More courage for experiments

Guest contribution by | 27.04.2020

Learning and experimental spaces in small and medium-sized enterprises

When it comes to digitisation, experiences, solutions and opinions differ widely. Once an instrument has been found, someone in the company will certainly try to master all the challenges that lie ahead with this instrument. It is not uncommon for this approach to cause frustration and mistakes, so that many companies have “learned” to simply leave everything as it is. On the one hand, there is often neither the space nor the time, let alone the money, to learn together on urgent and important issues and also to dare to try one or the other experiment. On the other hand, well-known companies land one product success after another. In pandemic times, it seems that digital solutions are crying out to be tried out now.

Are experiments only something for large companies?

Everything only for companies with research and development departments? Not at all! With the focus on digitisation, even if this may sound trite, companies of all sizes must become active. According to some studies, small and medium-sized companies are more cumbersome than large companies when it comes to the use and further development of digital solutions. For example, medium-sized companies in particular suffer from a lack of digital skills, as a recent study by the Kfw noted.¹

However, the lack of innovative ability does not relate to existing products. Rather, it is about creating truly new products and processes. This may be because one central question in the digitalisation jungle is difficult to answer:

Where do we start?

If my problem is the kind for which clever minds have already developed a standard solution, all that is needed now is the knowledge of where to get it and how to implement it cost-effectively. If the challenge is more diverse or difficult to grasp, a solution may be miles away from a known or industry standard.

Learning and experimental space in medium-sized companies

The buzzwords agile and digital are omnipresent and one has become tired of dealing with them further. The wear and tear of our attention is fatal for SMEs at this point. The speed at which competitors are developing their business digitally can become a strategic risk if you let the subject of innovation slide.

Are there solutions to the problem? Of course there are! I once heard from an IT expert about “MUP – the method of carefree trial and error (die Methode des unbekümmerten Probierens)”. Irrespective of the fact that this reference can be confidently recommended in many digitisation issues, organisations and small businesses have a certain reluctance to do so. This is to be understood, especially in times of the corona virus, please try it out and you will get something out of it. If you want to proceed in a more structured way, but still be open to results, the learning and experimenting room, as realised in the programme unternehmensWert:Mensch plus, can help you.² It covers six areas of design in the company:

  • new business models & innovation strategies
  • production model & work organisation
  • Personnel policy, employment & qualification
  • social relations & culture
  • leadership, professional development & career
  • workplace of the future, working time & performance policy.

With all the need for new instruments, hardware or software solutions, even in times of increasingly intelligent AI, it still needs people and the organisation of processes in the corresponding system. Leadership and communication, a permanent fixture since the 1970s, is still a main focus in SMEs today, also and especially when it comes to getting something really new going. Employees and managers are often confronted with the question of what to do with the large amounts of data. Do we want to evaluate the accumulated health data in the company, perhaps because we use a corresponding app that controls the height-adjustable desk, and make it accessible to everyone? Do we want to draw conclusions from this? Such questions hardly seem to be superficial for digitisation projects. But if you don’t look at them, you can certainly hope for two effects: the (digital) innovations are ignored and accordingly not applied or directly attacked.In both cases the investment is lost.
In both cases the investment is lost.

It is therefore important, in addition to structural and personnel issues in the learning and experimenting space, to deal with all the issues that occupy people in the company. In any case, the method is part of the agile set of instruments that, on the one hand, maintains a certain pressure to develop, and on the other hand, literally opens up a space in which such thoughts and ideas can be discussed, thought and debated in detail at all.

How can you tell that learning and experimental spaces are urgently needed?

A clear sign that it is time to change something is always the insight that things are actually going well. The well-known saying with the donkey and the ice is no coincidence. Especially if you have sufficient resources at your disposal, it is easy to focus attention on the development of new products, processes or findings.

Here are a few more examples where you should immediately start developing new, perhaps digital, “things” in your company:

  • When the boss, the managers or even the employees fall into the “TOOL madness” and carry new apps or digital little boxes in front of them every day as a salvation bringer in their everyday work.
  • When everyone looks at their smartphone during breakfast or lunch and does not (no longer) talk to each other.
  • When sales and profits slowly but steadily decline.
  • When you can no longer interest young people in your company with your personnel search or cannot reach them at all. Unfortunately, this usually only becomes apparent when it is completely too late.
  • When employee loyalty suffers, dissatisfaction spreads even though nothing much has changed.
  • When …

The list can be extended “arbitrarily”. The core questions in the everyday life of SMEs are too often only asked on the verge of 100% capacity utilisation. This stress can be counteracted by those who work regularly and in a structured manner on the further development of digital skills, their own solutions or the integration of purchased digital solutions. The boss doesn’t always have to do this, the employees are the experts in their field, it just takes time and the opportunity to exchange thoughts and ideas with these experts. Almost an awareness for regular meaningful (not only digital) development work.

To arrange this exchange in a learning and experimenting space with a process consultant of one’s own confidence brings a developmental boost that is often not achieved in the “normal” everyday life of a company or organisation. More courage to experiment, even if you can’t exactly predict the result – the present and the future want to be shaped, we just have to take the time.


Notes (in German):

[1] Mittelstand leidet an Mangel von Digitalkompetenzen
[2] Hilfe von unternehmesWert:Mensch plus

Sven Lehmann

Sven Lehmann

Goethe once said that all theory remains grey … if one does not follow up with action. Sven Lehmann has been a corporate, organisational and personnel developer, coach and supervisor, blogger, with a focus on developing companies and people for over 25 years. Whether the actual development of the change project, a workshop, for example on corporate strategy or mission statement development, a seminar or training on communication, lifetime coaching for the individual or autogenic training for relaxation and concentration – Sven Lehmann is happy to help develop people and companies. Just talk to him.