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Leadership at all levels

Which forms of management are necessary to nurture a culture of continuous improvement? Modern (change) management is mainly about

  • A careful awareness of what is actually happening in an organization,
  • Professional communication, both internally and externally, i.e. with all stakeholders above and beyond corporate barriers, hierarchical structures or departments,
  • Agile design of the change process using state of the art methods.

Curious self-perception

This is also about self-perception, particularly among management. The Viennese organizational consultant, Rudi Wimmer, defines success of any single change process by the willingness of management to examine first  its own perception of itself. (see: Organisation und Beratung: Systemtheoretische Perspektiven für die Praxis, Wimmer 2004).  Only the insight by management that it cannot function as a change agent without questioning at the same time necessary changes in management performance, creates the foundations for successful change. My experience shows that this is anything but taken for granted. It is likewise confirmed by a survey of 1,100 British first line managers: 72% of those surveyed never doubt their own management skills and this exaggerated opinion of oneself does not stop there: 80% of management believe they are among the top 20% of managers. (Kunst des Entscheidens: Ein Quantum Trost für Zweifler und Zauderer, Ortmann 2011)

So what lies behind all these curious self perceptions? You would do well to assume that it is the remnants of a mechanistic organizational image based on a management model which decides to ignore critical self reflection and a fitting modesty. The company as a machine corresponds to the manager as a mechanic or administrator.

Management as a team effort

In the 21st century, according to the essence of contemporary management and leadership debates, command and control is bowing to a culture which respects self-control without losing sight of the overall need for organizational coordination. New forms of networked management are appearing at the side of hierarchical management to make best use of the available expertise, particularly with regard to an accurate perception of the environmental dynamics. ‘Management as a team effort’ is fast becoming the key factor.

As this image shows, the concept of management as a team effort points to at least two necessary changes: first, the centralist approach of traditional management must be overcome and second, the “one way street” in the communication and decision making processes.

(Change) Leadership must be nurtured at all levels of the organisation – starting with the workers on the shop floor up to senior management. The 4th Kanban principle.

Klaus zu Gast beim BA-Podcast


Kanban kann man vielfältig einsetzen, das wissen wir schon aber auch in der Welt der Business Analyse? Ja auch dort ist die eindeutige Antwort. Klaus Leopold war im Januar zu Gast beim Business Analyse Podcast und es wurde ausführlich über Kanban geplaudert: Was ist Kanban eigentlich? Wo liegt der Unterschied zwischen Personal Kanban und Kanban? Was sind die Flight Levels von Kanban? Gibt es auch Tools? Wie startet man am besten? Und natürlich – wie können Business Analysten von Kanban profitieren?

Also – reinhören ist die Devise!

Zum Podcast inklusive Show Notes >

The iceberg of change

My blogpost, “Do I have to do that? Can I do that? Do I want to do that?” was about these three questions asked by all involved in a change process. Not surprisingly the answers are rarely purely rational in nature but also involve emotions to a great extent. That is simply the ways things are when human beings are involved. And the illustration of the iceberg of change shows this very clearly:

The image shows that the substantive reasons for change, conveying strategies and objectives or the representation of a project plan usually only make for a fraction of what starts moving during intensive phases of change. The fact that many change projects are shipwrecked can be attributed to the fact that these projects are often focused only on the surface of the issue.  And also due to the fact that the focus is restricted on account of poor communication between the captain, the officers and crew. However, should a change initiative only encompass the infamous tip of the iceberg, one need not be surprised if the Titanic of change goes under.

Be it the much quoted seventh of the iceberg we are seeing or a little more or less is of no consequence – the fact is that by far the largest part lies beneath the surface of pure rationale. The advantage that proponents of change have over the captain of a ship is the fact that large parts of the iceberg can suddenly emerge, become visible and wait to be dealt with – ignoring them won’t make them go away.

Emotions in the change process

As I already mentioned in the blog post “Do I have to do that? Can I do that? Do I want to do that?” organizational change is inseparably linked to personal emotions. These emotions should be regarded as the elixir of life for any change. They release energy, they attribute meaning, they force progress. In our book, ‘Kanban in IT’ (to appear in English soon), Sigi Kaltenecker and I devoted a whole chapter to emotions in the change process. In this article I want to provide a little insight into a very broad theme.

The consultant team, Barbara Heitger and Alexander Doujak, in their book “Die Logik der Gefühle und die Macht der Zahlen“ (The logic of feelings and the power of figures) describe four categories of feelings which typically arise during the change process:

  • Insecurity, concern, fear are particularly prevalent in the first phase of the change curve.
  • Frustration and aggression are the determining feelings in the second phase of the typical change process.
  • Sadness and disappointment mark the phase of ‘‘emotional acceptance“.
  • Optimism, joy and courage blend with recognition, intensive practice and integration in the change process.

Insecurity, concern, fear

In practice such feelings neither are clearly sorted nor are they unadulterated. What uncertainty, what concern and what fear are, usually cannot be exactly determined in daily life. In addition, these feelings are often hidden. Since insecurity or fear cause vulnerability, these feelings are – particularly among men – presented in the crude form of aggression. On the other hand, the feelings are hidden plainly and simply by the fact that they are suppressed. In addition to struggle and aggression, avoidance and ignorance are equally good ways of dealing with unpleasant feelings.

The American organizational scientist, Edgar H. Schein, showed in his book “Organizational Culture and Leadership” that in change processes two particular forms of fear arise, existential angst and fear of learning. Both fears have very different origins.

In the case of existential angst the issues are

  • The threat of a loss of status: “Tomorrow I will no longer be a manager”,
  • The devaluation of one’s own expertise: “Tomorrow all my experience as a project manager will no longer count”,
  • The threat of the disappearance of the trusted environment: “Tomorrow I will be working in a completely new team”.

In the course of learning fears will be evoked both by the necessary acquisition of new skills or areas of knowledge as well as by the equally necessary unlearning of the old. Fears such as

  • Of temporary or permanent incompetence: “I simply cannot do it”,
  • On account of incompetence, having to expect punishment or at least disadvantages: “If I don’t hack it, I will lose my position”,
  • Of  suffering a personal loss of identity: “My life long I have been a development specialist, why now should I have to analyse or test?”,
  • Of no longer being a member of a certain group or community: “What will happen if in my specialist area I lose the rapport to my colleagues?”

For these reasons it is important to realize that change processes involve not only learning something new but also unlearning the old.

Frustration and aggression

It is common knowledge that one does not have to flee from threats – you can confront them and conquer them. Anger and aggression are established means of doing so. If in the context of information events loud boos resound when the team leader on the jour fixe is accused of treason, or when in the coffee corner one hears nothing but curses about “those up there”, we are already in the middle of the issue. It’s about setting boundaries. Personal identity must be maintained and anything threatening must be kept in check. Anger and aggression play an important role in the context of profound change processes and these need to be accepted and endured. People have to let off steam to make room for the new. Thunderstorms are known to have a cleansing  function – provided you provide a good lightning conductor, not least in the form of professional support from experienced change facilitators.

Sadness and disappointment

Sadness helps to let certain things go and to put then behind us. Before we can look forward to the future, our present is dominated by different colored images in our memory. These images of mourning, like frustration or aggression, must find expression.

Optimism, joy and courage 

If what are experienced as negative feelings such as fear, frustration or sadness are processed well, they leave room for positive experiences. Often there is a surprising openness to change once the past is really let go. Energy can now focus on learning, on practicing improved processes and integrating modified working methods. Old strengths are accessed in new contexts, the tried and tested appears in a new form. A true reconciliation takes place, a bridge between yesterday, today and tomorrow.

What now?

To bring changes on track, it is imperative to understand these emotions properly. Only a profound knowledge of the different forms, dynamics and functions of emotions can form the basis for promising change management. However, beware of control illusions. Emotions arise neither in a uniform way or at the same time. They need different amounts of time, space and attention. They are not predictable. And there is no magical solution to eliminate all emotional challenges. Nevertheless, change management cannot avoid addressing emotions. Because without emotional mobilization no change initiative can progress.