Winston Churchill once said; 'never waste a good crisis'. On duurzaamondernemen.nl I read an interesting article in which Kim Putters, director of the Social and Cultural Planning Office says more or less the same. We must take action now. This Corona crisis is the moment to actually change course.

Intrinsic or financial motivation?

The current crisis could therefore be, nay, should be, a nice wake-up call for a great many companies. It has often been said, sustainability requirements are becoming increasingly stringent, but not everyone is aware of this. Often the board or management meets the minimum requirements set by governments, but it is not yet ''second nature'' to include sustainability in business operations. Just as obvious as, for example, finance, operational excellence and quality.


Old paradigms and drives

I think it also has to do with age. Because those entrepreneurs I'm talking about are forty-somethings, not yet quite as aware as perhaps today's twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings. And what about the fifty-somethings and over-50s who are often still in an old paradigm where (financial) results are the main driver. And then after so many years, exhausted with a burn out or having lost a wife, not raising children or not seeing much, they ask themselves: what have I actually done all these years, what is really important to me? Only financial gain is ultimately never a driving force that provides a lot of satisfaction. And of course I myself am still influenced by this paradigm because we are all in it too.

New generation goes for Purpose and is value driven

But I do think that there is a growing awareness that companies that manage their business on the basis of value and want to create something in the world on the basis of purpose will survive in the long term. They will also attract young talent on that basis. The young generation no longer wants to go just for the money or work as hard as the partner of that company or law firm did. And work just as hard to also earn seven tons later. They don't want that anymore. So they come for something else, they want to use their talents optimally to make an impact and to be inspired at work to add value. And if that's not there, they usually quit and hop on to the next job with the hope that it will really be about inspiration and meaning.


My neighbor, for example, is at a very large law firm in the Zuidas. A very talented young man, he's just leaving because he's not happy there and can't make an impact and add value the way he'd like to. In my opinion, this indicates that there is now a new generation at work that interprets happiness and job satisfaction in a completely different way and therefore makes different choices. I myself am over fifty. We were raised by the baby boomers. This generation worked hard to rebuild the Netherlands and, of course, passed that on to our generation. So you were partly following the path taken by your parents and therefore also partly driven by financial gain and success. Success had a clear framework and interpretation and now it is perhaps experienced very differently by the younger generations.

Myfirst job, (in 1992), was at the Environmental Affairs department of Ahold, after I had completed my specialization in Environmental Sciences at Leiden University.When I entered the department, they had just introduced the so-called green leaf. This was hung on the shelves because it was a greener product compared to other products in the supermarket. Ultimately they were shot down by the environmental movement at the time, which said: yes, so your products with no green label are obviously not good...In retrospect, the whole process of the green leaf was not well coordinated with Ahold's social environment. They then brought in Wouter van Dieren's Institute for Environmental and Systems Analysis (IMSA). The advice at the time was that if a company wants to introduce something innovative such as the green leaf, it must first coordinate this properly with the external stakeholders. This is where the current 'AH Biologisch' product originated. So first it was the green leaf, then AH biological. That's funny, then it was pure and fair, and now it's AH organic again.


Leadership and Stakeholder Management

In the article on ondernemendnederland.nl Kim Putters also discusses the need to focus on broad prosperity. By this he means that the government should not be OMT-driven but should actually broaden the current top-down steering in the crisis with all stakeholders involved; schools, entrepreneurs, municipalities, students, care institutions and so on. In that respect, when I came to work there in 1992, the thinking within Ahold was already cautiously shifting towards broad stakeholder management instead of focusing solely on financial KPIs and shareholder value.

In short, looking broader than just your shareholders. I think it's crucial to take leadership as a company, because that's what it's really about. In your industry, if you are such a big player, do you dare to take leadership and thus make (difficult) choices? Do you dare to exclude certain suppliers who do not produce in an environmentally friendly or sustainable way? Or will you not include certain products in your range, because they are actually not very healthy products at all. Ultimately, consumers will have to make their own choices. And take responsibility for their own health and footprint. But it is precisely these choices that people find so difficult. Because there is so much on offer, so many goodies, and we are all bombarded by advertising messages. We have lost sight of what we really need and what is healthy for us.


Use this crisis for actual change

Time for a higher consciousness, personal leadership and especially for healthy choices and corresponding behavior. This applies to us all: politics, government, the business community, citizens and individuals. We have known for a long time how we are all doing. Politicians and entrepreneurs, dare and show leadership! And still in anticipation of a new government, also an urgent call to politics; stop the endless polder. Let go of party-driven politics. The Netherlands is not waiting for that. Replace the old paradigms and join the values of the new generation. That really is the future.