(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 2 2018)

To be capable and ready for innovations is one of the determining factors for the future of a company, in particular in relation to placing new products and services in the market. Furthermore, it becomes more and more important for a learning organisation to keep developing processes and structures vigorously. Sven Franke is a founder, a driving force and a companion. As an anti-consultant he meets companies to ask questions rather than to advise them. Analogue to his chosen way to relate to an enterprise, we conduct an anti-interview with him, which he answers in questions.

In the past year you won the New Work Award by XING.

The world of work is changing rapidly; almost everyone can experience this in their everyday lives. But how can enterprises help to design this rapid change? As co-initiator of AUGENHÖHE and other initiatives, I helped to kick off this discussion and I gained manifold experiences and observations. These experiences encouraged me to continue to act as a rebel, pioneer, maverick and innovator. What was one of my highlights in the past year?

In your signature it says you are an anti-consultant.

Through many conversations and interviews I had with enterprises it became increasingly clear that blueprints no longer function for New Work, and thus the profession of the consultant has to change completely. Ultimately, enterprises have to find their own special way. As a companion to a company one can help by asking important questions without pulling the ready-made solution out of the hat. What do we call this approach at CO:X?

New Work is working as usual, just with internet, football tables and a feel-good manager.

What is New Work for many managers?

Data silos in companies are damaging for the overall economic success.

The times are gone when you succeeded in a company because you kept knowledge to yourself. Organisations who manage to recognise and develop the potential of their employees will be the drivers of innovation in the future. This also means that organisations need better solutions to provide their employees with data they need to fulfil their tasks. More and more business models demonstrate that data and sharing of knowledge is the new currency for a company’s success. What exactly does that mean?

The digital information culture has parallels to the human communication culture.

The core tasks of digital information culture such as data acquisition, processing, distribution and information supply chain management are clearly defined. The core aspects such as textuality, meaning writing and context, authenticity, knowledge, power and access to information and identity in particular are increasingly major challenges. Those core aspects and mechanisms have hitherto been neglected by companies, or in the case of power used in a different way. There is a lot of catching up to do in this area. Yet for us as individuals, these areas should be familiar. What would you compare the described mechanisms to?

Digitalisation is a side issue.

We repeatedly meet enterprises who are convinced that the most important thing about digitalisation is the introduction of tools and technology. We do not believe that this is true.  We are convinced and it has been confirmed by the EDEN Study of the Groups of Analysts that organisational integration is the most important factor of success. Sadly, many places are still not aware of this. At this point I would like to stress two aspects of the Eden Study explicitly. Only 24 per cent of companies deploy a digital strategy on all levels in a linked and coordinated manner. And only 48.5 per cent of those companies have appointed a dedicated team to drive the digital transformation forward. Many places are missing out on an enterprise configuration necessary for survival. Everybody can guess what this means. There are many examples for this and they usually result in insolvencies. However, the usual response I get to the question of ‘how does digitalisation rank in your company’ is?

Hierarchies can be compensated by the development of data management systems.

Another important aspect of the digital transformation is the necessity to change power and hierarchy structures. Have you ever asked yourself how you become powerful in your organisation? Do you become powerful because you keep knowledge to yourself and mostly make decisions by yourself? Taylorism has promoted this approach for decades. At the same time, the market and its customers now demand something else, such as quick decisions. And these can only be made if knowledge and information are shared and the path to the decisions is kept short. How can this change be sensibly accelerated?

Tomorrow I want to start as a sandwich manager in an owner-managed medium-sized company.

In the past we got used to applying new approaches to the whole of the company. That does not work any more. Actually, I am not sure if it ever worked. When we accompany an organisation through its changes today we have to start experiments. Why do I talk about experiments? Experiments can go wrong, which is a first step of learning. However, projects which have been successful will be talked about and other areas will want to copy them. So, it’s not about a “roll out” any more, but rather about a “roll in”. I can only encourage companies to start small and thus to create the space to develop their own way. And the good thing about this is that everybody can begin with it as early as tomorrow. Naturally it requires courage. Begin with making participation at meetings voluntary. You will soon see many changes. Where and when would you start, if you were free to choose?

I cannot prove to anyone that New Work is better than what we have done before.

By now I have had an insider’s look at many organisations which have set out on this journey. What happens is unbelievable. Employees are more engaged, ability to innovate is not regarded as a challenge anymore, the relationships to the customers have improved. It is important to know that not everything in these companies is crowned with success; some things do fail, too. However, these organisations have learned to react with new answers and solutions. Another important aspect of the new way is that it shows that things have been brushed under the carpet simply because there was no room for them within the process. This is always exhausting, but when you solve these things, it is always followed by a leap in success. What is the response of managers who are lacking the courage to experiment?

The devil takes the hindmost.

The digital changes in an organisation have an impact on everybody in said organisation. First and foremost, the managers are required to rethink their understanding of leadership. Leadership no longer means command & control, but rather assisting employees in fulfilling their own potential within the organisation and to do so where this potential is required. What happens to leaders who do not think cooperatively and in networks?

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“To risk experiments and explore new areas”, is the maxim according to which Sven Franke lives and works. He is an organisation companion, sparring partner, author and speaker. In 2014 and 2015 he initiated projects such as “AUGENHÖHE – Film und Dialog” and “AUGENHÖHEwege -Film und Dialog” together with his companions. With the newly founded CO:X Sven Franke accompanies enterprises on their path to new ways of working together. In March 2017 Sven Franke won the New Work Award by XING.

Picture credit © Juj Winn/Getty Images

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