Disruptivly back to the assembly line? (part 1)

By Alexander Klier By Jeffrey Backus Jun 10, 2015
Disruptivly back to the assembly line? (part 1)

Translation of the Original Article by Alexander Klier

„The digital transformation reaches the economy“. Tobias Kämpf (ISF) presents the empirical findings and theoretical conclusions of the research groupduring the WING conference on May 6th 2015.
Picture: Alexander Klier. Creative Commons 4.0 BY-SA (Attribution – Use under the same conditions)

The digital revolution offers the possibility to a fundamental redesign of the workplace“ (Press Release in German). If the Press Release and the determined empirical findings are to be believed, then there is the possibility for fundamental restructuring of work disruptively. The research finding were presented on May 6th 2015 at a conference of the WING project in the Literaturhaus in Munich, titled „Tomorrows’digital worplace needs the people (german). The surprisingly high number of participants of about 200 persons from „Politics, Economy and Science“, experts from the various companies, is an important indication about the high virulence of this topic. The symposium followed the same context conference a day prior „The demographic enterprise (German)” (a very good review of that conference is on their own domain www.democraticorganization.com.)  She also picked up the pevious discussion we had at the Social Business Arena 2015about the disruptive quality (for employess) of digital transformation (for example here, here und here).  I had the unique opportunity to attend the conference. The content of the presented research results were so compelling to me that I will try to reproduce the essential aspects for us at BeaS (Beck et al. Services). Due to the enormous informative content I will do this again in two parts. This part contains the presented empirical findings and what we conclude from them for us at BeaS. In part 2 (here) it will be about shining a light on the conference itself and finally to appreciate the keynote by Thomas Sattelberger. „The digital work world of tomorrow threatens to fail, if people are not involved in the redesign of the company in all key dimensions“ (Documentation). Already during the Welcome the importance of the employees’ participation in reorganizing companies was clearly stressed, as well as how fragile and rare the actual efforts are in managing this task. The practical examples, that were supposed to be introduced by various companies promised to be all the more interesting But before that there was the current state of affairs.

Looking for a new blueprint

That’s how the Representaion of the empirical results could be called in summary. He presented very detailed and knowledgable how the research group (Tobias Kämpf, Anja Bultemeier, Andreas Boes, Thomas Lühr) sees the current situation. The starting point is that – with the digital possibilities of Web 2.0 and social collaboration software – a new (social) sphere of action has arisen. This sphere of digital information can provide real productivity gains. However, only if it results in an implementation of new forms of cooperation – such as collaboration and transparent communication outside the work processes. With these tenets everything, we at BeaS have long said repeatedly, comes to fruition: a disruptive conversion of the old tayloristic-hierarchical organizational framework of the workforce is necessary (here und here).

„Companies are re-inventing themselves“. The last point – that collaborative processes are becoming structurally the backbones of enterprises - seems particularly important to me.
Slide from Tobias Kämpf’s presentation at the Wing Project’s conference on May 6th 2015. Used with permission

What will be new and unfamiliar for the companies is that there will only be a (real) digital transformation if the process is being seen holistically, because “the change in the workforce affects the enterprise on all levels”. Affected are - besides the concrete organization of work – the understanding of Leadership and career design as well as the relationship between Work and Life in the corporate culture (Press Release). Therefore you can’t want one thing and changing it without shaping the other alongside. For example designing a digital workplace without thinking about the necessary new form of Leadership (compared to Guidance) and implementing this as a change process. Tobias Kämpf illustrated this very illustratively using various examples. The researchers of the project see the development at a crossroads:

  1. Through this development there may be an emergence towards a new way to work. This would be characterized by humanization, transparency and mutual collaboration as the core of a new economy.
  2. But, it might also be possible that it will lead to a „digital assembly line“ and „Control-Panoptikum“ (for example by Rule of numbers). In this case, it would be attempted to achieve productivity gains without the appropriate involvement of the employees.
I have tweeted one of the core statement above. To move the decision-making-processes to the groups and teams is a very rational choice, even from an economic standpoint. Picture: Presentation of the empirical data by Tobias Kämpf. Photo: Alexander Klier, CC 4.0 (BY-SA)

In the present however, in regards to these two possibilities the course is constantly being reset (or rather: often enough not being set at all) and decisions being made. The search for a new blueprint no longer only concerns the companies. It is ultimately a question of adjusting the social organizations accordingly. So much for the report.

The digital Dividend

Is the digital space for Information and Action to be used without benefiting the affected – the employees – in the sense of new and better working conditions? Point 2 in particular, the digital assembly line, would literally just mean: that the new technologies are not being (or cannot be) applied or used disruptively. A position that has to be critically questioned. Not in the sense that such a development for a realistic work organization wouldn’t be possible. But, to take the quote from the press release seriously: then the digital revolution will fail. This is also our unswerving position and often made experience. It is not possible for a digital assembly line to achieve the productivity gains or the digital dividend it is expected to. The digital assembly line is unable to use the digital space for information and actions adequately. In our view, disruptive-innovative products for example can only be realized within a digital organization in the sense of a network and/or a real Social-Collaboration. But we obviously have to openly admit that the outcome of digital transformation is currently unknown. And also that too many enterprises delay and wait to see if it all may just “go away”. This is why our own Consulting Approach – to begin with little steps (to just do or make) without forgetting about the goal – would be a gain for the hesitaters.

Now we discuss it all

According to the researchers the employees “who might view facets of the change positively, but meet the entire development (still) with uncertainty or mistrust” would get to feel the openness of the outcome (Press Release in German). Generally the question should be asked if and to what degree the employees (and their representatives) should or shouldn’t be included in the far-reaching digital transformation, for it to have even just rudimentary chances of succeeding. In the end this was the fundamental question during the - not really all that innovative - discussion following the presentation of the empirical findings.

A discussion about the empirical findings (unfortunately) happened without the Plenum and their expertise. But there were a few enlightening contributions on stage.
Picture: Stage discussion at the Wing project conference
Photo: Alexander Klier, CC 4.0 (BY-SA)

Represented on the podium were:

  • PD Dr. Andreas Boes, Wing-Projekt coordinator and Board Member of ISF München,
  • Matthias Grund, Head of the andrena objects ag,
  • Alfred Löckle, Corporate Works Council and Chairman of the Corprate Works Council of Robert Bosch GmbH,
  • Natalie Lotzmann, Vice President HR, Chief Medical Officer, Global Health Management der SAP SE,
  • Hans-Jürgen Urban, Managing Director of IG Metall

In a strange unanimity on the podium it was emphasized that it is crucial to involve the employees in the process. Furthermore they talked about the impact of the development on labor and social rights, health and new management concepts. "The promotion of core competences by qualification and periodic training as well as a working culture that - as a central actor and real empowerment - promotes the team" were also topics of discussion. Especially the latter again very directly resonates with our own discussions on leadership and empowerment of employees yet again. Unfortunately the exciting and unanswered question how such profound changes can be broadcast to win plenty advocates for the necessary change process was not a topic of the discussion. Andreas Boes’ note that it all obviously has a lot to do with changing values and political ideas in a society in regards to shaping the working environment was in my opinion really good. This was the substantial overview of the conference. What will be in Part 2? After the findings here I will continue to follow the conferences’ agenda and speak again about the discussion on the stage and afterwards about the practical examples. And then I will end on the concise Keynote by Thomas Sattelberger and the resulting implications. Hoping for a mutual progress of knowledge through discussion about the last two Blog entries.