In this Expert
Insights interview, we sit down with our South African leadership, Diederik
Van Niekerk, Operations Manager at MMS in Bloemfontein, South Africa,
to discuss his detailed approach for effective team-building, his views on
work/life balance, and growth. Diederik’s leadership and excellent insights has
strengthened MMS South Africa and he is an award-winning executive business
coach in his own right.
What brought you to MMS in the
beginning, and why do you think the company is different than other CROs?
The people and
culture are two key differentiators at MMS. My initial experience with MMS was
way back in 2014 when I interacted with the US team to support an audit across
multiple African countries. This then
led to me to continue our working relationship and discussions including building
and leading a superb team of like-minded professionals in South Africa.
entire process it was clear that each colleague that I came in contact with at
MMS, including members of the executive leadership team, truly valued
relationships and people. Early on, I found this to be a good indicator that
everyone at the company was aligned with its core values. To this day, I still
find that first impression to be true.
Quite a few colleagues have been hired
in South Africa lately, what is your philosophy for building a team?
I believe that
people are the most important element in any business. Building a great team should
start with a solid understanding of each colleague’s roles and functions to
fill in an organization. Additionally, recruiting purposefully ensures finding
the right fit and a fundamental agreement with organizational values. If they
do not possess this, they will not contribute to our greater indicators of
With my team in
South Africa, I consistently ensure they function as a high-performing unit through
five key ways:
Providing strong leadership: It’s important to be the best leader
that you can be at all times – great leaders make great teams!
Setting common goals: Once each colleague understands the
organization’s greater goals, they can subsequently align their own goals to
Devising an action plan: It is vital for colleagues to
understand their position descriptions, follow standard operating procedures,
and analyze key performance indicators. With a clear guide, individuals can
effectively perform their roles and continue to excel in them.
Supporting risk-taking: When a team has the aforementioned
factors in place, it becomes easier to support their own decisions, as they are
made with the organization’s goals in mind.
Being inclusive: Each team member must feel included to
effectively contribute to the team. The team environment should be a safe space
where open and honest communication is encouraged. Team members should also
feel free to voice opinions and know that leadership and other team members
That is a detailed philosophy! As a
mentor and coach in business, what are some key pieces of advice that you
regularly give others?
Success, in any
area of life or business, comes from continued growth. The only way to grow and
improve yourself is through developing a learning mindset. To ensure continual learning,
I encourage colleagues and friends to listen to podcasts, read books, and
listen to others.
Growth does not
take place in your comfort zone, and it’s important not to get too comfortable or
be afraid to fail. There is no such thing as failure; the only failure is the
failure to participate.
As a mentor, I
simply remind others to learn from any perceived mistakes and keep trying.
Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy. Results are derived from taking
responsibility and accountability, never from passing blame, making excuses, or
living in denial.
How do you view work/life balance and
what do you do to make sure colleagues stay fresh?
The idea of work/life
balance in its traditional form is not how I like to think of it. I believe
that people should work to live and not live to work. Since we all spend so
much time working in this day and age, it should be enjoyable. Having a vision
for your life will help people understand how their career will help them
In supporting our
South African colleagues, I believe in servant leadership. This is achieved by
physically bringing the team together regularly for extended operations meetings,
as well as engaging activities to promote growth principles. Regular touch
points with the entire South Africa team help ensure open and honest
have an “open door” policy, in which all colleagues can walk into my office or
send me an instant message (IM) at any time. It is important for colleagues to
trust their leaders. If they know that they are supported, they will drive
What is one thing (a piece of advice,
a quote, a person, an ideology, etc.) that motivates you to be the best version
We are all unique,
and each of us has a purpose. Once we find that purpose, or what makes us
happy, pursue it without fail. Finding your purpose will inevitably include
getting to know yourself better, understanding your personal attributes, and
the impact you wish to make on the world. That is what brings true success and
happiness. Know that life is a never-ending journey, because as you grow, your
purpose will evolve and develop.
entrepreneur Jim Rohn said it best when he said: “Always work harder on yourself than on your job, career, or business!
Never wish that life is easier, wish that you are better!”