Janio is to continue growing Janio’s operational capabilities to a world-class level. Regarding Janio, Maxim believes that Janio allows him to further establish himself in logistics by being in a flexible and agile organisation while being able to involve every layer in the decision making process.

“I want to establish myself further in logistics. The reason why I like Janio is that it’s not afraid to make changes and it’s not afraid to take on challenges. I like to be part of a company whereby the direction isn’t set in stone, that the possibilities to pivot in another direction are still there and you can be part of the decision making process.

One fact of Janio that I like is that we don’t limit the decision making process only among the top level of the company. We work on listening to all layers of the company and have regular pulse checks on our team’s current capabilities. If we want to pivot to a new direction, we’ll look out for the level of support we have from layers other than just the management one. So that was one of the many reasons for me to join a startup and specifically Janio.

We want to identify the core services that we want to give to our clients and make sure that our operations develop enough strength to meet expectations. In our earlier years, our team recognizes that we have tried to do too many things at the same time… this came with a sacrifice in performance or cost. We’re trying to learn from those experiences by now narrowing down our capabilities, but excelling at those services.”

 

Interested in joining us? Check out our open positions here or share your CV at hr@janio.asia

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