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When CONTRACT was hired to facilitate a special meeting of a growing multinational organisation’s global leaders, important lessons on change were learned all around.

In his rather ominously titled book, The Lucifer Principle, the author Howard Bloom describes an experiment where a large group of children was divided into smaller groups of five or six. The children in those smaller groups spontaneously took on certain archetypal roles – the leader, the rebel, the jester, the nerd, the jock, and so on.

But when all the leaders were plucked from their groups and put into a group of their own, then something very interesting happened: one of the children remained in the leadership role but the others took on the other archetypal roles. Young leaders clustered together turned into rebels and jesters. And the rebels who had been put into one group produced a leader in their ranks!

This tells us that our ‘social valence’ depends on our immediate peers and circumstances. And it’s important to bear in mind that each archetype has an important role to play in the group. It’s not just a matter of silencing the rebels and the jesters, but remembering that they too can be courageous leaders and geeky analysts under different circumstances. So it’s important to accommodate each archetype’s ideas because they help to paint a more complete picture.

Our role at CONTRACT is to create spaces where all people can make valuable contributions by giving them both the freedom and the framework within which to play their part.

Buy-in – the hard part

In June this year, CONTRACT was involved in a large project for a multinational industrial manufacturer based in Germany. This is a family owned business that has grown into the world’s largest company in its segment. Between 2008 and 2016, the company’s employees had grown by 70% to well over 11,000, and today it is trading in 65 countries.

The company’s particularly rapid international growth and expansion meant that its owners needed to update their operational structure. As a family-owned business, shared values and a common vision have been integral to the company’s culture and success. But how do you maintain that principle as a huge multinational organisation?

It’s an important question. Success results in growth, and rapid growth is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have a shareholder’s dream – improved revenues and the desire to keep the momentum going; on the other hand, a deluge of new employees and subsidiaries can result in silos and inefficiencies.

CONTRACT was hired to work with more than a hundred of the company’s top-tier executives and managers from all over the world at a special week-long international operations meeting (IOM) in Germany – to streamline and partially centralise its global operations.

But in order to do this, we needed to create buy-in, so we divided the attendees into groups and took some time to brainstorm a shared vision that would guide the company for the next five years. ‘Buy in’ may sound like a cliché, but it is the bedrock of any company culture. In a global business seeking to both empower its regional offices and streamline vital parts of its operations via centralisation, the buy in of each of these 110 global leaders was crucial.

Here’s why. Because when it came to turning this vision into concrete steps and actions it became evident that some people’s roles and responsibilities would need to change. And that’s when some participants naturally began to feel fear and doubt. Not only had there been some competition between the divisions and branches (that the company was wanting to deal with through consolidation and collaboration), but some individuals began to wonder about their personal and immediate future in this new order.

There were two people in my workshop in particular who felt threatened by the new order. Initially, they were if not completely negative then certainly playing devil’s advocate during the brainstorming sessions. Now think back to the experiment that Harold Bloom was describing, above: here were leaders who had risen to the top of a hugely successful multinational organisation, but under these circumstances, they were playing an unexpected new role.

It was then that the first part of the workshops bore fruit. By underpinning the structural and operational changes with cultural and strategic imperatives, the doubts and concerns were replaced with possibility and potential. And as the doubters began to envisage their place in the new order, as they began to see the opportunities for development and growth, their personal transformative journeys became valuable contributions.

The company’s CEO put it very well when he stood up and said (I’m paraphrasing here), “Picture the headquarters at NASA during a mission. The operations there are centralised and heavily automated but all those computers are not just the responsibility of one person. Yes, it might require change and perhaps even some relocations, but we will all benefit if we move in the same direction.”

Listen to the Devil’s Advocates

One of the things I love about my job is that it is a continuous learning process. No two workshops are the same because no two businesses are the same. And no two businesses are the same because no two employees (or customers) are the same.

However, the experience taught me that all those variables can be managed if you trust the process. Change is never simple or easy but it is in overcoming the obstacles and insecurities of people that we can create better outcomes. Devil’s advocates are as important as enthusiastic optimists. Our role as facilitators is to create the safe spaces for those feelings to play out. It will be awkward sometimes, but it is always worth it in the end.

Patience is key. People handle change and disruption in different ways. And a person’s reaction to certain developments is not an indication of their overall productivity or commitment to company values.

One of my colleagues at CONTRACT put it this way: “Disorientation is often a necessary step towards developing something qualitatively new. But if you begin by outlining broad overarching goals, then it will give you a solid foundation on which you can build a path to achieve those goals.”

There are several lessons here for all of us. Next time you’re in a meeting – whether it is at a quick stand-up on a Monday morning or a global conference – listen carefully and kindly to objections. Remember that our roles often depend on the immediate circumstances. And with the correct processes, one person’s rebel yell can turn into the same person’s rallying call.

As a managing director, I am surprised even by my own company. Companies are in fact people made systems, which have a tendency to behave in nonlinear ways.

In the past three years, we have extensively debated the approach of “Entrepreneurial Spirit.” In a number of cultural projects, we have worked with clients on the implementation of this approach. Many people from our team were involved and participated in the development process.

The drive and ideas for this development are born from our corporate culture with CONTRACT.

A clear customer orientation at our company is fundamental and goes without much mention. We also try to keep our company’s internal workings transparent to our employees. For example, every employee at any time has access to information about our economic situation. Each and every one truly knows where the company stands and how their contribution shows up. It is visible to all, on what projects management is currently working. It is the responsibility of each team to control its work load in their monthly meetings.

All employees are involved in strategic discussions. Contributing employees are awarded a share of corporate profits. Everyone is responsible for themselves and to some extent for the whole system. Knowledge is shared without any reservation. This is an entrepreneurial approach which we are proud of.

Discussing “entrepreneurial spirit” in projects with our customers has brought unexpected new momentum to our internal discussions, processes, and our own culture of entrepreneurial action. When we are looking for trainees, we advertise as “looking for junior entrepreneurs.” We adapted our internal Assessment Center leaning towards selecting for entrepreneurial spirit. By doing so, we triggered a discussion within our own ranks: How much potential for entrepreneurship does each individual have, how can we measure it for each individual, and how does our leadership perceive it or even promote it?

At CONTRACT, we have always had entrepreneurial attitudes and designed customer projects and framework accordingly; now we are having specific discussions about entrepreneurial spirit. We are debating employee’s personal opportunities and even as far as how to deal with restrictions within employees’ private lives, and the interdependence between “what does the company do for me” and “what do I do for the company?”

These conversations in particular are the ones that take us further: the agreement about perceptions, hopes, and evaluations, which are driven by honesty and mutual appreciation.

These thoughts are my views as a managing director. “Our junior employees” have started to engage even more actively in corporate management. Our staff has already announced to us that they will complete the annual manager’s feedback on the basis of our criteria for “Entrepreneurial Spirit.”

Side effects are very much a byproduct of great ideas and we are excited and curious as to where this will lead us!

Bettina Demmer

“There is nothing more constant than change” is a saying we already played with as students in university, throwing it back and forth at each other and of course we always thought that the change would lead to the better and that the change is in us. Well, you cannot be right about everything!

Today, the constant change has been professionalized as change management. Now organizations have a clear tendency to create too much complexity in the search for solutions and to stimulate emotions.

Trust is an account into which you must always pay into which in turn will always pay back in dividends!

Even upper level managers are not exempt of this rule. Hope driven confidence: having finally found a strategic breakthrough is in high contrast to the energy consuming process of finding a consensus about it. The individual resources of energy and empathy, to deal with the process of change and its challenges, are starting to run out! Isn’t the main work done by creating a goal? And why doesn’t the organization comply? This is an understandable attitude – but just not helpful. Excuse me for using this expression: this approach is not very “grown up!”

Unfortunately, this approach is the gateway to the “childlike” desire for a correct and magical intervention that will bring the team back on track and reconcile it with goals and change, which could be, for example, the ingenious big event that covers “everything”: a charismatic presenter, media support, and creative involvement with a great atmosphere which is all captured in a corporate video. Everything is beautiful, everything makes sense, but all does not suffice.

A smart manager and his staff once told me: “Trust is an account into which you must always pay into which in turn will always pay back in dividends!” Hats off to them! I can only add: “Only then will you see a return – especially when you need it!”
The same principle applies also to sustainable change management. Effective change requires the ability to clearly see what is really going on and the ability to deal with the emotional fluctuations of systems and individuals in the long term. This is not easy and requires a lot of tenacity, especially from the management and at all other levels. With sustainable trust, self confidence and trust in your own team, this change will lead safely and calmly to a greater success.

It is not possible to delegate change: the essential investments are to work on change continuously and consistently.

On this road, we are happy to support you and we will even build you a magical event tailored for you, and that’s all part of the package price!

Joachim Karnath

Family-run businesses are booming. This is reflected in the media, in the appreciation of the political class and nowadays even in specific curricula in university.

What was once considered old-fashioned is viewed as modern today. Some traditional values can be interpreted and developed in a very progressive way. From my experience: I was born into a family of entrepreneurs, I am running the advisory board of a machine factory, which carries my last name, and I have founded my own family-run company: the CONTRACT!

Three aspects of these “traditional values” are most noticeable for me:

(1) Family-run businesses have their own value for the family. They are (technically) not for sale. The sale of a family run business would actually be a defeat. Thus, the company is not an object of speculation. For us in CONTRACT, the shares are based on par, and this is how we will pass them on to the next generation of entrepreneurs.

(2) Family-run businesses think in long-term relationships. This applies to both its employees and its customers and last but not least to the partners. If it is done well, a sustainable business model arises. This does affect companies internally, in positive as well as negative ways. Positions are tailored more toward the individual filling the position and tasks can be further added with the growth of a person. So far so good! And likewise, this also applies to my boss. If I don’t click with my boss, I would actually have to change companies. Talented people do move on for many reasons.
The network of relationships and the internal culture does not work on its own. These relationships need to be nurtured and cared for. Of course this applies to us and our company as well, even more so since we do this job for our clients as a service.

(3) In family-run businesses decisions can be made quickly and require a climate of courage. This applies to the employees as well as to the executives. To keep the proverbial “open door” and to let yourself be challenged by your own team requires courage, especially for uncomfortable decisions. This courage is required from the executive team as well as from the employees having to go through this door. Without a culture of courage, a family-run business declines and becomes a museum of prior success!

Modern family businesses for me are those who see themselves as a system, which includes the shareholders, the employees as well as the economic and social environment as part of their system. I believe that responsibility, dynamics and philanthropy are essential characteristics of such companies.

The thoughts and living realities which used to be patriarchal, traditional and often authoritarian are now up to be redefined in new ways for our contemporary times. Especially for someone who has studied in the 1970s, for whom emancipation has become reality in many ways and who rebelled against old ways of thinking, I was surprised with how much of this patrimonial heritage can be combined with the guiding principles of our generation.

This helps me today to lead the Advisory Board of the machine factory with the same confidence and serenity as I use my influence in the CONTRACT or engage in Neuguss, an anthroposophic association of enterprises.

Irene Reifenhäuser

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