Podcast Episode #94

How to Achieve Organisational Change

This article is my first venture into my concept of the Transformational Helix. It is the triad for the development of organisations. After all, sustainable change should involve the organization as a whole. However, such a comprehensive transformation can only succeed if various impulses for change take effect simultaneously. In the following lines and the accompanying podcast (german), I'll show you how.

My goal was and is to design work in such a way that it allows people to do what they really want to do - and be happy doing it. In my early 30s, I chose this goal as my Big Transformative Goal and set out as an entrepreneur. I started by developing employer brands with social media, then moved on to innovating services and products with design thinking, then it was my turn to coach hundreds of start-ups and founders, until I ended up in strategic consulting for major agile transformations. So over the last 15 years, my Big Transformative Goal has sent me to many places. The Transformational Helix is the essence of my work over the last 15 years and also the concept that I will present in my upcoming book. This blog post and accompanying podcast are an exclusive sneak preview of the concept. And I'm sure I'll be making an English episode about it soon, I promise.

Sustainable change should change the organization as a whole. But where do we start first: personal development of employees, teams or managers? Do we need an overarching strategy, a purpose, so that everyone pulls together? My possibly surprising answer to this: It needs everything at once. However, such a comprehensive transformation can only succeed if various impulses for change take effect simultaneously. For me, this starts with the change of the individual, then extends to the work of all teams and finally the leadership of the organization as a whole can change.

Of course, it is good when a top-down approach to adapting a new working method is announced from the executive floor and the need for change is immediately communicated to the entire organization. Unfortunately, this approach is of little use if the teams are forced to work differently and are not sufficiently involved and convinced. Individual innovation islands, where teams work on new projects in Berlin, for example, far from the company's headquarters, and are oriented towards start-ups that are miles away from the company's own culture, are also likely to fail. The rejection effects are too high, the "not invented here syndrome" forces these project teams either into isolation or, in the worst case, out of the organization altogether. What I also frequently observe is that, although international corporations with a very modern way of working plan their strategy comprehensively at the top and equip their teams with the necessary resources, they neglect the power of the individual. New transformation projects are often launched and new targets announced, but it is not clear what this means for the employee. Quiet quitting and resignation are the result and undermine the efforts. I would like to introduce the Transformational Helix at this point and explain it in more detail later on:

The Individual Level

How do I communicate successfully with my team and my superiors? How do I manage conflicts respectfully? What are my actual needs within my team and the organization? And how do I become happy with what I do and increase my learning ability in line with the skills I have been given? At the individual level, it is about the contribution of the individual to the whole. To do this, it is necessary to gain a deeper understanding of what is really important to you and what you enjoy about your work. In my work on personal development in career coaching, I have helped hundreds of people to leave the job they were doing, to quit and to change. What a shame, I often thought to myself, that I had so few people in my coaching sessions who were satisfied with their work but wanted to develop themselves further to become even more satisfied. Could this perhaps be due to our attitude to work in general?

I see many managers who don't believe in their employees. Perhaps it is also because they themselves are not satisfied and have never learned to stand up for their own skills? In order for things to really change at an individual level, we need honesty and the courage to take personal responsibility. This is only possible in an atmosphere of trust and constructive cooperation. An organization that has mastered the individual level is characterized by the following points:

  • Psychological safety: Expressing constructive criticism is encouraged and promoted by a lively feedback culture in a fear-free working atmosphere.
  • Development of own competencies: More important than job titles and positions is the development of what is really important to you. There are countless training programs, courses and coaching sessions to help employees do this.
  • Joy and fun:The fulfillment and success of work that is really important to you creates a level of satisfaction that actually makes you happy.
  • Desire for change:Those who are allowed to develop freely and are celebrated for their successes can also engage in continuous development and may even want to do so themselves.

The question of how to implement these points leads to a whole range of possible measures and coaching interventions. This makes it very clear to me why coaching is needed in the context of sustainability and new working models. From my experience, I can clearly say that I cannot focus on the organizational development part alone if there are too many open issues at the individual level.

Let's take the example of respectful communication. What exactly does the following sentence mean? "The needs of all colleagues are recognized and respected."? I like to illustrate this with the example of check-ins at moderated meetings. This technique, which is often used by Agile Coaches and facilitators, involves all participants answering a short introductory question, such as "What made me smile for the first time today?" Experience shows that after such a check-in, the meeting is much more focused, as everyone has the chance to verbalize their own needs. While one colleague may have been happy to see his daughter smile this morning, the other may have been smiling at the thought of her upcoming holiday. But it could also be the case that a colleague doesn't feel like smiling at all because he was informed of the loss of a family member the evening before. This important information could be lost, perhaps the person would never comment on it in a different work context. But it is also clear that we do not leave our individual needs at the office door. They influence how we think, feel and what work we do. And if a team has the ability to take these needs into account, a lot is achieved. By verbalizing their grief, the colleague could be given the space to step back more and the team could reschedule some activities. This not only strengthens trust on the part of the colleague who is affected, but it also strengthens the trust of all team members.

The Team Level

What is done at the individual level for cooperation and exchange is now taken to another dimension at the team level. Successful teams are masters at incorporating the skills of the individual; everyone's abilities contribute to the successful outcome of the work. And these are then brought together in iterative steps to produce an overall result that fuels the corporate strategy. The open working atmosphere motivates teams to quickly recognize mistakes and try out new solutions. The important thing is not who achieves individual successes, but that the areas for which the team is jointly responsible are moved forward. The important thing is not who achieves individual successes, but that the disciplines for which the team is collectively responsible are advanced.

The performance of teams cannot be measured in just a few key figures such as increasing sales or profits. Successful teams are healthy teams. What can be very helpful in this context is to measure the health level of teams. The organisational development around the Swedish streaming platform Spotify is mentioned as the initiator of the "Team Health Check". here. This perspective is really important and, in my experience, not easy to realise. Because the management socialisation of many executives seems to weigh too much, with the belief: "What matters only is what comes out at the end!" There is nothing wrong with measuring metrics per se, but when it comes to the sustainability of teams in the agile work environment, there is no one master metric - "more money" - that trumps all others. Because anyone who decides to work according to the principles of new working methods recognises that the world has become more agile and more complex. It is therefore important to keep an eye on multiple metrics at the same time and, in my experience, the attitude should be that it is the teams that add value to the company's product or service.

So if the teams achieve their goals, the entire company is doing well. I have had very good experiences with the Team Health Check, a survey that takes place quarterly. In my opinion, different approaches are needed from company to company. The following is an overview of my guidelines for developing Team Health Check metrics:

  1. Learning opportunities: The team is constantly learning through a variety of discussions both within the team and with customers and stakeholders in the organisation.
  2. Clarity of mission: The team knows why their work is important and how it contributes to the overall strategy.
  3. Self-organisation: The team has the freedom to decide how they want to do their work and organise themselves accordingly.
  4. Speed: The team adds value quickly and often, and does not get stuck, slowed down or blocked.
  5. Effectiveness: The team makes a high quality contribution to customer satisfaction and can see the impact of their work in near real time.
  6. Fun: The team has a good team culture and has a lot of fun together.
  7. Functioning processes: The team has clearly defined working methods, roles and responsibilities that help it to succeed.
  8. Support: The team gets the support and help they need when they ask for it.
  9. Trust and shared values: The team supports each other and fosters an atmosphere of psychological safety in which shared values grow.
  10. Transformation resilience: The team is able to adapt quickly to a changing environment and keep pace with transformation requirements.

When measuring these ten metrics each quarter, it makes sense to use the same questions each time and to compare the scores of different teams within an organisation. The results obtained in this way also lead to customised coaching interventions. And if the development of the teams is also closely linked to the development of the organisation's goals, products and services, the company will also grow.

The Organisational Level

The organisational level includes the leadership of the company, its view of customers and stakeholders, and the relationships that the organisation builds and maintains at a social and environmental level. This is about the strategic level that teams cannot focus on every day and addresses long-term goals that promote the purpose and vision of the organisation. One of the most important tasks of management or organisational leadership is to ensure that work is distributed in line with the overarching objectives. This is about maintaining the right focus and bringing all levels together. The organisational level tries to prevent individuals and teams from being overwhelmed, but should intervene if individual employees and teams lose focus. In the spirit of the Team Health Check, the organisation's leadership team also listens to feedback from inside and outside the company, taking a holistic view that extends to the socio-political level and responsibility for the planet's resources and the ecosystems in which the organization operates.

When thinking about a new era of leadership, one is often confronted with the idea that flat hierarchies are the way to go, or perhaps no management at all. What a terrible mistake. What we definitely do not need is a leader whom teams or individuals fear, who needs to gain respect through pointless displays of power, or who creates terrible reporting nightmares for budget approvals, or who invents other bureaucratic constraints for his teams. But just because the wounds of these failures from a slowly fading management era are still visible, we should not be afraid of strong leadership. As mentioned at the beginning, the role of the organisational level is just as important as that of the individual and the team. The following points are important to me to ensure success at the organisational level:

  • Focus: One of the most important tasks of the organisational level is to maintain and adjust the focus for the overarching goals and vision of the entire organisation.
  • Courage: Organisational leadership needs the courage to do the right things and to speak honestly about problems and challenges. This can mean saying no when something is not feasible and also implementing major changes.
  • Openness: It is the responsibility of the organisation's leadership to ensure that all teams and employees are informed about the progress of the organisation's strategy, so that everyone has the opportunity to respond to changes in a timely manner.
  • Respect: The organisational leadership respects the work at team and individual level, provides support in the event of blockages and dependencies and ensures lightweight reporting and the reduction of bureaucracy in processes at all levels.
  • Commitment: Die Organisationsführung verpflichtet sich, sicherzustellen, dass alle Teams ihre geplanten Aufgaben umsetzen können und bezieht dabei konsequent das gesamte Ökosystem aus Kunden, Stakeholdern, Gesellschaft und Umwelt mit ein.

The connections in the triad of transformation

As is so often the case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. What begins at an individual level unfolds its power in successful teamwork and is nurtured and strengthened by support at an organisational level. For me, there are two areas here that run through all three levels of the transformation helix: psychological safety and fun. Maybe they go together, because if we can talk openly about mistakes, and everyone is heard, encouraged to think and be different, I think those are particularly good conditions for a working environment where I like to be.

But let's take a closer look at the example of psychological safety at all three levels: As CEO, it is important to me to create a psychologically safe working environment and build trust. So I ask to be present regularly in the reviews and demonstration of the work of my teams. I ask questions and take an interest and, above all, I praise explicitly instead of having the results compiled for me in a reporting presentation. As CEO, I go to where the work takes place. This behaviour trains the organisation's teams to talk regularly and as openly as possible about the results of their work. It could even motivate teams to achieve results faster and share their key strategic considerations directly with their customers and stakeholders. On an individual level, it motivates me that my team can have such an impact, I also try to think differently and talk about it with my team and directly with the CEO. I feel safe.

For me, this is not a distant utopia, but practical recommendations for successful work today. With the question of how to achieve organisational change, I hope that my recommendations can make a small contribution.