Being Inclusive, the Open Door Policy, and True Success: A Conversation with Diederik Van Niekerk

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.

During this 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 success.
With my team in South Africa, I consistently ensure they function as a high-performing unit through five key ways:

  1. Providing strong leadership: It’s important to be the best leader that you can be at all times – great leaders make great teams!
  2. Setting common goals: Once each colleague understands the organization’s greater goals, they can subsequently align their own goals to propel growth.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 will listen.

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 attain that.

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 communication.

Additionally, I 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 positive growth.

What is one thing (a piece of advice, a quote, a person, an ideology, etc.) that motivates you to be the best version of yourself?

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.

American 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!”

Email Diederik a question at

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