PROF. DR. PETER KÖRNER
Globalization, digitalization and Industry 4.0: Companies are currently facing enormous challenges. Agile working can serve as response to these developments and also provide companies with ways to counter the disruptive changes of our times. But how can companies leverage the benefits of agile working? How should they be organized in the future so that they can react as quickly and appropriately as possible to new technologies and market changes?
Let me give you an example:
In autumn 2017 an unusual event took place in Hanover: An old disc-playing music box called a polyphon and other rarities from our technological past were salvaged from the ruins of Entertainment Distribution Company (EDC), which had been forced to file for insolvency. For decades, the Hanover-based company had been a pioneer in the mass production of music cassettes, CDs and DVDs, thereby writing music history. But technological lifecycles began to grow ever shorter, and eventually streaming services made sound carriers, and thus EDC, obsolete at the beginning of the new millennium. In 2016, EDC filed for insolvency and its last employees left the building in February 2017. EDC is a dramatic example of the many companies who have fallen victim to disruptive change because they lacked the right answer – namely, agile working methods – to meet the new challenges brought on by digitalization.
Change is the new permanent
There are numerous current examples of how even market leaders can fall short if new smart solutions are underestimated. Digital change and modern technologies are creating new markets. Traditional petrol engine manufacturers now have to contend with electric vehicles offered by Tesla and other companies. Large department store chains seek to survive in the age of highly diversified online sales platforms. Companies have to learn to shorten their response times as far as reasonably possible – and this requires agile working methods. Because one thing is clear: Change is no longer a process that has a fixed beginning and end. Change is the new permanent.
Characteristics of an agile mind-set
Agile working is the general term for various factors related to organisation, management and labor law that companies must consider so that they can adapt more quickly to the rapidly increasing rate of environmental dynamism. Time is of the essence, because without agile working methods, companies cannot survive in a world of continuous and rapid change.
Does this mean that companies have to turn everything on its head? Realistically speaking, no. A company’s employees certainly can’t change who they are overnight, and replacing the entire workforce is neither possible nor sensible. It makes more sense to anchor agility into the corporate culture and for upper management to serve as an example for employees. Building on this basis, employees can then be empowered at all levels to adopt an agile mind-set. The behavior associated with an agile mind-set is much like the response of a roly-poly toy when pushed: If new ideas are tested and fail, instead of being knocked down, you roll right back into an upright position.
What to expect if agile working methods are introduced?
Agile working methods require companies to adjust their culture of failure. Instead of looking for someone to blame for a failure, it should be embraced as a chance to learn by analyzing the mistakes made. Henry Ford knew this to be true: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”. New goals are rarely achieved by taking familiar and safe paths. An agile corporate and management culture must therefore actively promote the ability to appreciate various viewpoints and to see diversity as an opportunity to generate new ideas. It is also important to accept change and to adapt immediately to new circumstances – even if this means throwing treasured practices overboard. An agile mind-set requires a high degree of team transparency and open communication. Instead of hording knowledge as a means of control, agile companies share it willingly and work together to develop it even further.
Professor Dr. Peter Körner has been working in renowned companies for over 28 years. At Deutsche Telekom, he was responsible for Human Resources and Legal for T-Mobile Deutschland and managed several challenging transformation projects in globally active U.S. technology groups. He also teaches at FOM University of Applied Sciences for Economics and Management in Frankfurt as a professor of business administration with a focus on turnaround management and artificial intelligence.