Weathering change – An interview with Dr Andreas Zeuch

Businesses are changing. Leadership is changing. Business models are changing. Dr Andreas Zeuch, a consultant for self-organization and corporate changes, talks to us about defining problems and finding concrete approaches to solving change process challenges.

Michael Schenkel: Dr Zeuch, you held a keynote address at our user conference about your current book “Power to the people. The rise of corporate democracy”. It was about agility and self-organization. Considering that you are primarily a consultant and not an author, what kind of companies do you think could achieve what you’re talking about?

Andreas Zeuch: There are many different companies. It ranges from companies with 70,000 employees all the way through to small businesses with 10-40 employees. The industries are also very diverse, although there is an identifiable trend in the service industry. That makes sense… IT companies have been thinking about agility for a long time. Methods like scrum that require a lot of self-organization are already being implemented throughout the nation.

Michael Schenkel: Does that not mean that there will be a big gap between consulting in small businesses and large corporations that prefer large consulting companies?

Andreas Zeuch: (laughs) It’s very true that those are often different worlds. I was surprised when I first consulted in large companies. They approached me because of my book “Power to the people”. The HR manager read it and found it interesting. He knew me because we had sat together for many years so he called me up. At first I thought he was trying to hide something. But then I became convinced that self-organization and agility are important topics currently being discussed by management. Then I began to wrap my mind around the first step – organizing a workshop for around 40 international CEOs. The reactions and results were wonderful. Except for one participant everyone was open and interested in the issue and they took it seriously. Now we are about to take the second step, to introduce this topic in an internal top executive training course.

Michael Schenkel: I’ve got a strange question: how can a company with 10 employees afford you?

Andreas Zeuch: A small company with a staff of 10 often can’t afford a consultant, or at least not at the usual rates. That’s why I offer to operate as an investor. Sometimes I work at a reduced rate and in rare cases even for free in order to participate in future profits. I invest my labor at my own risk because I believe the changes lead to more self-organization and – if they are done right – they will make future success in the company more likely.

Michael Schenkel: And is that working?

Andreas Zeuch: First of all, this basic model does not often get used, it’s the exception not the rule. And of course there are contracts with which it has not worked, once someone passed away. But that’s not the case here, in contrast to the situation in many startups. Failure is much more likely than success. In my experience the opposite tends to happen, which probably speaks for the economic efficiency and effectiveness of self-organization – as opposed to the top-down leadership models, which venture capitalist investors advocate. It would be worth it to test that out scientifically, I can only speak for my personal experience.

Michael Schenkel: Could you explain that in a more concrete way? Once a contract has been issued, is there a standard procedure or is it a unique procedure every time?

Andreas Zeuch: Clients are beginning to ask these questions too. There are definitely similarities on an abstract level: first of all I am hired by people who have authority over change processes and who oversee the payment. Most of the time that’s the management or the board and sometimes the head of department.

Secondly I try to get a broad number of staff members onboard as early as possible. A fundamental part of democratic organizations – or to put it more soberly – of self-organization – is the collective problem definition. If the CEO is the only one who identifies a problem and the staff only get invited to develop a solution, there is a risk that the actual problem will not be addressed. It’s like a drunkard looking for his keys at the lantern because that’s where the light is and not because he lost it there.

Michael Schenkel: Could you explain that in a more concrete way?

Andreas Zeuch: Sure! Contractors have a very different experience to CEOs who spend most of their time in their offices. They know of problems that the CEO might be oblivious to. The top management is often shielded from the general employees’ experience. Also, as the size of the group of people grows so does their capacity to receive information and process it. It would not be a very efficient or effective information processing strategy to not use that approach. It is counter-productive to restrict this vital task to just a few people when making corporate decisions that involve transformation or strategic developments etc.

A discussion with Dr Andreas Zeuch

A discussion with Dr Andreas Zeuch

Michael Schenkel: Ok. You have outlined the task and the problem. What happens next?

Andreas Zeuch: What happens next will depend on different factors: urgency and goal orientation, past initiatives, familiarity with self-organized processes in the organization, financial and time-based resources and the market, to name just a few aspects. That is to say: for the rest of the time standard processes, from my perspective, do not promise success.

Michael Schenkel: But what how do you know if 12 months or 5 days of consulting are required?

Andreas Zeuch: That’s why there’s an explanation at the beginning. The duration and scope can be estimated relatively well, depending on the goals that are formulated and depending on what has already happened: which successes and failures have been experienced and how large and complex the company is.

Michael Schenkel: To end off, what would you like to see in the future of your career?

Andreas Zeuch: I would like to find companies that want to make a change and I hope that they would find me. That sounds small but it is fundamentally important. I want to find people who want to get moving and who want a change but who might not know what that looks like yet. Recently I actually met another potential client here in Berlin. Only about 10 minutes away from here. Perfect opportunity. Another thing which has benefits for clients is that there are no travel expenses. And if I have to, and I am not busy with another client, I can always drop by spontaneously.

Michael Schenkel: There’s something to that. Thank you for the interesting insights Dr Zeuch.

Andreas Zeuch: My pleasure. See you soon.

 

Note:

Dr Andreas Zeuch accompanies organizations on the path to more self-organization. He tries to help them achieve more company satisfaction, more staff loyalty, improve their innovation potential and increase their adaptability and robustness in dynamic markets. More information about Dr Andreas Zeuch can be found here at http://www.a-zeuch.de/ (German only).

The trailer to the keynote address at the 26th microTOOL user conference can be viewed here:

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My name is Michael Schenkel – and I believe in tools, if they are useful. Tools that support users in their work, tools that provide a common working environment for all types of roles in a project.

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