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Transformation and change is the new normal


On this week, we read an engaging article by Rogier Offerhaus about change in these times: 'Transformation is the new normal'. 

Could we have seen this crisis coming is the big question?

Rogier Offerhaus of strategic consulting firm People Change says it was certain that another crisis was coming, but of course it was unknown. That companies do not take into account a possible crisis is very remarkable, to say the least. Some speak of a unique crisis, others of the new normal. The corona pandemic is not the first crisis and certainly not the last. So the crisis is by no means unique, and the fact that the world will never be the same as before does not mean that we will soon be in a new normal : even the new world will continue to change. In other words: change and transformation are the only constant. And we certainly believe in that, too. According to Rogier, it is in our heads that rising lines is normal, but of course it is not. On the contrary, what is happening now is normal: it is not summer forever, there will always be another winter, another crisis. So as a company you have to understand that transformation and continuous change is the new normal.

Many companies seem to be burying their heads in the sand. " has been paying out huge profits to shareholders for years, and is now holding up its hand to the government because it has not built up any cushion for a crisis," Offerhaus said. "The government puts 20 billion into the economy, and another 13 and then maybe another 10, altogether more than 40 billion euros! And then just hope it will go back to the way it was. Instead of just trying to deal with this one crisis, we need to learn how to deal with viruses and crises much better. How we see a crisis as an opportunity for transformation."

Off the air

To do so, companies must fundamentally change their way of thinking. "We are programmed to only be productive," Offerhaus explains. "When things are going well, money has to be made continuously. No time is left for personal or professional training, transformation, reflection, awareness or to think about the future." As an example, he points to aviation: "There are now 20,000 people sitting at home on the couch. Those have all the time to think about what could be the next step in their development, to work on themselves. The ceo and all the executives now have a great opportunity and all the time to work with their 20,000 colleagues to transform their own organization to make it even better, smarter, more anti-fragile and crisis-proof. But that's not possible now: 'We have no turnover now and we can't incur any costs now.' And later when work resumes there will be money but no time, because then everyone on the plane will have to do their work. And so in the end nothing ever happens." 

"Because we are not used to dealing with the idea of constant change, we now cramp up en masse," Offerhaus explains. "Companies, managers and pilots sit around waiting for the boss to come up with a solution, while that boss now has to turn to the government for billions. Whereas aviation is the best example of an industry that very often faces crises - like a volcano in Iceland erupting or a terrible attack on New York on 9-11 - and you can expect them to prepare for them."

In order to be open to the possibilities and opportunities, transformational thinking is needed: "You look at what the specific knowledge and skills are that a company has. How can you pull them apart and put them together in a new way? Then suddenly a completely different company emerges. Then you turn a caterpillar into a butterfly. People just find it scary, because you're pulling everything apart and questioning it. That's why I prefer to do this when things are going well - it's better to rebuild the roof when the sun is shining - but that requires real leadership from the ceo and executives."

"We used to find a change process very exciting, now it is normal and many companies have built their knowledge and skills in it to do it quickly and several times a year. The companies that start investing now to transform their organization quickly and well are tomorrow's winners. Transforming companies are the new normal.""

Sailing against the wind

Instead of looking at what something could become, people prefer to hold on to what they have, Offerhaus explains: "We think we have control, but we don't. Just as it is not impossible to sail against the wind, you can do anything to maintain what exists. Offerhaus' point, however, is that this is not usually wise. "You're all going to put time, money and energy into fighting the change that will eventually happen anyway. You only control what you do yourself. So rather put all that time, money and energy into consciously going along with the change."

And even if a company does not survive such a change it is not a disaster, according to Offerhaus: "We still have far too much the idea that we have to prevent it with all our might, as if we will die. The average lifespan of a company these days is fifteen to twenty years. So it's better to assume that it will stop at some point. And that's not a bad thing at all. If you are open to it, something new always comes along. When a door closes in life, a new door always opens."