According to an African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It describes a critical success factor for the digital transformation in companies and the world: great things only happen when we all work together, regardless of our diverse backgrounds and histories, ways of thinking, experiences, genders, paths of life, talents, and preferences. We never get tired of emphasizing that digital transformation primarily means a change in behavior and thinking. And that takes time! Only then can transformation – in the second step – be shaped in a meaningful way with the help of technology.
Fools with Tools?
At the moment, it seems as though technology is constantly passing us by, and many companies are just jumping on board to make sure they don’t miss out. But without the corresponding cultural shift, any technological progress will fizzle out. In the LinkedIn Live session on “Brave New Work”, Marcus Schaper phrased it well: A fool with a tool is still a fool. Company processes do not improve simply by being digitized; a bad process remains a bad process, even if the transmission channel changes. Human communication doesn’t improve just because it is carried out on more channels. Just as recruiting doesn’t automatically improve when AI is implemented. The extent to which technology is linked to culture and human inadequacy is particularly evident with the use of AI. For example, when AI identifies a nurse as the female counterpart to a doctor, or when facial recognition software fails to work for people of color (examples taken from the book “On the Way to New Work”).
In the end, technology is only as “good” or “bad” as the person operating it. The same applies to the world of “New Work” in general and to any approaches and methods within companies that can be subsumed under the term “New Work”. After all, being human means being fallible and having both positive and negative qualities. If you claim to put people in the focus of your efforts, you should consequently deal with the whole range of human traits, not just the pleasant, pastel-colored ones that put you in a good mood, but also, and more importantly, those that can spoil your entire painting if used in the wrong dosage, to use a metaphor. Companies that are prepared to do this have a very good chance of bringing out the best in people and as a result being economically successful.
Homogeneity is problematic.
That means work. A lot of work. On ourselves and with the people in the organization. Because New Work can only succeed if we manage to develop competencies that enable us to work toward a common goal despite all our differences. What’s more, we need to value the diversity of perspectives, be prepared to subordinate ourselves, seek out and include the other, the unknown, the contradictory, and be prepared to grow in this process. This requires a constant reflection of our role(s) in the work culture in which we operate and a critical examination of our prejudices and evaluation patterns. To get started, it’s a good idea to take a look at our immediate work environment: What is the composition of my team? How diverse is it in terms of age, gender, social background, religion, etc.? – Journalist Louka Goetzke writes “Diversity is when it hurts.” Because this is what separates mere actionism (“We hire a woman because the public expects it of us.”) from actual progress (“We fill the position with a woman because we have recognized that diverse teams find much better solutions.”). He/she writes further: “A homogenous environment is not a coincidence, but a problem.
Unfortunately, this problem has not decreased significantly in recent years. The new AllBright report on family businesses shows that they are hardly making any progress in modernizing their management structures. For example, in March 2022, only 8.3 percent of the management boards of the 100 German family businesses with the highest turnover were made up of women. Among the 160 companies listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, the figure is somewhat higher at 14.3 percent, but it is still shockingly low by international standards. Unfortunately, the situation is no better in the start-up scene: For years, the proportion of young companies founded or managed by women has remained at around 16 percent. And this is in an environment where great innovations are allegedly being created. Where, if not here, should everyone have the same opportunities? Where, if not here, could it be demonstrated that we are serious when talking about cultural change and new, open, equal, and equitable structures in combination with smart technology? Instead, the same mechanisms and prejudices manifest themselves, for example towards women: Men promote men while claiming that they’d like to promote women, but just can’t find any.
Invest time in what matters* (*tech will do the rest)
What can we do? – We must continue to train our way of thinking, make the unconscious conscious, reflect on our reflexes, not believe everything we think, and instead allow ourselves to contemplate and correct our first impulses. To initiate these processes within companies and make them a habit with hundreds of employees requires time, dedication, and free space. These spaces can be created when we stop filling our workdays primarily with minor things and let the crucial matters – working with the people in the organization – fall by the wayside, hoping that someone else will take care of them or better yet, that they will take care of themselves. Neither will happen. Organizations need to recognize what needs to be done right now and focus their attention, time, and human (not artificial) intelligence: Thinking, reflecting, and building a new culture with new traditions. In this process, digital technology can be helpful and support the cultural shift. By handing over the minor tasks to smart technology, we can free up time and spend it focusing on human connections and our inner work. Developing or changing an attitude takes time. Inner growth takes time. Learning what makes others tick takes time – but at the same time, it helps us cope better with differences. A working world characterized by diversity will not be easier, but it will be more beautiful. It’s worth investing in it today, even if for some people (the male species in particular) that means initially giving something up. The business ethicist Ingo Pies once said that the essence of an investment is to give up something today to get something that is even more important tomorrow. For some it is entrepreneurial success, for others, it is a friendly and open work environment. Real diversity and continuous collaboration on a new corporate culture create both.
Going the distance together
“A long haul is tedious, but you don’t solve complex problems in a sprint,” writes Wolf Lotter in brandeins magazine (issue 5 / 2018). Digital transformation is a marathon. We should allow ourselves to start running, stumble, and fall along the way. In the process, we’ll learn that it’s okay to forge ahead sometimes and fall behind at others. And that it’s important to catch your breath now and then and pass the baton to another person who has more energy or more experience in long-distance running. Even if their running style is different and their running shorts are purple. If we know where we’re going, we won’t run out of breath.
Where do you want to go?