5 questions for Marjolein Balemans

20 September 2021
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"Change starts with the will to do things differently," says Marjolein Balemans, Manager HR at the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (the Netherlands Cancer Institute). PROOF talked to her about the willingness to change and the role of managers.

1. Organisational change only succeeds if employees are ready, willing and able to contribute to the organisation’s ambitions. Why does ‘willing’ stand out for you?
‘In organisational change, the readiness and ability of employees are important. But change starts with the will to do things differently. That is why I mainly focus on how you can motivate people to change. At Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, but also at my previous employer, KLM, I am fortunate that employees feel an enormous drive and energy to contribute to the purpose of the organisation. That is in their employee’s genes, and when you have that, it puts you well on your way. In the organisational changes we are going through, my department focuses on fuelling that fire: what do we need to do to be even better at achieving our ambitions? In this, our collaboration with Communications is very valuable to me. We often work together in the interest of the employee.’

2. How do you do that, 'fuel the fire'?
‘As HR, we began to work on leadership a few years ago. We want to place more responsibility with line managers. But that is not what people are used to in our hospital. Managers, especially the highly educated ones with a science background, prefer to get very clear instructions on what is expected of them.’

To set real change in motion, and to ensure that all employees are involved, teams need the space and responsibility to realise organisational ambitions."
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3. Why do you think that more responsibility for line managers is so important?
‘To set real change in motion, and to ensure that all employees are involved, teams need the space and responsibility to realise organisational ambitions. We want to offer managers more freedom and challenge them to use this freedom. Managers know their employees best and can best assess what is going on and what their team needs.’

4. Can you give an example of when managers have been given this kind of freedom?
‘Shortly after the start of the COVID-19 crisis, many managers felt they were struggling to fulfil their role sufficiently. At the start of the crisis, we communicated organisation-wide – and very quickly – to inform everyone properly straight away. We then took a step back and paused to give managers the freedom and opportunity to inform their teams and make decisions that met their teams' needs. That sometimes meant that employees were not informed until a day later, but you do give managers the space to fulfil their role.’

Our work is changing. And it's up to Communications and HR to take the lead."

5. Earlier, you mentioned that you value collaborating with Communications. What do you see as the biggest challenge for HR and Communications in the upcoming period?
‘Working life is going to look very different, and that applies for the hospital, too: doctors have had time to get used to conducting consultations via video calls. They are coming to realise that some consultations can continue to take place online. Our work is changing. And it's up to Communications and HR to take the lead. To think about HR themes of the future, to communicate about the future and to prepare the organisation step by step. At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, I too didn’t want to hold meetings via Teams. But, with the help of my younger team members, I gradually got used to it and started to see the benefits. That's how I see - more broadly - all organisational changes.’

Want to know more about why and how happy employees make change successful? Read all about it in PROOF’s sixth book Happy change. Order it here.