60 years after the founding of Randstad, what helped us reach this milestone are the qualities needed to move past the global crisis

Back in January, if someone had told me that Randstad’s 60th anniversary commemoration would be completely virtual due to a global pandemic, I would have been in disbelief. Yet here we are, accepting such news as the “new normal.” Our own digital transformation has increased due to COVID-19, and since the start of the outbreak, 85% of companies have accelerated their digitization as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption, affected our lives drastically, and will shape the future of our work long-term. 

In some ways, we are seeing stabilization. Encouraging signs are emerging as we help people get back to work safely, provide the human capital that businesses need, and continue to be vigilant around the needs of our own employees. Furthermore, with as many as a half-dozen vaccines in clinical trials, there appears to be a medical solution around the proverbial corner. Even so, we can expect a long road ahead before returning to a pre-pandemic economy.

Tackling these challenges, ironically, comes as Randstad celebrates its 60th anniversary this month. While we certainly have reason to celebrate, this is hardly a time for festivities. We know that the global economy is still reeling from the pandemic.The well-being of many, both physically and emotionally, continues to be affected. With tens of millions across the world receiving unemployment benefits, the impact on lives is truly far-reaching. And the upheaval is still reverberating through societies and governments across the globe.

Even so, on this occasion, I can’t help but reflect on the qualities and traits that propelled Randstad from being a small regional staffing business into the world’s largest HR services firm. I believe these attributes are the same ones that many other companies are leaning on to successfully navigate through these uncertain times. 

Randstad began in 1960 with a bicycle and an idea. Founder Frits Goldschmeding began the business while at university. Through tireless legwork – literally – he dispatched correspondence on a bike since postage was pricey. Over the next six decades, our company expanded rapidly from the Netherlands to across Europe, and now boasts a presence in 38 countries with more than 38,000 employees.

Throughout the years, we’ve had our fair share of challenges, but nothing comparable to the COVID-19 crisis. Experience is the best teacher, and I believe we can learn and build on these circumstances both personally and professionally. It will take some extraordinary effort, and to help in lightening the burden, I’d like to share with you three fundamentals.

talent matters

I’ve shared on this topic many times before, but it’s worth repeating. Talent mobility means simply, the right people at the right time. Focusing on retaining the best people means providing opportunities for them to develop and grow. A commitment to both an individual’s professional and personal growth will always add value and improve an organization’s agility.  

According to the World Economic Forum, companies too often view human capital as a cost rather than recognizing it for the value created. What companies need, the WEF argues, are better ways for measuring the value of investments in people. Talent mobility, and the importance of reskilling and upskilling through new roles and responsibilities, will ensure success as the need for an agile workforce is essential in the new normal. 

Frits Goldschmeding understood the importance of the human connection to Randstad. He surrounded himself with people who understood how to create more value for customers and then gave them autonomy to operate in their local markets. When you have confidence in your colleagues and teams, you can trust them to make the right decisions. This is a consideration more important today than ever before.

keep your focus

Many in leadership positions have found themselves under pressure to respond to the global crisis in the most effective way, and quickly. Initially, the fear of the unknown may feel uncomfortable, however shifting focus to new business is not always the answer. 

Establishing the best strategy and ultimate short-term goal during times of crisis is imperative. For example, if you are in the retail sector, providing a safe buying journey for customers should remain your number-one focus. This may mean creating a more digitally driven experience that complements your brick-and-mortar operations. We saw this strategy achieve tremendous success for the world’s largest retailers during the lockdown. 

At Randstad, we too have been focused on the talent we work with, the customers we serve and the mutual interests of all parties involved. As part of that promise, we are committed to reskilling many workers whose jobs may not be coming back after the crisis is over. Connecting businesses with talent, and giving workers additional skills in the new normal is one way we are pivoting our services to meet evolving needs.

innovation paces growth

It might be an overused term, but innovation is more critical to survival and growth in the post-outbreak environment than ever before. A McKinsey survey of more than 200 industry executives, says that nearly three-quarters feel the crisis has led to big changes in the way we work and live, and 90% believe that it has fundamentally changed the way they do business. And only 1 in 5 has the expertise, resources and commitment to successfully pursue new growth.

As industries realign, customers change buying habits and new regulations force different ways of operating. Even as businesses struggle to adapt, they should look for inventive ways for achieving better outcomes more quickly and cost-effectively. McKinsey notes that companies that have historically invested in innovation outperform their peers during the recovery. 

It’s important to understand what innovation looks like in your own industry, and where it may come from. My advice would be to challenge the status quo, and ask what if we did this in a new way? Then make sure to ‘play that tape to the end’ to assess any risk with various outcomes. 

In our business, we’re pushing innovation internally and to our customers. In one case, we helped a global logistics business rethink driver requirements so they can access a larger talent pool and hire candidates more quickly and compliantly. When our global headquarters reopened, we implemented many safety measures to protect our employees, including rolling out a scheduling app to automatically cap the number of people who can be in the building at one time.

Innovation doesn’t have to mean transformation, but collectively each instance brings about new ways of thinking and doing. I believe this is absolutely necessary during these times.

It’s been 60 years since Frits turned a late-night idea into a global success. The journey has been filled with both challenges and rewards. As we continue to move forward through this crisis, I know these fundamentals will help us to emerge stronger together, and prepared for the next 60 years.

about the author

Jacques van den Broek

ceo and chair of the executive board

Randstad's Global CEO, leading our mission of supporting people and organizations in realizing their true potential.