Articles / Our strength lies in diversity. I never realised that

Our strength lies in diversity. I never realised that

Market leader within the business law sector in Limburg for years, the firm is setting its sights on a leading position in the southern Netherlands. Ambition is in Boels Zanders’ DNA. But ambition alone is not enough to create a distinctive image. The new strategy calls for a narrative that provides direction and helps position the firm and raise its profile. The executive board explains why that story is so important, and what it has brought to the organisation so far.

“Spot-on,” Harm Heynen thought. It had never occurred to him that it is precisely the differences between people and offices that has been Boels Zanders’ strength all these years. But it is, he now realises, the core of the organisation. “In the past, everyone was put into a kind of straitjacket but now there’s scope for diversity. For highlighting the different characters.” This both suits Boels Zanders and it’s in keeping with the zeitgeist.

When Harm joined the executive board with Remco Rosbeek in March 2020, that insight was not yet apparent. First, a strategic plan had to be developed. On 17 June 2020, a pleasant spring day, the men put on their hiking boots. Together with sitting board member Johan Verhagen, they set to work on the strategic plan for the coming years as they walked. Outdoors, due to the rising number of infections. While walking, to give further shape to their thoughts.

A new strategy

It was necessary to have a new strategic plan. Boels Zanders was by no means directionless, but after the changes in the executive board, it was time to recalibrate. Time for new ideas. Remco: “We had ideas about where we wanted to go, but often felt they were just too over the top. I don’t really like that.” “Besides,” adds Johan, “with two new people, things change immediately. Remco and Harm are two completely different people from the colleagues who were previously on the executive board. We already knew each other well and found that we had similar views on many issues.”

“This kind of crisis reveals who you are and what you can do. All our staff have shown this more than convincingly.”

Remco Rosbeek


The new executive board started work when the coronavirus crisis broke out, on the weekend of the first lockdown. They, like everyone else, had no idea how the crisis would play out. So it was a matter of anticipating what could happen. “This kind of crisis does reveal who you are and what you can do,” says Remco. “All our staff have shown this more than convincingly. And even in a smaller group like the executive board, you immediately get to know the characters you have around the table. Everyone quickly bonded in a very natural way.”

Resilience, ambition, trust

The organisation was immediately typified by resilience and incredible ambition. There was concern about people’s health, mainly because one of our colleagues ended up in hospital in the first week. But businesswise, everyone quickly found their bearings working from home. Technically, things were in order, the organisation could cope. Moreover, says Johan, there was a high degree of mutual trust. “Trust has been placed in the board, but also by colleagues in each other. This was not easy for everyone, but people learned to let go. This trust has not been betrayed once.”

The way up

It was precisely that turbulent period that proved to be the right time to look ahead and start out on the way up. Near Johan’s house, the gentlemen embarked on a pleasant walk to have a good think about the future as the new executive board. “We had had some inspiring sessions beforehand,” Johan explains. “During that walk, our thoughts were further refined.” Harm finds it remarkable that the three of them were soon able to define where they wanted to go and what the organisation’s strengths were. “We were also quite quick to say: when we make a new strategic plan, the whole partner group should be involved in it.” The ideas were further developed afterwards, with input from colleagues. This is how the strategic plan – embraced by the entire partner group – came about. Focus groups were set up for different themes, backed up by videos that were shared with the organisation.

Emotion and purpose

Yet something was missing. After that walk, there was a great plan. But it lacked “emotion and purpose”, as Johan puts it. There was still some work to be done to give it real substance. Harm: “The big question is: how do you put such a strategic plan into action? You can’t implement your plans by imposing them from above. The focus groups created a broad support base in the organisation. This has taken us a long way. But, as regards external communications, we could not do that on our own. The existing narrative did not fit with our new direction.” Moreover, the executive board was not satisfied with its then marketing and communications partner. The board felt it lacked purpose and commitment and wanted an agency that would position Boels Zanders based on its core strength.

A new communications partner

In the summer of 2021, Boels Zanders therefore sought out a new strategic communications partner, Viastory Creative Agency. Johan: “In November, we started working together. We started small, but that soon turned into a thoroughgoing process.” Viastory has proved to be a paragon of commitment. “It helps that the agency’s founder, Luc Wassen, a former lawyer, is familiar with the legal profession,” says Harm. “Often people don’t fully understand what it means to be a lawyer anyway, or to work in a firm like ours. It helps a lot that you don’t have to explain all that.”

“Compared with larger firms, we are more personal, more involved. Compared with smaller firms, we are more efficient, in terms of the breadth and depth of knowledge we hold.”

Johan Verhagen


The biggest challenge in communications was rediscovering the essence of the organisation. Why does Boels Zanders exist among all these other law firms? “From a certain level, the market regards all law firms as interchangeable,” Harm notes. “At most, clients see that one has a bigger office and another has a marble floor. How do you explain what is distinctive about you?” The clients that Boels Zanders likes to work with are quality-conscious businesses and institutions that are in need of legal services. Johan: “Compared with larger firms, we are more personal, more involved. Compared with smaller firms, we are more efficient, in terms of the breadth and depth of knowledge we hold.”


To get to grips with the executive board’s question, a cross-section of the organisation was surveyed. It was an intense process, according to Johan. “I didn’t realise beforehand that it would be so comprehensive. People were really able to tell their stories. We then summarised what came out of these interviews, and that gave rise to the “Advocates” narrative. After that, we started asking ourselves: what does this mean for our future marketing and communications? Because there is much more to come over the next 2 to 3 years. Our way of expressing ourselves, the way we appear in the market, has become very different.”

“‘Advocates’ conveys that we are there for our clients, that we help them move forward. That we stand for something, with ideals of our own.”

Remco Rosbeek

An organisation with ideals

For Remco, the most valuable outcome of the journey so far is that image and sound are coming together. “Our narrative and the new style reflect who we are. It’s always embarrassing when you get a certain image based on a website, for example, and an organisation turns out to be very different in a face-to-face meeting. Then you do feel a bit cheated. In the present narrative, I very much recognise who we are and want to be. “‘Advocates’ conveys that we are there for our clients, that we help them move forward. That we stand for something, with ideals of our own.”


“What was a real eye-opener for me is that our strength lies in diversity,” says Harm. “I never realised that. The very fact that we are so diverse makes the organisation very strong. Clients are very diverse, so it’s better for us to be diverse too.” Deep in their hearts, they knew it. When Remco and Harm joined the executive board, they used assessments and an “employee empowerment” programme to emphasise that different people have different qualities. Remco: “There are big differences between the people working at Boels Zanders, but in that diversity we manage to connect with each other. Because we have the same values.”

New energy

For Johan, the positive reception is especially important. “I’ve noticed that the new narrative is catching on with colleagues. It resonates more than the strategic plan. And with the roll-out of the strategy, even more colleagues have been involved in the narrative, so that everyone has found their place in it.” This is reinvigorating, Harm also noted. “When I started at Boels Zanders, ‘the power of ambition’ had just been developed. This generated a lot of positive energy at the time. You notice that again now. Take our photography, as one example. If you don’t like it now, you won’t like it with anyone!”

What’s best for the client

And what do the gentlemen themselves advocate? For Harm, it’s obvious: diversity in the organisation. The fact of being there for each other. Therein, he believes, lies the strength of Boels Zanders. Remco opts for efficiency. “We are a party that listens carefully to clients, puts their interests first and does what is necessary without any bells and whistles. Just like in nature, there are no frills there either. Straight to the goal with no diversions.” And what about Johan? “I advocate a lot of things. Preventing problems, and solving them immediately when they occur. Gaining an overview and insights. Having different perspectives, including on what we do internally. And bringing out the best in each other to achieve what is best for the client.”

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