“Fear strengthens us, but we must face it as leaders.”

“Talking Heads” as part of the Perikom Good Practice series.

“Fear – the brake on digital transformation” was the topic of the Heads’ invitation to the auditorium of the new National Museum building on 23 October. The topic obviously struck a chord – more than 70 guests accepted the invitation. The first speaker, renowned occupational physician Dr Dieter Kissling, got straight to the point: “Fear strengthens us, but we must face it as leaders.” If we do not, fear sets physiological processes in motion that cannot be ignored. These are not limited to the well-known effects of stress, such as sleep disturbance or irritability, but block the cognitive thinking of the frontal brain. This leads to poor concentration and impaired judgement. You become nervous, apathetic, cynical or sarcastic and prone to making mistakes. Managers in charge of digital transformation are more challenged than ever to convey appreciation and gratitude, to be a role model, to inspire, to stimulate intellectually, to be present and to assess individually. “Times are more demanding”, says the occupational physician. “In the past, there were clear structures and self-efficacy was palpable because you had quantifiable things to do. How many days a year do you go home in the evening and ask yourself: What have I actually done today? Managers need to do this, but so do employees. To cope with stress, people should get enough exercise, use specific relaxation techniques, take breaks and get enough sleep.” According to Kissling, sleep is a gift and 90 per cent of people need seven to eight hours of it every day. It is also a good idea not to set yourself too high expectations in your working life and not to try to change things that cannot be changed.

Daniel Hünebeck, former Head of Digital at UBS, described the context of digital transformation, which can create uncertainty and cannot be completely avoided: At UBS, internal candidates had to be rejected because only digital expertise counted, not banking knowledge. Employees have seen their old ways of doing things suddenly become ineffective. And ideas were mercilessly rejected by the digital team if they did not make sense digitally. Intensive communication was needed to counter uncertainty and fear. And not in the form of one-off training sessions, but with regular and intensive information. Hünebeck: “We always tried to invite and inform everyone involved. Those affected by the changes were generally very open. And when the results proved us right, the employees trusted us and came up with good ideas. It’s important to build trust”.

The third speaker, Corinne Pellerin, Chief Commercial Officer ewz, is convinced that change works best when everyone is involved from the start. Technological change enables many smart solutions in the energy industry. But it also requires that opportunities are quickly grasped and turned into value-added products. Her company has to keep up with the rapid pace of development with limited human and financial resources. To accelerate change, Corinne Pellerin is not relying on a digital “speedboat department”, but on a path that involves all employees. Corinne Pellerin: “If you really want to create change, I firmly believe that you can’t leave people behind, but that they should all be part of the process and experience and help shape the change. As a result, her business unit sets change goals on a quarterly basis. These are communicated internally as a call to action and employees are invited to submit initiatives to achieve them. Suggestions are also invited from across the business for each change objective. The initiatives submitted are then prioritised. Pellerin: “It’s also important to do waiver planning and clearly communicate what you don’t want to do or don’t want to do yet.” Acceptance criteria would then be defined for each initiative, and the person responsible for implementation would sign off that the goal had been achieved. Up to the point of implementation, the process is agile, but in the implementation itself, it is up to the project manager to choose the right method to achieve the goal. After a year, 75 percent of the people in their area had instigated initiatives. And 25 percent of the projects had been submitted across departments. Of course, not everything has to be agile, says Corinne Pellerin, but the potential of the agile approach is great. You learn to get better through iteration, and that leads to more sustainable solutions. If people can develop within this framework, it will be easier to attract and retain talent. It is crucial that management not only understands the approach, but also lives it and communicates it strongly. It is also important not to start as many projects as possible, but rather to start a few and achieve the goal before starting something new. This not only reduces stress, but also creates the opportunity to consciously experience the success achieved. That is why the internal credo is: “Stop starting, start finishing.”

— Ralph Hermann / 30.10.2018