Going Dutch: How L&D Practices Compare to Australia


After nearly 3 years and 4 bikes later in The Netherlands it’s time to take a moment to reflect on what this amazing experience has given me and how the old continent compares to Australia when it comes to L&D.

I have been thinking about this for a while now..what are the key differences between working in Australia vs The Netherlands? The analogy I have been using ever since I arrived was that of a high speed train. I had been on board the high speed corporate train for a few years before I arrived in Amsterdam – and boy did I feel those brakes come to a screeching halt here!

So what are some of the key differences? I should put things in perspective by explaining a bit about the work culture. One the things that first caught my attention was the role of managers – here in The Netherlands managers exert their influence and control very subtly – they operate in the background a lot and it is sometimes very difficult to understand their vision, direction and leadership for the team. On the positive side managers expect input from the whole team when it comes to large scale decisions or small ones. Every team member’s input, opinion and advice is encouraged.

Taking into account the above, meetings are at times lengthy – coming from an environment where meetings were dynamic and straight to the point I had to adjust to the nature of Dutch meetings: forums for debating team issues in full and frank manner with the objective being getting to that coveted consensus! This also means difficulties in getting a straight yes, no , go ahead – everything in it’s own time!

The Dutch make a strong separation between their work and private lives, with little socializing outside of work. The curious thing is that socializing while at work is much appreciated, with teams going together for lunch, often everyday of the week! After a bit of getting used to this I became quite fond of my team lunches – it was a great way to connect further with colleagues and form a stronger team spirit – this then made the frank and open discussions back in the workplace even easier!

The other curious observation was the tenure of employees within organizations – it is not uncommon to celebrate a colleagues 15, 20 or 25 years with the company!

So how does L&D compare? My experience comes from working for one of the biggest Bank/Insurance companies in the The Netherlands. Each of the 4 main business lines in the company has it’s own HR/L&D org structure and (for the most part) operate very independently of each other over. There is a shared leadership model, LMS and access to the Business School but the rest is left up to each business line.

I had the opportunity to work in 3 different areas of the company (Banking, Group and Insurance). Overall HR is still at a very operational level, this translates into a lack of strategic vision that links performance management, talent and learning & development. This leaves the L&D department, for the majority of the time, to act as a ‘learning broker’ – we find courses that cater for specific staff and organizational needs. Generally the design and development of big learning interventions is left up to external providers.

Performance management, KPIs and performance goals are all very new concepts, with most of the organization starting to focus more on this in the last 2 years. The change process has been long and unfortunately in lots of parts of the organization performance management is still a ‘boxes to tick to make HR happy’ exercise for most managers and staff.

There is work being done to create business focused L&D competency models and leadership development frameworks. The great thing about these initiatives is the collaborative aspect – input is sought from all key stakeholders, it’s a lengthy process but ensures greater buy-in. The implementation of these types of projects can get tricky – it’s not a speedy process.

Blended learning is still rare. There is a lot of off the shelf e-learning content and externally designed/created e-learning. The global LMS is used very heavily and has approx 100k users. One of the things we were very good at was creating communities of practice around shared systems or areas of expertise. It was not uncommon to be brainstorming or sharing best practices with colleagues from all over the world.

There are pockets of creativity throughout organization, different groups running various social media and social learning platform pilots. The drive and motivation to innovate was great – the downside was the lack of a unified approach – strength in numbers would have helped a lot of these pilots succeed.

My team was piloting a social learning environment that included online team spaces, blogs, discussion boards, file sharing, expert finder and rapid learning material creation for all staff. It had huge potential to increase collaboration and peer learning across the organization but the lack of support from IT was our biggest challenge.

Overall it was an amazing learning experience and it confirmed that we are doing a lot of great and innovative things in the Australian L&D space!


Please note that the blog posts are the personal views and opinions of the contributors and not necessarily the views of the organisations they work for.


  1. Great article to gain some insights as to the differnces in corporate culture but also similar in some aspects to the challenges L&D and HR have globally. Welcome back.

  2. Welcome back, Deb.

    Given the Scandinavian-style egalitarianism of the Dutch workplace (I know The Netherlands isn’t in Scandinavia, but bear with me!), I wasn’t surprised to read that you had success with communities of practice.

    This makes me wonder if other collaborative and consultative approaches to L&D would be similarly successful. You referred to social media pilots but a lack of a unified approach – that surprises me because it appears the Dutch culture is a perfect match.

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