André Harmens 'Standing still is going backwards (and past results are no guarantee for the future)'
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André Harmens 'Standing still is going backwards'

André Harmens 2021 01 André Harmens

The title of this text constitutes a well-known cliché, yet it does not always seem to have dawned on business owners and managers that, in practice, "standing still" corresponds to "going backwards. And there are all sorts of reasons for this, such as: 'we do the things we do as we have always done', or 'things are going well anyway, why would we want to change?'.

Hectics of the day

A more plausible explanation for the lack of attention that innovation and organizational change receive is that many companies are ruled by the "hectic pace of the day": orders that need to go out the door, employees who are sick and need to be replaced, a machine that is down, and so on. In short, operational concerns that demand immediate attention overshadow longer-term attention.

Entrepreneurs and managers generally know very well that they have to keep an eye on new developments and opportunities, but the way in which they have to do so is usually not very obvious. And distractions from the daily, operational affairs of a company mean that too little time is spent thinking about and exploring new opportunities and improvements. And herein lies a huge danger. Too little attention to innovation leads irrevocably to lower competitiveness and lower sales. Things can go well for a long time, but before you know it, your business is going downhill. Innovation is inevitable!

Continuous process

Innovation in services and products, as well as organizationally, should be an ongoing process for every company. Moreover, innovation does not have to be disruptive at all. You don't have to turn your whole company upside down right away; small steps can also have a wonderful, positive effect. It's a matter of taking the wheel and anticipating changes that will come anyway. When your company's flexibility is at a higher level and it is natural to look for new opportunities and improvements, it is also easier to shift gears if there are external factors that suddenly change. We are seeing that happen on a large scale right now, courtesy of Corona.

Factors such as the poor availability of skilled workers, competition from low-wage countries and the Internet economy, threaten the profitability of many companies. Digitalization, automation and investing in the knowledge and skills of employees can be (part of) the solution by increasing productivity, quality and flexibility. This also puts the realization of "reshoring," the bringing back to the Netherlands of production orders that in the past disappeared abroad, within reach.


Of course there is enough quality and knowledge in many companies to start innovating and exploring new opportunities themselves. However, it is an interesting fact that support from and sparring with people outside your company can lead to new impulses. Outsiders do not have the blinders on that an in-house employee necessarily has. But where should you start to change? Answering that question requires an understanding of the current situation and a vision of the ambition for "tomorrow," and that across the full breadth of business operations.

An interesting opportunity for manufacturing companies to gain that insight is by using the (non-commercial) assessment developed as part of the recently launched Smart Industry Hub North Netherlands. This assessment runs along many business competencies such as business model, process control, production technology and HRM. It shows where opportunities lie and prompts a transition process at those points where progress will benefit.