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WILL THIS CRISIS BE THE CATALYST FOR PROFOUND BEHAVIORAL CHANGE?

By Erik van't Hof and Oliver Spapens


We live in an era when technology is no longer a limiting factor. The Corona measures also show this nicely. You can work via a laptop at home, entertainment is provided via digital platforms such as Netflix, and groceries are dropped on the doormat via Picnic. All this without any physical contact between people having to take place. Nevertheless, we see in practice that people still visit each other to such an extent that the government has had to introduce more far-reaching measures. The reason for this is that man is a creature of habit that sticks to existing habits and routines without urgent stimulus. The current crisis also exposes a long-standing flaw in organizational thinking. Organizations have a rigid focus on (digital) processes and innovation and often forget to include the necessary changes in the behaviour of their employees. As a result, the benefits of innovation are not fully utilized. In order to realize these benefits, organizations will have to focus increasingly on developing behaviour among their employees. Behaviour that suits a rapidly changing society, in which purpose and meaning are becoming increasingly important. The consequences of this shortcoming can also be seen in the way in which organizations deal with the current crisis. The emphasis is mainly on adjusting business processes and deploying tooling. Little attention is paid to the necessary adjustments in the behaviour of employees who are disrupted from their routines. The organizations that will most successfully emerge from this crisis are the organizations that help their employees to change organizational behaviour. The question is how organizations can already achieve this during the crisis. To start with the shift from physical to digital work meetings. Experience shows that the structure can be lost during digital meetings, simply because we are used to certain physical signals. So it is important to have a clear protocol for the meeting. This protocol is extremely simple: a) before the start of the meeting, the agenda is distributed to those present; this agenda is not deviated from, and b) at the beginning of the meeting a moderator is chosen to lead the discussion. She walks through the items on the agenda, and if someone wants to say something, she indicates this to the moderator by means of an agreed signal. This may seem very pedantic, but it will lead to great progress in the effectiveness of the meeting. Secondly, it is important for managers to create a capacity for decisions. In times of crisis, managers tend to be directive: measures are imposed and communicated without the employee being informed of the substantiation and goal. This reinforces the uncertainty that the employee feels under crisis conditions. Lack of information about what is decided at a higher level creates fear, especially when job security is at stake. This fear ensures that creativity and decisiveness disappear and the employee plays it safe. This is disastrous since creativity and decisiveness are essential in a crisis. To take away fear, executives can do two things: 1) communicate clearly, clearly, and often. If employees know what is going on, this removes much of the unrest that arises. It is even stronger 2) to involve the employee in decision-making, through participation or advisory roles. This leads to employees feeling more involved. When employees are consulted, they are also more willing to make sacrifices and make an extra contribution to the solution. The current crisis shows that people in all layers of society want to contribute, within or outside their own organization. Organizations that intrinsically involve their employees in achieving a higher goal will reap the benefits in the long term. The advantage of this crisis may also be that it teaches us to help each other.