Transformation doesn’t start with you, it starts with me

Sound familiar? It’s usually someone else making the mistakes. And if someone has to change, it’s the other guy. That’s why it’s no surprise that managers are mainly focused on what employees now have to do differently in the age of digital transformation. And yet sustainable transformation always begins with ourselves and only afterwards with everyone else. This is a quick how-to guide for bosses who want to appeal to employees to participate in digital transformation.

When talking about digital change in a corporation, everyone is ready with recommendations for each other. Only a few make the first step about setting their own houses in order. The result is hardened stances before anyone has really begun to make changes. The digitalization of business models, nay the entire world, requires an extensive willingness to change and thus a new way of interacting with each other.

It is human nature to first view change with skepticism. There are few people who consent to something before critically reflecting on it, and rightly so. As a rule of thumb, most people confront their concerns and eventualities before willingly lending their support.

With that in mind, managers looking to convince employees of change within the framework of digitalization strategies must tirelessly commit to setting a good precedent. Leading by example so to speak. Only by changing ourselves can we convince others to change and, in so doing, bring them on the digital bandwagon for the long haul.

The classic principle of command and obey that Germans have learned in various contexts is diametrically opposed to that which the digital wave demands. The role of the boss in the digital age is being redefined from the ground up: instead of exercising power, it’s about changing how we interact with each other. Leadership is now more about moderation and balanced interests. In the age of the network, the powerful backrooms are floodlit and even the most remote corner of the world is now just a click away.

So if the chairman wants to convince his staff to adopt a communication enhancing open-plan office, he might want to first consider how he can put his 50 square meter office to better use. Klöckner CEO Gisbert Rühl offers his executive office to his employees as a conference room when he’s not around. Axel Springer Head, Mathias Döpfner, shrunk his own office down to 12 square meters since he is usually on the road or setting things in motion in meeting rooms.

Digitalization requires a new kind of openness based on this way of interacting with each other and a willingness to realize one’s own role in the change process. Mandates and orders suffocate these interactions through knee-jerk reactions. By contrast, the invitation to participate moves mountains. So try it out on yourself the next chance you get!