‘Purpose is easy, commitment is hard’

Everything is in motion during times of crisis. But how do we find the right balance between adaptation to the here and now, nostalgia for the past and transformation towards the future? A focus on what is really of value - the purpose of an organization - gives direction, but it is not enough. What is also needed is commitment. Providing further details to what is of value. Right now. And the same applies to Nyenrode.

On Thursday March 12, 2020 we started a two-day Executive MBA module. All participants were present and most of them stayed overnight at Nyenrode. That evening, however, it was decided that all universities were to be closed due to corona. The next morning, we had breakfast together in the Plesman Hotel, and after that we each went our own way. On our way home or to work, facing an uncertain future.

My first contribution

Adjusting is not the biggest problem. That Friday evening, I was supposed to hold a pitch for the students of the Part-time MSc in Management about some electives later on  in the program. That was my first contribution via video. That weekend I set to work on the course that had to start online on Monday. With the help of colleagues, I succeeded and now the course is concluded. All topics were covered, just as we had planned. And yet I felt some friction ...

Is that nostalgia? Missing the face-to-face contacts and walking together on the Nyenrode estate to a dinner in the Mensa or De Lakei restaurant? Perhaps that is one part of it. But if that would be the only thing, I don't think we should whine. We must adapt to modern times. We have been saying for years that we should do more with the Internet, flipped classrooms and blended learning. Well, that's what we're fully learning right now.

Touch, surprise and enrich

But there is something else. Something that might get lost in the current rearrangement of our activities. How well do I know the students that Igiven lectures to these days? Well … if I'm honest, hardly. I have given structured online lessons. They did a good job on what was asked of them and that was it.

But that is not what I came to Nyenrode for and students don’t come to Nyenrode for that either. I want to surprise and enrich my program participants and make impact. To cchallenge them to park their own rationales for a while and to be open to new perspectives that the literature as well as conversations with each other provide them with. Besides developing the cognitive aspects, it's also about the emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of being human. Then education becomes meaningful!

This focus on meaningful education is also anchored in Nyenrode’s mission: Serving society by shaping responsible leaders. This requires more than teaching the participants about the latest management models. After all, this can also be done via YouTube or any other social media channel. Only by retaining the formative side of our education can Nyenrode be a reward for life. But how do you do that in an online environment? I don’t know yet. I do know that it will help if we constantly think about how all the adjustments we are making now will bring us closer to our mission.

Doers in the postwar reconstruction era

We still often tell the story of the origins of Nyenrode. A training institute where doers were trained to contribute to the reconstruction of the Dutch economy after WWII. That was the meaning of ‘serving society’ when we were founded. But how can we serve society today?

Instead of focusing on the Netherlands, in current international global connectedness we are about taking responsibility for the world. And just rebuilding what we had is not enough. It has now become clear that we need to consider the limits of growth, climate change, and social inequality.

Sustainable transformation

Leaders are now faced with the question of how they can implement sustainable transformation towards an economy that works for all of us. This requires transformation of not only organizations, but also of markets, so that companies that are at the forefront of sustainability are rewarded for this, with the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a widely supported agenda that gives direction to this transformation.

Impactful commitment

As a result of the measures regarding the corona crisis, everything is changing. Showing real commitment to what we stand for gives direction and support to those changes. It requires that we continuously ask ourselves how we can make changes in a way that brings us closer to our mission. For Nyenrode, such a commitment to our purpose requires that we want to contribute to the world we create through education and research.

How can we do this as impactful as possible, even under the current circumstances? By giving further substance to this, I am convinced that we can find the right balance between adaptation, nostalgia and transformation. This makes Nyenrode not only ready for the future, but also focused on the future: Serving society by shaping responsible leaders, professionals and markets!

André Nijhof (1969) is Core Lecturer Sustainable Transition and Stewardship for the modules 'Sustainability and Systemic Change' and 'Future-oriented entrepreneurship, sustainability in practice' of the Modular Executive MBA.