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Organisational development and business culture in the digital age
Uwe Rotermund about change processes and the role of executive management
novum: With your organisational consulting, you are offering your customers support in dealing with business culture issues. What it is the biggest cultural challenge for companies today?
Uwe Rotermund: Dealing with complexity. Things change due to digitalisation and various other factors. As a result, the world is not only becoming more complicated but ever more complex. Forecasts become more difficult, long-term plans are of little use. What companies need is a culture of the ability to change quickly. People need a joint orientation, a joint objective, but the path leading there is not foreseeable in detail.
novum: Aren't long-term goals also subject to this pressure to change?
Uwe Rotermund: Values and the purpose of one's own organisation in the world don't change as rapidly. Successful companies, in particular, often have a solid foundation. Products and processes change, but values are lasting. For companies, it is also important to know for what reason they are in this world. Products and approaches must be adapted agilely and flexibly when the situation demands it. Maintaining this balance is, at its core, also the task of a contemporary business culture.
novum: So, we are talking about working at two speeds? Long-term in the orientations, and agile and flexible in day-to-day business?
Uwe Rotermund: Yes, and here an investment has to take place in both directions. The task consists of creating the prerequisites for the agile part of the work, of letting the organisation act dynamically, and of promoting the desire for change along the way. Only those who work on change with drive and desire can prevail in the long term. But working on long-term orientations is also important. This does not only apply to a small circle of those carrying responsibility. The question what one's own organisation stands for must be answered – time and again – for the whole organisation.
THE EXPECTATIONS POSED ON EXECUTIVES ARE CHANGING
novum: How, specifically, does one go about changing the business culture? What can the executive management of companies do to lets its employees participate in such changes?
Uwe Rotermund: To me, business culture is a system that is made to resonate. As such, business culture is not just created by entrepreneurs who carry an image of their personal attitude into the staff and are thereby shaping it. On the one hand, there is the model, the mission that a company is carrying. This is characterised and co-designed by several parties, at times more and at times less participatorily or even democratically. Then there is a series of "techniques" how one can maintain a business culture. There are topics being touched on such as information policy, innovation policy, care, and other important topics. These must be re-evaluated every so often and must have substance independent of individual players. There is this beautiful term, "post-heroic management" that gets right to the core of the matter, here.
novum: So, here employees who, due to their position, normally would not be called upon to influence general decisions can also actively co-design?
Uwe Rotermund: Yes, executive management is also expressly at task, here. It is only when executive management characterises and carries a business culture through attitude and personal commitment that a business culture has substance. Executives who constantly put their own objectives above those of the company are in the wrong spot in the long term. Executives do, of course, also still organise day-to-day processes. But they are also "communicators of meaning", and "ushers" for employees who are to find out their role in the company and fill it with life. To summarise: Executives translate between the business mission and the practical implementation. It is their utmost task to enable their employees and to remove obstacles from their path.
POST-MERGER INTEGRATIONS ARE ALSO A BIG EVEN FOR BUSINESS CULTURES
novum: As an IT management consulting firm, you are also encountering change processing in technical fields and in classic business management issues. How do business culture and classic change processes interact?
Uwe Rotermund: In addition to the evolutionary changes we just discussed, companies may also encounter moving large events, so-called disruptive changes, such as those triggered by mergers, due to digitalisations or merely due to economic problems. If, in such situations, only reactive behaviour appears to be possible, it is even more important for the company to rest on a healthy cultural foundation.
novum: Let's take, for instance, the situation of a post-merger integration.
Uwe Rotermund: The term "post-merger" is already hinting at an indicative direction. Often, very little thought is spent on business culture prior to the merger. The commercial, logistical, and subject matter related issues are for a long time at the forefront. But the desired effects from a merger may sustainably come under pressure if a heterogeneous business culture of the merged parts that was not paid attention to is retroactively undermining the success. This might manifest as people not working together, old power structures continuing to control day-to-day business, disappointments and losses from the merger process poisoning the getting along with one another.
novum: How can the cultures of two companies be "merged"?
Uwe Rotermund: The starting point is the assumption that two business culture in all completeness are facing each other. Mutual respect, and the willingness to get to know each other and to appreciate what the other is characterised by are the basis for all that's coming next. Before a coming closer can be specifically carried out in an open process of mutual recognition and evaluation of various sub-cultures, a good plan is needed.
There are, actually, standardised cultural audits available. One can break down business culture with a checklist. The categories for the assessment of the business culture are manageable. Typically, we are working with nine main categories which we borrow from the approach of Great Place to Work. Employee surveys and other sociologically supported methods help in the assessment.
If the process of the analysis and selection of components of a future business culture then is tackled in a credible and halfway transparent manner, the thought of a strong business culture for the future has a real chance.
novum: Are mergers, most of the time, not acquisitions of the "big swallows small" kind, with the effect that "big" is also imposing its business culture on "small"?
Uwe Rotermund: That is, of course, quite often the case. But in the next years and decades, we will experience hundreds of smaller and larger mergers, for instance in the banking industry. If the negotiating partners include the aspect of business culture in their agendas early on, they will be significantly more successful in carrying out their mergers. That is what I am convinced of.
APPROACHING BUSINESS CULTURE PROJECTS WITH A PLAN
novum: On your new website, you are introducing an "HR Strategy Map". A large format with a lot of keywords from the day-to-day cultural life of companies. How can one utilise it? What's its benefit?
Uwe Rotermund: For starters, the HR Strategy Map provides an overview of the playing field on which we fill business culture with life. It strives to mention all important areas and – from this overview – to allow each and every HR manager and each and every company's executive management to see its undertaking reflected therein. Subsequently, and in light of this broadly phrased inquiry of all relevant standards, projects involving cultural change can be planned. At the beginning of a business culture project, a detailed look at the map can help for orientation. In our culture consulting projects, the map stands at the beginning of identifying topics.
novum: Can interested parties get a copy of this HR Strategy Map?
Uwe Rotermund: Yes, of course. You can download the document as a PDF or also get it sent to you – free of charge – as an A0-sized print. I am personally looking forward to feedback when customers have worked with or "read" the map.
The conversation with Uwe Rotermund was led by Dr. Matthias Rensing, editor novum-online
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