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Orientation for Shaping the Future of Work




How can you shape the future if you don’t even know how it will look like? Even more so if the present situation is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous?” – These were two questions that were addressed during a workshop I facilitated with my business partner Dawna Jones on January 17, 2017. The by invitation only workshop took place in a beautiful chalet in Klosters, far away from the noise and distraction of a bigger city. The six of us came from different backgrounds: the medical profession, business consulting, digital marketing, cultural training, leadership training, and yoga.

The key to shaping the future of work is ORIENTATION

Photo by Plumbe|Pixelio.de

Photo by Plumbe|Pixelio.de

As different the backgrounds and viewpoints were we agreed on one thing: That in order to make sense of what is emerging in the world of work, it is essential that you have an orientation about where you are coming from, where you are now and what you would like to do. Admitted, this is a simple insight. But then it is an insight lots of companies and organizations don’t even have. Fact is most companies and organizations either don’t have time or don’t take the time to reflect their purposes and visions because they too busy handling present challenges. They are so busy that they may not even realize the many ongoing changes around them. This goes well until they are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, e.g., an increasing turn-over rate in their workforce, new competitors entering the market, disruptive innovation destroying existing business models, etc. Trying to cope with these challenges with established tools of the past may work but are is likely to be doomed given that these tools and processes have prevented to embrace change in the first place.

Rapid change

Photo by Dr. Stephan Barth | Pixelio.de

Photo by Dr. Stephan Barth | Pixelio.de

The market place and world of work are changing at a rapid and increasingly faster pace. Technology does one part and yet it is only one out of many factors. Especially millenials are less likely to stay at a company for their whole working life. They want more than just a job. They demand jobs that have meaning and they can identify with, where they can make a difference, and a job giving them enough space and time for other activities. Change is a natural, it is a given and they may even got accustomed to this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. At the same time millenials as well as everyone who is aware of the VUCA world needs orientation. And this is the chance for companies and organizations to shape the future: providing orientation for its people.

Business fundamentals will not change

However, established working and business models do not offer the answers to these challenges anymore. With growing uncertainty and volatility in the market it is increasingly difficult to plan the future. On the other side, there are at least three fundamentals in business practices that are unlikely to change. These are that a company or organization

  1. has to to serve its customers and clients,
  2. needs people that help achieve business goals, and
  3. has to generate some form of profit or benefit.

Business has to re-adjust its focus on PEOPLE

Business fundamentals don’t change. Unfortunately, most companies and organizations seem to have forgotten them. For the fundamentals reveal something deeper. Let’s have a look at this.

Photo by Peter Draschan | Pixelio.de

Photo by Peter Draschan | Pixelio.de

  1. Customers:

Customers are better informed, have a greater variety of products and services to choose from and consequently have greater influence than ever before. Companies and organizations that want to generate and keep their customers and clients need to delight them. For this to happen, they have to understand their needs and desires, whether they are apparent or still developing. The market is no longer exclusively business-driven but becomes increasingly customer-driven, too.

  1. Workforce:

As mentioned above people are less likely to stay at one company or organization for their whole working career. But it is also a fact that people are more likely to stay and perform at a very high level, if they are happy at their job, if they identify with the purpose, vision and goals of the company or organization, if they can contribute to success and their contributions are seen and acknowledged. In other words, people don’t want to be treated as resources but as people, as human beings. This requires human-centric leadership.

  1. Profits:

Profits have always been, are and will be important in business. This will not change. However, it is crucial to understand that profits are a result of good business practices, are the means to do business. What matters more than short-term profits is overall business value. Short-, mid- and long-term goals and profits have to be balanced. Corollary, an incentive system for managers with only short-term profit goals is myopic and may harm business in the long run. Focusing on the outcome of good business practices as reflected by profits only while neglecting the prerequisites for business success, i.e., delighting customers and the people workforce, undermines the foundation of a solid business.   Unfortunately, this concept seems to be as foreign to lots of managers of companies, especially publicly traded corporations, as is snow in the deepest jungle.

Good business is human business
Good business practices focus on people – their customers, their workforce and business value which benefits business, their communities and society.

Business fundamentals can shape the future of work

I am not worried about the future of work because we already have the ways and means to shape it by revisiting, understanding and living good business fundamentals: delighting customers, treating people in the workforce as people and building an environment where they can unfold their potentials and, last but not least, ensure and sustain business value.

Living these fundamentals not only gives an orientation for the present and future, it can also be a driver for the future and grasping the many opportunities that lay ahead of us.

Policy makers should learn from business fundamentals

The outlined business fundamentals are not limited to the world of business. They are applicable to the public sector, too. Indeed, I believe that policy makers have to understand these fundamentals and live them.

People demand orientation for the present and future. But, they are sick and tired of the old rules of the establishment where there seems to be no place for them. Populists such as the right-wing party AfD in Germany, politicians such as LePen in France or Trump in the US know way too well how to fill this vacuum. They cry out simplistic slogans, promise a better world, a break with the establishment – and all they really want is power and control. Their visions are based on the past. They would like to hold back time and maybe even go back to the times when the world was more secure and easier to grasp. And it is true that the past was less volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. But the past is gone. Hence, using the past as an orientation for the future is misleading and dangerous because it does not help solve any problems but instead raise fear and distrust.

Photo by Daniel Stricker | Pixelio.de

Photo by Daniel Stricker | Pixelio.de

What we need is an orientation for today and the future. Policy makers need to understand the needs of our people. And they have to work with them building a vision of a future which is worth living for and which gives hope and orientation for today and tomorrow. However, any attempt of policy makers to offer the same old same old, established programs and empty promises will lead to nowhere and will be exploited by populists which withhold people from unfolding their potential.   What we need is orientation which focuses on us.

Posted in: Future of Work, Human, innovation

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Tango and Life. Or, how I found flow


Last week I finally went to my first Milonga (Tango Argentino). Was I nervous? Yes, I was. I only started to learn Tango only a few months ago, consider myself an absolute beginner (I am), didn’t want to make a fool of myself , didn’t want to hurt anyone on the dance floor (it is crowded), could only do a few moves (compared to what the semi-pros on the dance floor showed), …, and the list goes on and on. Today I know that it was and is a list of excuses, lame excuses that is.

726882_original_r_k_by_joachim-kant_pixelio-de

[Photo © Joachim Kant | pixelio.de]

So, how was my first Milonga?

Well, especially in the beginning I felt more like an elephant on ice. My brain was mush, no, empty. It seemed that I had forgotten everything I learned in my dance classes. I felt like a rock in a storm, not able to move one inch. At the same time my head was full of, well, I don’t know what it was – void, heat, concerns, fear?

Breaking the ice

Luckily, I was not alone. The first dance with my wife was actually passable. Both of us were nervous. And yet we survived. “Time to sit down and rest, recuperate, refresh”, I thought. But the minute I sat down a friend of mine asked me to dance with her. Ooops. Here it was again, fear crawling up my stomach, my brain turning into mush.

On the other side, my dance partner was very understanding and encouraging. I think we did ok; at least, nobody was hurt. 🙂 The first ice was broken.

Going for flow

Time went on, was flying. Soon three hours passed. I still felt “foreign”, but not like an elephant on ice anymore, maybe more like a dog on ice.

And then there were 3-4 dances when time stood still; when all of sudden I let go of all pressure, concerns, thoughts, and all I did was listening to the music and dance with my partner. Our steps and moves flew naturally. It was smooth sailing. And with it came joy, relaxation, big inner smiles and grins. Both of us were stunned and perplexed. Amazing.

Ok, 3-4 dances out of 20 or more is not that much. But it was more than enough to motivate us to plan our next Milonga. And we are really looking forward to it.   Will it be better? Possibly and probably, for this first Milonga revealed something magical.

The secret of flow

I realized that I still have to learn a lot. Technically? Yes. But more so about letting go, relaxing, listening to the music, going with the flow, looking for and moving into free spaces, being in the moment. Letting go and being and going with the moment seems to be, no, is the key to experiencing joy and flow on the dance floor.

This was and is the outstanding insight of my first Milonga – about Tango as well as life.

Tango and life

People say that Tango is a reflection of life. This is so true. And it is not the Milongas, it is also the Tango lessons, the learning experiences bringing excitement, motivation, joy, frustration, depression, worries, concerns, fears. Tango can teach you a lot about your attitude and practice in life, about your partnerships, your love, your outlook, your flow (or the lack therof), your being. It drastically reveals your state of life.

If Tango doesn’t flow quite yet, check your present life style, your family life, your friendships, partnerships and professional environment. Are you limiting your thinking, are you trying to structure, plan and control it? This may work at times and yield satisfactory results. But, if you truly want to dance in your flow, you have to let go of limiting thoughts, concerns, fears. Jumping into the cold water, showing and expressing who you are in this moment. Could very well be that it is not “perfect” in the eye of some beholders and the greatest critic (which is probably you yourself).

Motivation to be human

We are human with imperfections which make us perfect; we are not machines. Ripping yourself off false expectations and just go and play like a kid is refreshing and rewarding like nothing else. Because it helps you be human and find and be yourself again.

So, what are you waiting for?! Go out and find your Tango and Tango along!

Posted in: Centeredness, Happiness, Human

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3 dangerous pitfalls that keep conscious business leaders away from grasping the future of work in today’s digital age

Welcome to the future of work

Many of us know that today’s business world is changing. This is not new. It has always been this way. Alas, it is also a fact that due to digital change the pace of change in our business world, economy and even society as a whole has picked up tremendously. 5 years ago nobody talked about Tesla or Uber. Today not only lots of people heard about them and actually use their products and services, these products and services change the interactions and dynamics of business altogether. There may be some glitches, backlashes and opposition to new products and services as it has always been. But, this change, this uncertainty is here to stay. Who knows if, for example, Volkswagen will still be around in five to ten years? Remember companies such as Kodak, Blockbuster or Nokia who were so stable and strong?

Welcome to the VUCA world

We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world – the so-called VUCA world – and this drives business leaders nuts. Gone are the days of certainty, control, plan and doing business as usual. The compass and direction of the established philosophy that businesses run like well-oiled engines are gone. What stays behind are questions, concerns, fears – and the understanding that businesses have to change if they want to survive and thrive in today’s Digital Age. But, what does it take? – There is no simple answer. However, what we can do is to identify the pitfalls, the backlashes, the viscious circles that keep us stuck in inertia. Here is a list of the top 3 pitfalls that keep conscious business leaders away from grasping the future of work in today’s digital age:

Pitfall #3: Fear of uncertainty

We may understand the need and value of change but we don’t like it and, even more, we hate uncertainty. We overcome this fear of change and uncertainty by planning and controlling processes. By securing a status quo. By the urge for perfection. Oh, yes we may actually embrace change but only as long as we can come up with quick fixes that yield immediate results.

What’s so bad about it? – Change, the New, innovation – they all have one characteristic in common: they are uncertain at the present moment. How can we learn new things if we don’t try them out?! Yes, there is always a likelihood that we fail, that we make mistakes. This is the prerequisite for learning. Or have you ever seen a child who just stands up and walks without first having falling hundreds of times?!

Pitfall #2: It’s about me. I have to defend my realm and power.

We see the value of teamwork – as long as it doesn’t undermine our own sphere of influence and power. Teamwork is great if it serves our own political agenda, goals, aspirations. Or, we empower our subordinates to work in teams. But at the end of the day it is us who have to made decisions. After all, it is us who hold responsibility and accountability. And those at the top, they are there for a good reason and, by the way, organizational hierarchies have proven helpful for decades.

What’s so bad about it? – It is not about an individual somewhere in an organization but a whole business which consists of many parts interacting with each other. Hierarchies may be helpful for administrative purposes but rarely do they promote collaboration across functional fields. High performing teams share a common motivation, vision, goals and values. It is not about levels in hierarchies, it is about a team performing as a unit. Or have you ever seen a soccer team with 11 goals keepers or 11 strikers? The mixture of roles and moving in unison make all the difference.

Pitfall #1: Business is always #1.

Let’s face it, whatever new ideas or approaches fly around, the bottom line is profits and pleasing shareholder interests because, remember, shareholders give us the money. This is why we have to deliver quarterly results that are convincing and look good and we do whatever it takes to achieve this. Everything else comes second or third.

What’s so bad about it? – A business without customers and without a workforce doesn’t exist. It is not a question of what comes first, ‘chicken or egg!’. The purpose of a firm is to create value for the customer. And for this you need a functioning workforce. However, people are not resources or machines but human beings and want to be treated as such. Furthermore, giving them and sharing a motivation and vision of your business will carry your business a long way.

A journey to the future

I doubt it that these pitfalls are new to you. You have either experienced them by yourself, observed in organizations and companies, have read or heard about them. On the other side, you have probably heard of companies that have already arrived in the Digital Age, that don’t talk about or plan the future of work but practice it. There are numerous companies out there and the numbers are growing. The question is if you want to be among them or left behind. And, if you do want to follow suit, what do you want to invest and what are your immediate next steps?

If you are interested, Motivate2B accompanies you on this journey. May it be in workshops, seminars, coaching, consulting or business partnerships. Contact us to find out more.

Posted in: Creative Economy, Future of Work, Leadership

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Traditionelle Organisationsentwicklung führt in eine Sackgassse


Heute erklärte ich den Teilnehmern des HR Summit beim 12. Deutschen Corporate Social Responsibility Forum warum traditionelle Organisationsentwicklung in die Sackgasse führt, weil es auf den falschen Annahmen und überholten Management-Theorien basiert.  Stattdessen plädiere ich für einen agilen Ansatz der organisatorischen Potenzialentfaltung.  Ein entsprechendes Programm entwickelte bei und für Magna International.  In der Kürze der Zeit war es nicht möglich, näher auf dieses Programm einzugehen.  Einen kleinen Einblick gibt die Kopie meiner heutigen Präsentation; bitte hier klicken.

Posted in: Empowerment, innovation, Keynotes, Leadership, Uncategorized

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A dream coming true – the ideal company


Doing what I love, loving what I do. No more, no less. An international organization and environment where people are open for the unique and unprecedented opportunities of the digital transformation, also known as the Industrial Revolution 4.0. It is a place where you can explore, discover and share new practices of business, leadership and client relationships. A work-life balance doesn’t exist only on paper but is lived, day in day out. Simply because people love what they do and do what they love. It is a balance between work and life; not in the sense that work is bad and life is good, but because both are positive and inspiring.

My own role is right in the middle of this environment. Helping people and organizations unfold their potential, growing ideas into concrete business results that delight customers, contributing to a happy workplace, and ensuring and sustaining business value through continuous self-improvement. It is role that mixes practices of empowerment, facilitating, training, consulting, managing, learning and sharing.

So, where, you might ask, is this place, this work? – As mentioned above, this is my dream, this is my vision, this is what I am driving for. It could be an existing company already practicing mindful leadership and nurturing a healthy, lively and agile community. Or it could be an organization or company that is realizing that traditional management practices of the 20th century no longer provides the answers to today’s challenges and therefore open up for modern human, holistic and mindful approaches to leadership and business in the Creative Economy. Those are organizations and companies that are or will become the masters of the digital transformation. Those are the employers of choice because they make a difference, serve the community and leave a positive dent in the universe. This is the place where I want to be and contribute to.

Illusion, phantasy? Or, can you pinpoint or recommend any organizations that are on the path described above and are looking for support? If so, please share.

Posted in: Creative Economy, Empowerment

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Product vs. Customer Focus


If you ever had doubts about the essence and value of customer vs. product focus, have a look at the following example:
VW vs. BMW Perspectives

Now, imagine if Volkswagen changed its attitude and strategy and start focusing on and addressing the needs and expectations of their customers.  Personally, I believe it could help manage their present crisis, learn from it and come out of it stronger.  But, then, it’s a matter of perspective, attitude and mindset.

P.S.: What am I driving? A Skoda (Volkswagen) and so far I have been satisfied with my Volkswagen product.  Last week I received a letter from Volkswagen informing me that the software of my car needs to be modified.

Posted in: Creative Economy, innovation

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In Search for the Ideal Company


Over the last two decades I have worked for a number of companies, consulted even more. Some of them were outstanding, others were, well, less so. It is time to reflect and share what I believe are

3 characteristics of a well-run business and desired place to work and be

hand_thumbs_up_cuff_15176(1) Client delight

  • You don’t just satisfy, you delight your customers. You listen, understand and address their needs. It is a relationship, a dialogue. Not too surprising your customers not only come back to you but refer and recommend your company and its products and services to family and friends.
  • The products and services you provide are of high quality. Period. And it doesn’t end with the delivery of a product; it continues with an outstanding customer service. Want an example? Try Tesla Motors.
  • High quality of development of products and/or services. Whether you follow traditional best practices or practice lean and agile production methodologies and frameworks, the development of your product and/or services is committed to quality from the beginning to end, without compromises. This is faster, cheaper, safer and more rewarding to everyone involved.
  • You have an ear to the market and you deliver fast.
  • Your employees are committed to delight your customers because they know your and their customers. They understand and live quality and support company goals because they are shaping them, too.

group_jumping_up_400_clr_12574(2) A happy workplace

  • Your employees are not human resources, they are people and you treat them as such. Consequently, there is no “Human Resources” department; you call it “People Services” or “People Centre”. It not just a term, it is a philosophy and practice.
  • Your employees are inspired, motivated and performing, they enjoy their work because they can identify with the purpose of the company, love working with their colleagues and serving their customers, are passionate about their work and enjoy a safe, secure workplace.
  • The workforce is one big functioning organism. There is no place for static organizational hierarchies and distance between management and “the rest”. The communication style is open, transparent and conversational (vs. top-down and hierarchical).
  • You have and support autonomous teams with clear visions, objectives, roles & responsibilities.
  • Corporate leadership doesn’t cling to external “power and authority” but actively build future leaders and empowers their workforce.
  • Your company is the place to work. Not too surprisingly, turnover and sick days are low, very low.

Growth curve(3) Business value

  • You understand that short-term profits (EBIT) are the means and not the purpose of organizational performance. Instead you focus on long-term business performance parameters such Returns on Assets (ROA).
  • Your company has a positive business outlook. This is reflected in a positive, expected revenue stream, forecasted ROA, outstanding quality of the development of your products and/or services and, last but not least, a happy workplace (see above).
  • You continuously strive to become better, better and better. Innovation spans products, services, processes and your own people.
  • Innovation is not limited to a closed and exclusive „innovation department“. Innovation is open and everyone in the company is involved and participates. You encourage and empower your people to think outside the box. You don’t punish mistakes and failures but take them as learning opportunities. Hence, you recognize people’s ideas and celebrate successes together.

Excite! – Build your own ideal company

neutral Leadership Cycle of Organizational ExcellenceOver the last 18 months I have developed a comprehensive toolkit to evaluate and unfold the organizational potential and performance. It is simple, practical and applicable for short-, mid- and long-term organizational needs. It helps deliver measurable business results for client delight, a happy workplace, and business value. It does not create administrative effort without any sustainable value. As a matter of fact it fosters self-organizing, scalable best-practice sharing.

I call this toolkit and approach “Excite!” because unfolding organizational potential can and is exciting indeed. But, and this is a big “but”, it requires an open mind and common intent to unfold organizational potential and performance.   Not every company has this mindset. But then, not every company is the ideal company, the best place to work and be. It is a matter of choice.

Have I always worked for an ideal company? Well, no, not always; but, yes, I have worked for companies and teams that followed the principles outlined above (one of them was (during my times there) Cambridge Technology Partners and Vail Resorts). And if a company I work for is not ideal I always have a choice: I leave the company or help unfold its potential and performance. The latter is what motivates me.

Posted in: Centeredness, Creative Economy, Happiness, innovation, Leadership, Tools, WOW projects

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How to achieve organizational excellence: Appreciate your performance to unfold your potential

“Kumbaya” – or practicing traditional organizational development

About a year ago I told a friend of mine that my new project was in organizational development. He congratulated me and then asked, “so you are sitting in a circle around a bonfire and sing Kumbaya?” and smiled. He continued to explain that organizational development (OD) is often considered a theoretical, abstract, academic and sometimes even esoteric activity with no immediate, tangible or sustainable results. Nothing people and even less organizations can relate to. He claimed that that traditional OD often focused too much on processes and procedures. It didn’t adequately address the potential of people innovation in addition to product and process innovation. Furthermore, traditional OD activities often added administrative effort absorbing already scarce resources – without generating value for clients, people in the organization or the business. – Wow, that was a statement! And it kept me thinking for awhile. What if he was right?! What was I up against?!

The futility of organizational development

Today, a year later, I admit that my friend was (for the most part) right. What do you need organizational development for in a company that has been successfully in business for several years? To me it seems arrogant and ignorant approaching a business stating that you will help it develop its organization. I mean, what has this company been doing the last couple of years?

And yet, just because a company has been successfully been in business it doesn’t mean that it cannot improve its organizational performance and excel to the next level (see my previous post on organizational excellence here). The question is how to get there.

You are great already!

In my experience it is best to invite a company to first appreciate its existing performance. Where does it perform, how and why? What makes it so special? By focusing on the positive, on past accomplishments and present performance you create an environment that invites people to think of additional ways and means to improve their performance, taking it to the next level. The cool thing is that it is not rocket science. Just the opposite! All you need to do is find people who can talk about their experience and are willing to share stories. And this shouldn’t be too difficult! Putting this into the context of organizational excellence, the following questions serve as a guideline:

  • What is your understanding of client delight, a happy workplace, business value and continuous self-improvement? What story can you or do you want people to tell about your group / division with respect to client delight, a happy workplace, business value and continuous self-improvement?
  • What are the critical success factors for client delight, a happy workplace, business value and continuous self-improvement?
  • How do you secure client delight, a happy workplace, business value and continuous self-improvement ? E.g., through what products (portfolio, innovation, customer, etc.), people (individuals, leadership development, org. structure, etc.) or processes (strategies, policies, tools, etc.)?
  • How do you measure client delight, a happy workplace, business value and continuous self-improvement?
  • What do you invest to achieve client delight, a happy workplace, business value and continuous self-improvement?
  • What benefits do you get or expect from investing in client delight, a happy workplace, business value and continuous self-improvement?
  • What do you value most? Client delight, a happy workplace, business value or continuous self-improvement?

I have posed these questions in both workshop settings as well as online questionnaires. Workshop settings are more productive because they are more interactive and you get feedback immediately and this in return can generate new input, ideas and inspiration.

Appreciating your performance is setting the stage for continuous improvement

What I have found out is that once you have a group of people talk about their past accomplishments and present performance people can easily point out areas they want (or need) to improve. Hence, in a second question round, using the same questions as before, I am asking the group what they would like to improve and what possibly holds them back from doing so.

The third step is to plan concrete activities to overcome the impediments, draft a plan for any improvement activities, prioritize them (this is one reason why we asked the question, “What do you value most?”), identify owners and agree on an action plan and schedule.

Note that this process is not pre-determined or defined top-down. It comes from the people present. They identify their areas of improvements. And it is set in the context of past and present performance which fills them with pride and a sense of accomplishments. These are ingredients for motivation and the drive to excel.

The role of mindful leadership in unfolding organizational potential

What is my role in this process? I am not creating or defining activities for organizational improvements. The people do this by themselves. All I do is to facilitate. I help set the stage, invite people to this workshop or exchange of stories and kick off the dialogue and then let go. My role is more that of a conductor, you can say. But once the orchestra starts playing and has built momentum I step back, offer help only if needed or asked for. This is what help for unfolding organizational potential is all about. It is not an active, pushy part. It is an act of generative listening. Sounds simple; and it actually is.

Generative listening helps unfold organizational potential

And yet, listening, from all leadership capacities, probably is the one that’s most underrated. Everyone talks about vision, project objectives, project management technical skills, etc. But listening is really at the source of all great leadership. Listening ensures that leaders connect with the situation at hand. Any lack of listening skills therefore leads to a disconnection between leaders on the on the one hand and reality on the other. This can be fatal in a project setting that aims to improve the performance of an organization.

MIT senior lecturer Otto Scharmer distinguishes between 4 levels of listening (see Scharmer, C. O., & Kaufer, K. (2013). Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies. San Francisco: Berret-Koehler Publishers.). Level 1 is superficial listening. It basically serves the function that the listener wants his or her opinions or judgments to be reconfirmed. In level 2 the listener notices and acknowledges differences and captures new information from the other side. Scharmer calls this level ‘factual listening’. In level 3 the listener is not only aware of the other person but actually sees things from the other perspectives, walks in the shoes of the other person. The deepest level of listening, ‘generative listening’ as Scharmer calls it, allows the people connect with each other.

It is this generative listening what you need to practice if you want to help unfold organizational potential and performance.

Hence, forget traditional organizational development!

My friend and colleague I mentioned at the beginning of this post was right: Traditional organizational development is a dead end street.

Posted in: Centeredness, Creative Economy, innovation, Leadership

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2016: what’s to BE


Yes, I do have a number of new year’s resolution.

colored_custom_year_text_11844Here is a list of topics I would like to write about:

  • Building a Happy Workplace
  • Forget HR: Why “HR” is detrimental to organizational health and business growth (and what we need to do instead)
  • The forgotten dimension of innovation
  • Who ought to be the real business enabler in an organization
  • 1+1+1 = x.  Measuring organizational performance
  • Shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world
  • Innovation: it’s all about people
  • Leadership in the Creative Economy
  • HIP Camp 2016 – Driving Performance, Inspiring Innovation
  • What we can learn from Social Businesses
  • Myopia of traditional economic theory

Conferences I will speak at or plan to attend are the following:

  • KAS meets WEF, Davos, Switzerland (Jan 20-24, 2016)
  • Corporate Social Responsibility Forum, Ludwigsburg, Germany (April 5-6, 2016)
  • Global Scrum Gathering, Orlando, Florida, USA (April 18-20, 2016)
  • PMI Global Congress EMEA, Barcelona, Spain (May 9-11, 2016)
  • PMI Global Congress North America, San Diego, CA, USA (Oct 2016)
  • Global Peter Drucker Forum, Vienna, Austria (Nov 2016)
  • HIP Camp 2016 – Driving Performance, Inspiring Innovation (location and date tbd)

It’s not all about work.

This is why I am looking forward to

  • Family time
  • Mindfulness. Being and motivate to be
  • Music: picking up my saxophone and clarinet again
  • Sports: skiing and snowboarding, taekwondo (3rd Dan?), running, hiking
  • the great outdoors

In other words, there are a lot of people, activities and things to look forward to in 2016.

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

 

Posted in: Centeredness, Company News, Creative Economy, Empowerment, Happiness, Institute, Keynotes, Leadership, TJEP company, Upcoming Events

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Principles for Organizational Performance


In my last blog post I explained that organizational performance and excellence requires strong leadership with a particular mindset to prosper. What does this mean? There are 5 principles that provide guidance for this philosophy and practice to emerge.

  1. Leadership Mindset
  2. Organizational Structure
  3. Commitment & Discipline
  4. Continuous Self-Improvement (CSI)
  5. Operational Stability & Quality Delivery

(1) Leadership Mindset

You can use tools, technology, approaches, etc. for a given purpose. However, if your heart is not in it, it is not only inauthentic but your practice remains hollow and an empty shell. Organizational performance and excellence requires a holistic, disciplined and committed servant leadership style. Holistic leadership in this sense means that all four drivers of organizational excellence are understood, supported and practiced day in, day out. Disciplined and committed leadership means that it is understood that organizational excellence and performance takes time to develop. Corollary, leadership understands the importance of long-term thinking. It knows the motivation of the organization and where it comes from, it has a deep understanding and appreciation of its customers and their needs. Based on this motivation leadership helps develop a vision for the organization as a whole and secures common understanding and support of this vision. The vision serves as guidance and orientation for everyone working in and for the organization. It thus helps people derive concrete long-, mid- and short-term goals and practices for the organization.

I call the interacting balance of motivation, vision and practices of an organization the MVP of an organization. It is crucial for organizational performance and excellence to develop that leadership knows, supports and communicates the MVP of the organization. The MVP of the organization help put short-term goals into perspective. No doubt, quarterly results are important. But they have to be seen into perspective. Not short-term profits (EBIT) are the drivers of business but the health of the organization which encompass its clients, people and the business as a whole.

(2) Organizational Structure

Last year I conducted a workshop for an organization where the leadership team told me that their employees were complaining about a heavy workload, resulting overtime and a deteriorating work-life balance. I was asked to conduct a ‘Happy Workplace Workshop’ to develop mitigation activities. (I will explain the setup of such a ‘Happy Workplace Workshop’ in a future post.) The results were surprising: It was not really the workload that caused the addressed issues. It was the structure of the teams and collaboration rules that caused the imbalances. While individuals more or less knew their specific responsibilities, the teams lacked a clear vision and common goals. There were no standard procedures for synchronizing the efforts in and between teams. This lead to inefficiencies, redundancies and overtime.

Together the workshop participants revisited the organization’s motivation, vision and practices and found ways to translate them for their own realm of work. Roles and responsibilities were qualified and adjusted to the needs of the customers and the teams. Rules for open, transparent and conversational communication were defined and confirmed by management. – Within 3 weeks following the workshop the issues of a heavy workload, resulting overtime and a deteriorating work-life balance ceased to exist. Interestingly, it was not management that came up with these changes. It were the teams themselves that developed and realized relevant mitigations.

The workshop clarified that it is important to build and nurture autonomous teams with clear, commonly understood and supported vision and goals, roles and responsibilities. Communication in and between teams has to be open, transparent and conversational (vs. top-down and hierarchical).

(3) Commitment & Discipline

Leadership is not limited to one or two people “at the top” of an organization. Leadership can be practiced by everyone regardless of his or her role. On this token the principles for organizational performance ought to be understood, supported and committed by the complete staff. This requires discipline on all organizational levels. There is no textbook for practicing the principles in a precisely defined way. Principles serve as guidelines and orientation. Rather than following a strict procedure, encourage sharing of practical experiences of the principles in form of personal stories so that people can relate to them in their daily work.

Performance merits recognition. Some organizations have a bonus system in place. This can work and promote organizational performance as long as it is transparent, fair and objective. For example, it can be based on commonly defined key performance indicators (KPI’s). Since teamwork is crucial in more or less every modern organization team performance should be rewarded (vs. individual performance in a group). This fosters team spirit and accountability.

Processes, tools, procedures and policies can make work runs smoother. But, and this is a big BUT, they are only tools and serve a purpose. In other words, make smart use of them. It doesn’t add value to use a tool for the sake of the tool. Standardized work can be a great help and serve to make work more efficient and productive yielding better quality and hence value. However, standardized work, too, is just a tool and hence should remain a servant and not become a master.

(4) Continuous Self-Improvement (CSI)

It is funny and frustrating at the same time, when companies claim to be innovative; yet, when you talk with employees they tell you that mistakes are punished and that innovative activities are tightly planned. What an oxymoron! If you want to be innovative you have to be willing to try new things, make mistakes and learn from them. Innovation happens at the border between known and unknown. You may set up organizational structures for innovation but you cannot specify innovation in advance. Instead, make sure that you build an open, transparent, collaborative and engaging environment for continuous self-improvement. Recognize and encourage small and not just big improvements. Sometimes little changes can make a big difference.

In an open innovative environment there are no organizational boundaries. I witnessed the opposite in one company where people were asked to submit their suggestions for improvements. Unfortunately, the process was not open and stifled the innovation process at the bottom. Shopfloor workers first had to ask their supervisors to evaluate and then forward their ideas to the next higher level. Not too surprising, engagement for innovation on the shopfloor was more or less non-existent.

If you are faced with redundant, inefficient processes, procedures, tools or practices – eliminate them if they are waste and do not add value.   The suggestion program mentioned above would be an example of such waste.

(5) Operational Stability & Quality Delivery

At the end of the day, the bottom line, the organization has to deliver. Not once but in a consistent and stable manner with high quality and reliability.   You can say that the previously mentioned principles for organizational performance are organizational prerequisites for operational stability and quality delivery. However, it does not mean that one principle is more important than another.   Instead you have to take on a holistic, systemic approach, take all principles into account and take discrete steps toward your organizational vision and goals. Discrete steps have to be part of a larger picture. For this to work, there is a need for long-, mid- and short-term organizational as well operational priorities. And they have to be transparent, i.e., known and supported by the whole workforce. A plan by itself may be of little value. As part of a bigger, long-term plan and vision it can give people the necessary direction and orientation. If reviewed regularly to check whether or not it still serves its purpose for leading an organization toward its vision, this plan is a cornerstone of operational stability and quality delivery.

Leadership Principles for Organizational Performance

While these 5 principles for organizational performance are primarily based on my own experience and insights, they are also examples of the modern leadership style required in the Creative Economy. If you are interested in learning more about this leadership download the free Report of Learning Consortium for the Creative Economy.  Plus, I will share about my personal experiences and findings with the Learning Consortium in a future post.  Stay tuned.

 

Posted in: Creative Economy, innovation, Leadership

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