Happy New Year!

2020 has demanded a lot from us (from some even more than from others). Looking back, I will remember this last year most for how quickly changes were suddenly possible. Some of them – such as wearing masks, keeping the distance and reducing contact – will be reversed as soon as possible after Covid 19, others – such as permitting bars and restaurants to serve food and drinks outdoors  – are certainly an option to hold on once it gets nice and warm again, and others – such as working from home or video conferencing – will surely stay with us as a “New Normal”.

In terms of the mobility of the future, I see two experiences from 2020 as especially helpful: Firstly, we were able to even change things that have been considered more or less inalterable for a long time. We proved not only that working from home is possible but also that it significantly reduces traffic, we reduced overall CO2 emissions and improved air quality visibly, we boosted the share of  electrified vehicles, temporarily installed and tested structural alternatives such as pop-up bicycle lanes, and even converted long term urban vision into concrete concepts like the 15-Minute City. Secondly but not less important, we learned that for the general reflection on whether changes are meaningful and possible and thus an elevated willingness to change, we should not always need a pandemic.

With this in mind, I wish you all the best for the New Year 2021.

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Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast. The true reason why change fails …

We all know this – of course only from friends and acquaintances, not from own experience: The New Year’s resolutions, which are off course fixed and irrevocable, such as eating healthier or doing more sport, are torpedoed by the inexorably breaking power of habit at the beginning of February and then die a quiet and pitiful death. What remains is persistent frustration and the monthly debits of the gym’s annual contract.

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The resolutions of companies, called strategies in technical jargon, all too often suffer a similar fate. These, too, do not usually fail because they lack sense, consistency or necessity, but – quite the contrary – because they are so reasonable, coherent and necessary from the point of view of those responsible that their comprehensive implementation is seen as granted and any further intervention as an unnecessary effort and thus as superfluous. And just as on the cold Sunday morning in February, when a sudden feeling of mild pain in the back is reason enough not to run in the park as planned, habits strike mercilessly here too, this time in the form of the corporate culture, which has often grown over years and decades.

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“We have now derived everything cleanly, agreed and communicated to everyone. Everyone said they understood what to do and why. Why on earth it is not happening now?”. In the current situation days, this can be life-threatening. A company that, in times of change (such as current in the areas of digitalization, mobility or sustainability) is prevented by consciously or unconsciously retarding forces from adapting quickly enough to the constantly changing framework conditions and rules of the game, inevitably loses its connection and is then suddenly “out of the game”.

The ability to really know the culture of one’s company on the one hand and, on the other hand, to be able to influence it in a targeted manner if necessary, is therefore an essential prerequisite for the sustainable implementation of strategic goals. What sounds simpler than it is, because corporate culture does not mean how enthusiastic the employees of a company are about its brands and products, but the sum of their individual attitudes, desires and feelings as well as the common norms, values and behaviors arising from group dynamic interaction. And this makes it a critical factor for the desired sustainable implementation of change needs: Are these communicated comprehensibly and well-founded down to the lowest level and their implementation maintained, or is this prevented by a middle management level acting as an impermeable clay layer? Are the employees responsible for the implementation really behind the strategies, or is there rather the view that “those up there” have again come up with something new, but as with the last times, this time again it won’t be eaten as hot as it was cooked?

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A positive corporate culture in this sense connects all levels of the hierarchy and creates a fundamental openness to change through trust. An important detail here is that “together” includes all partners involved in value creation, not only employees in the legal sense. Culture does not stop at organizational boundaries. And: Corporate culture cannot be captured by one-time online employee surveys and certainly not changed by executive decisions overnight – not even with the help of specially appointed and in the end even externally recruited cultural specialists. A long-term, bi-directional and honest interaction between management, executives and employees is a prerequisite for successful and lasting change in corporate culture. And not so much – as is often misinterpreted – out of pure philanthropy (although a decent and respectful treatment of employees and executives, which is a side effect, is certainly welcome), but primarily simply for the benefit of the company.