Achim presents new ways to work at Kreativrendezvous with the chamber of trade Bremen, Germany, economic development Bremen, and KLUB DIALOG e.V.
Mr. Hensen, which challenges will companies face in the future?
Achim Hensen: Due to Digitalisation and globalisation companies have to deal with high complexity and competition. This requires enormous flexibility. Tradition hierarchical organisations are often not the best solution for those challenges. They were developed for different times. At the same time we see more and more employees who are continuously unhappy with the working conditions on many companies. You could say they fill like a crew in machine. This can lead to dissatisfaction, low motivation and responsibility and burn-out. According to the Gallup research 90% of employees in Germany have mentally resigned. We can not afford that as a society.
Do the need and wishes of the so called „generation Y“ play it’s part?
I think we can observe that we experience a time of social change. And this society needs an economy that serves the people. We need an economy that allows people to find and use their full potential. One answer to increased complexity is the human ability to cooperate – and achieve more by doing so. This trend falls on organisational structures which were not designed to foster cooperation, agile work flows and full use of individual potential.
Do you know companies which already work in this way?
Yes, there are many – working in very different branches. Everywhere where brave people dare to do things differently. Zeiss and Bosch for example developed new ownership structure a long time ago. In regards of the organisation and collaboration many examples for various company sizes exist: Semco in Brazil and Buurtzorg in the Netherlands are two impressive examples.
How exactly should companies organise to meet the challenges you are talking about?
There is no perfect organisational blueprint, how a company „should“ look like. We want to help companies who face those challenges to develop the best individual solution. The task is to find a suitable solution for the company, the people involved and the market they are working in. This is a highly individual process. Our target group shares the feeling and wish to find solution beside the mainstream paradigms. Last but not least this includes to question the shareholder value maximisation paradigm. A company should benefit its customers, employees and society. We offer help to implement an ownership solution that enables companies to make sure that decisions are always made by the people who are responsible in the company – and not from outside investors. At the same time this ownership structure is a binding commitment that profits are means to an end and not an end in itself. With those principles enshrined in the status we can prevent responsibility from being outsourced and lay the foundation for responsible organisation. Steward-ownership as we call is requires alternative investment opportunities. We offer this with Purpose Ventures and a network of purpose driven investors.
Does this always mean to abolish formal hierarchical structures?
No, not always. This again is something every organisation has to decide for themselves. In many cases we observed that steward-ownership furthers alternative management styles as well. We support companies and facilitate the process. The best solution is something that can be different in every company.
For us it is important that people can take responsibility to create the organisation they are working in. If a team decides that they want and need formal hierarchies, than is may be the best solution and is completely appropriate. Even though I think many challenges today can be best answered with a mixed team with different competencies. This means new requirements and need for management tasks. I believe devoutly that people want and can take responsibility for themselves and their challenges at hand. I mean they are doing that in their private lives and other contexts as well. For me just getting rid of all hierarchies is not the answer. It would be more suitable to speak of organisation with changing hierarchies to enable the best solution for changing challenges in various situations. Leadership is something that can change and instead of a formal hierarchy you can speak of ever-changing, socially and situativlye justified leadership.
How can a medium sized company achieve such a structure?
Every company should start the venture in a suitable way for themselves. For the tart this could mean to replace a traditional hierarchy with dialogical leadership and lay the foundation to fundamentally transfer the organisation in the future. Perhaps you develop mixed teams instead of traditional departments. The steps on the way can and should be very individual. For me the willingness to question existing structures and create suitable solutions will be critical in the future.
What are suitable ownership structures for companies that want to increase employee participation?
It is about finding structures that represent and enable responsibility. Decision power should lie with the by people who are accountable and in the company – not with distant investors. Longterm company interest should be insured and not private profit maximisation. Legally that means dividing voting and dividend rights.
Which solutions does Purpose suggest?
Basically every company can commit to the principles I mentioned above and write them in their statutes. But they can always decide to change them if they want to. So this step is not really a binding commitment towards employees and customers. There are some legal structures to really enshrine your commitment and make it not changeable. With Purpose we offer support and one special „ownership hack“ that makes it comparable easy to transform your company to steward-ownership. With the charitable Purpose Foundation we make sure that those two aspects of the company statutes become not changeable and by that a binding commitment.
Are there concrete examples?
Yes, Buurtzorg a health care organisation from the Netherland is organised in an impressive way and by the way completely revolutionised it’s market. Regarding ownership structures companies like Wala or Carls Zeiss have structures similar to steward-ownership.
Are you aware of examples from Bremen?
I unfortunately don’t know any regarding ownership. But Traum-Ferienwohnung and Ujam are companies with successful alternative management and organisational structures.
How will management change in the future?
The challenge is to find ways to deal with changed market conditions. In a complex word we need management structures which are equally agile. In such markets for me it seems insufficient to just improve existing blueprints. It will be important to be open and brave enough to question fundamental underlying assumptions. And not just regarding management structures. I think many thinks will change fundamentally. How do we understand work? How does digitalisation influence the labour markets? Should economy aim for profit maximisation or shouldn’t we focus on an economy that really serves society? What does that mean for social and creative labour? I believe the basic assumptions about work will change. How? We have to find that out together and have an open mind to create an economy that serves the people and society.