Case study: Provincie Noord-Brabant

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Case study group 5: Change Management Provincie Noord-Brabant

This is the page of the Case Study of Group 5. We did a qualitative research regarding the Adaptive Cycle with the Province of Noord-Brabant.


In order to get a complete overview of how the adaptive cycle translates into practice, it is important to gather information from managers that have actual experience with managing change. In order to gather this information we have conducted an interview at the Province of Noord-Brabant with Tom Schulpen.

About The Province of Noord-Brabant

This description has been retrieved from the home page of The Province of Noord-Brabant. For more information visit their website at:
Noord-Brabant is a province of the Netherlands centrally positioned between the port cities of Rotterdam and Antwerp and the German Ruhr area. Five larger cities in the heart of the province form the second urban network of the Netherlands called Brabantstad: Breda, Eindhoven, Helmond, 's-Hertogenbosch and Tilburg.

Core tasks of the Province of Noord-Brabant are:

  • Spatial development
  • Accessibility and mobility for the region
  • Regional economic policy
  • Culture and regional identity

The Brabant Agenda
The Province of Noord-Brabant is facing a new challenge. As in other regions of Europe, the economic crisis is exerting enormous pressure on public resources.
At the same time, far-reaching social developments demand an innovative approach. The direct consequences of the financial, energy and climate crises requires the province to reflect on the future of Brabant.
The mission of The Brabant Agenda is to create an excellent environment for economic and social development towards a high quality of life and, through this, to achieve a innovative and globally competitive region.

The Interviewee
To perform this interview properly we started looking for a manager with a position in the “top” of the company with a lot of experience. The experience was the most important factor for us since we needed someone that has experienced change in the organization they work for (or have previously worked for). The person we found that was willing to participate and has a lot of experience, is Tom Schulpen, the Resource Manager/General Manager for the Province of Noord-Brabant.

External Factors for Change

One of the main things that interested us about the province of Noord-Brabant, is the way they interact with their environment. We chose the word 'environment' over the word 'market' very consciously. This is because the organization is governmental, so instead of trying to sell a product or service to customers, they provide a service to the inhabitants of Noord-Brabant that is payed from taxes. This may seem obvious, but it has large consequences for the interaction between the organization and the people they serve.

What became apparent very quickly as we asked about the role of the organization, is that this is something that has changed very quickly over the past ten to fifteen years. Before that time the province was mainly an instute that created and implemented laws in a slow pace. The upcome of the internet has had a huge impact on this way of operating. Inhabitants of Noord-Brabant now have much quickier medium of communicating with the province then ever before. This means there is a lot more direct feedback about actions the organization takes, since the tax-payers have much more information available to them and the means of communicating their opinions directly and to a large crowd. The province now has to account for their choices on a much more regular basis.

Of course, there are a lot of internal changes that have to be taken to adapt to this changing world, which we discuss in another paragraph. But it also demands, that when an external crisis takes place, the province has to be swifter and more decisive in dealing with the issue at hand. But what are the external events that would force a governmental organization to adapt? One example that came to mind directly in preperation of our interview, is that of elections. Elections take place every four years, and these are basically the only formal occasion where the tax-payers can influence the course that the province will take for the upcoming years. We expected this event to be huge influence in the organization, close to a regularly recurring crisis, as political landscapes can change vastly over the course of four years.

We learned, however, that this is in practice not nearly as strongly the case. The elections definitely influence what actions the province will take, but they very rarely result in a 180 degree change of direction. Most projects the organization has are continuous and based more upon circumstances than on political influences. The elections are viewed more as a measure of the tax-payers' happiness with the current state of affairs, and the province's continuous projects are more steered towards the wishes of the voters rather than being changed drastically. This places elections more on the left side of the adaptive cycle, where in regular times the organization would stay in the equilibrium phase, and in times of elections shift towards entrepreneurship, and then back into equilibrium.

But there is definitely crisis that can be forced by environmental circumstances. A very clear and recent example that we got involved an international pharmaceutical company located in Noord-Brabant with multiple departments. Due to the worldwide economic crisis, the board of the company, located in the USA, had decided to shut down the R&D-branche of the company located near the city of Oss. Shutting down this branche would result in over 2000 highly qualified people working there to lose their jobs, which would have disastrous personal and economic consequences for the area. This was an economical decision made in another country, so the influence of local politicians to prevent this from happening would appear to be minimal. But the damage that would be done to the area was so impactful, that the province was forced to find a solution.

Most governmental organizations operate through strict protocols to engage the matters at hand, however, there was no protocol suited to deal with a crisis situation like this. They decided to more or less throw protocols bureacracy out the window, and formed a task force that negiotated with the leaders of the international corporation to come to a solution and prevent the loss of jobs that was initially feared.

In summary, we can say that dealing with the environment is very much business at hand for the province of Noord-Brabant, much more now than ten to fifteen years ago. Protocols have been developed for most of the day to day operations. But when a large external crisis occurs, these protocols do not suffice and more inventive measures have to be taken.

Internal Factors for Change

As it was already mentioned, most of the innovation in Province of Noord-Brabant is powered by outside environment. Being under pressure the organization has to work a lot on internal innovation which might not be remarkable from outside.

Our interviewee mentioned that internal changes more resemble a permanent transition moving in a slow pace. The reason for this are the people working for the organization. The average employment time in Province of Noord-Brabant is over 20 years, so many employees are used to a certain culture, processes and work approach: people are accustomed to following more protocols, taking less initiative etc. This definitely slows down the internal changes.

To overcome the difficulties and empower change the province is organizing trainings for management and normal employees, that teach employees new ways of working and thinking. These are meant to increase the change readiness, stimulate pro-activeness and creativity. In addition to this organization also hires new people, offers internships and traineeships to “let some new blood in”. The interviewee also highlighted the role of management in empowering innovation. Managers need to be examples of effective change readiness. They also have to modify the style of communication inside the organization: more open interaction with the team, cooperating to find solutions, regular achievement / performance interviews. Managers should not only be ready to give clear feedback to team members about their activities, but also to receive such feedbacks from them.

We, of course, asked our interviewee about the role of technology in the ongoing innovation. ICT was said to be very important for the organization. It stimulates new ways of communication by the means of social media, Twitter etc. Technology also enables the organization to create better database to gather and share all information among the employees. The way of delivering services has also changed: if previously everything was done on paper in presence of province employee, now many services such as subsidies, permits are provided to the customer online. Internet is also used to keep citizens informed about the activities of province. This makes their work more transparent, increases awareness and, moreover, forces performance improvement due to direct customer feedback.

Though all the mentioned measures are taken and means are used by the province of Noord-Brabant our interviewee remarked that the changes' pace is still not fast enough to adapt to the ongoing processes in the society. The gap between the expectations of the customer and the reality is still too large.

Public vs. Private

One of the elements that makes the Province of Noord-Brabant an interesting organization for us to conduct our research with is the non-profit governmental aspect. As indicated by our interviewee, there is a vast difference in the way a public governmental organization approaches change, compared to a for-profit, private business. This, of course, relates to the previously discussed internal and external forces that can constitute change.

For example, the way in which change is forced upon an organization is very different if the organization is not a for-profit business. A governmental organization exists in order to serve all citizens, which means that its target audience is rather varied. Similarly, citizens simply cannot avoid dealing with governmental organizations; they cannot decide to go to a competitor if the service they are given is unsatisfactory. This leads to a rather stable organization: for example, the Province of Noord-Brabant cannot be 'pushed out' of the market by a rival organization launching better quality services (which would constitute a black swan, a sudden crisis). On the other hand, however, this implies that the Province is not able to specialize but must offer high-quality services in every sector in which it is active.

Traditionally, governmental organizations were known to adapt to change in the outside world in a relatively slow fashion. This was further enabled by the fact that a public organization does not need to be profitable: when a for-profit business does not adapt, it loses market share which can ultimately lead to the company going under. However, when a governmental organization does not adapt, its perceived usefulness and the perceived quality of its services may go down, but the organization itself will survive.

In recent years, however, the Province of Noord-Brabant has strived to lower their response time in order to adapt to external change in a quicker and more efficient way. This is coupled with a new way of training workers, which encourages staff to be more proactive, as well as more involved in the different sectors (business, health care, education etc) in Noord-Brabant.

Implications for the Adaptive Cycle

After the interview the idea of the adaptive cycle was discussed with the interviewee. He stated that it was a very recognizable image and agreed that this would be applicable to almost any organization. One comment he made regarding the cycle is that people do not only learn during the cycle, but between cycles aswell, by learning here and knowing how to deal with these cycles the duration for each cycle gets shorter and shorter.

Next to the experience with previous cycles our interviewee also pointed out that due to the transparency that comes forward from the many networking technologies the duration of each cycle is forced to be shorter.

In summary, it seems that the adaptive cycle is not more or less applicable to non-profit government organization, in the past it might have been the case that the cycle duration for the governmental organizations was longer than that of profit organizations but due to current technologies and experience this is no longer true.