Interviews

Without the Right Backing, You Won’t Have Change

About processes of change in corporations

Last summer I met with Gerhard Stamm. Stamm is the owner and managing director of Stamm Consulting Group based in Barcelona. The graduate engineer has many years of international experience in the expansion, reorganization and restructuring of production companies. Under the Spanish sun we talked about the problems of change processes in corporations from the point of view of an external interim manager.

Gerhard, what are the biggest challenges when leading transformation in companies?

You have to be able to make it clear to everyone involved where the journey is heading to. That sounds banal at first but the biggest challenge is to convince the workforce of the change and lead them to face the need. Often people don’t understand what you want – and don’t see the need. But should the team fail to understand your vision, doesn’t see it your way, you have no chance.

Especially in large companies everybody likes “to swim in their own juice”. Simply because many of these corporations are often the cash cows that are slow but work. This mindset then spreads into the culture and people become sluggish. No one questions the processes any more. And when the critical questioning gets lost, you are left standing as the only responsible person who needs to pull everyone else behind you.

How do you identify these symptoms?
Some try to go along with you yet they don’t question your impulse for change. That works well for a while. You think to yourself, “okay, it’s going ahead, the team is initiating the process”. But then you pay the department a visit and see: “we have barely moved from where we were”. People simply failed to understand what you were about. Everybody is shifting responsibilities and there are no expectations.

Whose task is it to clarify the responsibilities?
The leadership, of course. This must come from above and be made clear from the onset. We make this happen in individual and group discussions as well as in presentations. We try to explain to the people what it is all about for them. We want to arouse interest, ignite the fire for the vision. Clear communication is indispensable. And if the staff doesn’t understand your strategy, of course you also have to question yourself. Clear and open communication also means choosing the right language. Many transformation kick-off’s fail due to a failed choice of language or expressing ideas poorly.

Distinguish between change and transformation?
For me, every form of change implies a change in behavior. But first the way of thinking has to change. And to achieve that, you have to activate people’s willingness to change.

We want to arouse interest, ignite the fire for the vision. Clear communication is indispensable. And if the staff doesn’t understand your strategy, you have to question yourself.

Gerhard Stamm, Owner and Managing Director Stamm Consulting Group

How do you do it?
For example, by visiting other companies with your team. From your own industry or from a completely different industry but from the same functional area. This can broaden your horizons tremendously and also triggers among the staff the right impulses and motivation.

The only problem in many companies is that bureaucratic structures prevent change. Sometimes the personnel department doesn’t play along, sometimes it’s the legal department or simply the time it takes for an application to be approved for an external company visit. Lethargy is the general problem of large corporations.

Another way to activate and motivate employees for the cause are seminars and workshops.

You had just touched on leadership. What does leadership in transformation mean to you?
My experience shows that many managers lack the understanding that they are the key to the success of change. Often people at the second and third management levels lack a sense of duty. No one is involved. Everybody puts responsibility on their shoulders. I often notice this in meetings. Leaders don’t think enough about the topic in advance. When I observe something like this, I ask myself directly whether there is a lack of change competence in the team – and how can this be countered.

Are managers still prisoners of their old thought constructs?

Yes and no. I believe that many managers are currently in a new phase of self-discovery. In my last project it was quite respectable what the management teams could achieve. However, due to the extent of the changes in requirements, many of them are no longer able to keep up. Roles are redistributed, specialist areas are eliminated, merged or newly added.

Due to such changes, managers often have to find each other anew in order to keep their orientation. They must acquire a new visionary foundation, which they can then pass on to their team. This can be observed more dramatically in larger companies because on the one hand they are slow and on the other there are simply more managers there than in smaller companies.

What is your approach to change impulses?
You always need a clear line. However, this should never be considered as set and static. Rather it serves as an approximate signpost. It has to be questioned again and again. In change projects and transformation processes, especially in change and transition, resistances always emerge at some point that were not on the radar in advance.

However: Everything has a reason. And this reason has to be discovered. A lot of sensitivity is required for this. As a responsible person you have to be honest and close to the people and build trust. This is the only way that people are prepared to address problems and to carry them around. Everything must be discussed, otherwise no change will succeed. It must be clear to those involved that change is not initiated without reason. You want to improve something. And what exactly that is you have to make clear to your team. More returns? Higher productivity? New system? If that succeeds, the participants begin to share, get involved and even get enthusiastic about the project.