25 May 2020

Leadership and digitalization in times of change

By: Joram Timmerman

Survival of the fittest - 4 of Talent Peaks' customers share their experience and insights


The world is changing rapidly, and the current situation gives even more reason to explore and deploy technological possibilities. We asked 4 of our customers - all C-level leaders in the Professional Services - industry how they manage this sudden change. And what role technology plays in all this. Are we waiting for things to return to 'normal', or is it just now time to set the stage for a digital transformation?

Talent Peaks organized an online panel discussion in partnership with Salesforce, who hosted the discussion in the person of country leader Michiel van Vlimmeren and our customer NEP Group, who kindly managed and broadcasted the production. In this interview we’ll highlight some remarkable answers. You can read the integral panel discussion here.  

Do these unparalleled times call for a different type of leadership?

"These turbulent times can make the difference for leaders who use the changes to make more impact and become more effective," says Mandy van der Put, CEO of Straight-Line Leadership. "Challenges now are mostly from a practical and a human point of view - how do you manage, engage and empower a suddenly remote working workforce. But first, they will have to reinvent themselves as leaders. What is important is to stay practical and make a clear distinction between opinions and facts. You can only make good decisions if you have your facts right".

Now more than ever, it is important to innovate your business model. Regroup activities, shift the focus and redirect the resources you have to meet your priorities."

- Bert Leegwater, NEP Group

Martijn Hogenelst, partner at IG&H adds: "The right mindset starts with yourself. Only then you can extend it to the rest of the organization. The new situation is a given fact. You must deal with it, while at the same time you have to look ahead and signal possibilities and opportunities. We already were in contact with a lot of customers to discuss the need for digitization projects. At first - with the outbreak of COVID-19 - they tended to put it off. Now they realize there’s no holding back. The need for digital transformation is urgent and with that we now clearly see the eagerness to change".

Hit the brakes or keep investing in people, capacity, time and resources?

Marc Nijhuis, CFO of De Staffing Groep: "After the first shock, we fell back on the business continuity plan we had prepared. Luckily, that proved to be valuable. What is important is to keep track of how your people are doing. Are they comfortable with working remotely so that your processes are not endangered? If that is okay, you can look at the rest of the chain. How are your customers, your suppliers, your partners doing? Crucial, because they also are an important part of the success of your company. After a few weeks of crisis, we slowly but surely started looking forward again. We had to decide how are we going to move forward after the crisis. For that, digitization and a capable leadership are key".

"At first customers tended to put it off. Now they realize there’s no holding back. The need for digital transformation is urgent and with that we now clearly see the eagerness to change".

- Martijn Hogenelst, IG&H

Bert Leegwater, CCO of NEP Group agrees: "Now more than ever, it is important to innovate your business model and the way you deploy resources. So regroup your activities, shift the focus and redirect the financial resources you have to meet the priorities you have set. Towards the workforce, as a leader, you need to be stable. Show predictable behaviour. Employees appreciate it if you keep calm and guide the way. Dare to be vulnerable as well. And as a leader you have to keep checking and asking for feedback. How are you doing, how do you feel, how was your week?

Is there a new perspective on digitalization now?

Digital transformation is making its appearance everywhere. Martijn: "you have to ask yourself: why do you want to transform? The only right answer is to improve the way you serve your customers and facilitate your users. Companies who are highly customer-oriented are often leading in their sector. Digitization helps a lot. Many customers understand that, but it's difficult to act on it. Good leadership can make all the difference. In many cases, digital transformation already was on the agenda, but now it has become top priority. There is no choice, we have to embark on the journey of digital transformation".

"We had no choice but to work remotely. Thanks to timely management, our processes have not been compromised."

- Marc Nijhuis, De Staffing Groep

How does a leader find balance again?

How do you, as a leader, strike a balance between all the new resources we use now and what is desirable in the future? Marc: "We had no choice but to work remotely. Thanks to timely management, our processes have not been compromised. As a leader you have to give direction, install processes, and you have to engage your people every step of the way". It is important to stay tuned. Keep asking questions: 'how are we doing, why did we do that, how do we solve it', says Martijn. "What is happening now exposes the essence of digitization," adds Bert. "Seeing things from a digital perspective helps you handle the current reality in a powerful and proactive way."

What's next?

Digitization has been an important item for some time now and the current events have accelerated things. The next question is then: where do we go from now? There are still many possibilities unexploited, what is the role of leaders in this? Bert: “A management team has often developed crisis plans for the various disciplines. Now, as a leader, you have to reflect and look at a longer period of time; at least beyond the summer.

You can check the facts, see what others are doing, and explore what is happening in the ecosystem. Based on your findings you formulate your own plan, which you communicate consistently to your teams. Provide perspective and confidence. You must continue to monitor, secure and anchor your plans with the 'traditional' means, because these are tried and tested concepts you shouldn’t forget". The human mind wants an answer to the question 'How?' 

The greatest challenge for leaders is to have a vision. Set your goals and determine the way to achieve them."

- Mandy van der Put, Straight-Line Leadership

"As a leader it is important to reflect on the question, without wanting an immediate answer. This allows you to keep an open mind and it activates creative thinking," Mandy explains. "From there, you will find there is a range of answers and possibilities which can create a new balance. The greatest challenge for leaders is to have a vision. Set your goals and determine the way to achieve them."

"Does COVID alter your vision? Do you have to adjust your roadmap? Once you’ve set your strategy, you know what your next steps are," says Marc. "Accept that unexpected things will happen," adds Bert. "As a leader, stay tuned with what’s happening and keep asking yourself how you can help." "Don't fight it, change will happen anyway," Mandy concludes. "In the survival of the fittest, it is not the strongest, but the one who deals best with change who will survive."

View the integral panel discussion

If you are curious about the other insights and answers to questions from the audience, take a look at the complete panel discussion here.