New Work and Old Work – An interview with Dr. Andreas Zeuch
Many organisations are in a state of upheaval. New concepts for New Work are being sought. A conversation with Dr. Andreas Zeuch, consultant for self-organisation and co-determination, about New Work and Old Work, about bridges between the worlds and a conference in March 2020.*
Michael: Hi Andreas, we’ve known each other for quite some time. You deal with corporate democracy and corporate democrats, are a book author and an expert on New Work. Now I read that you are also on the move in the context of Lean Management. How did that happen?
Andreas: Hello Michael. A good question to start with. This is how it came: In 2016 I met Ralf Volkmer from today’s Leanbase at NextAct16. We immediately liked each other and in 2017 I was on the Lean Around the Clock #LATC2017 for the first time. This was a completely crazy Lean event with an endless stream of lectures over two days, which nobody could follow continuously, which was exactly the intention. I was impressed at that time by Ralf’s mercilessly personal way of greeting all 170 participants in person with a handshake and consequently meeting them all at eye level. In 2018 I was there again, at that time with already 512 participants and this year with over 600 people. Ralf then approached our team and invited us to think Lean and New Work together. Because there are quite diverse connections and points of contact, as Franziska Gütle also explained in a small German series of three articles in the corporate democrats’ blog. We couldn’t resist this invitation, especially since Ralf also takes a very generous risk alone by renting the entire Maimarkt site in Mannheim, Germany. We have now only the task to convert our second “New Concepts for New Work” conference in this framework.
The Understanding of New Work
Michael: I was also at the event in 2019 and was surprised twice. On the one hand, there still seem to be enough people and organisations who define New Work more by outward appearances, for example the cool workplace and free drinks. Do you have that same impression?
Andreas: No, not at all, the majority of the New Work community has a deep understanding that there is much more at stake, including a profound change in the previous decision culture and decision design. Seriously, I’m right there with you, and I feel the same way. In addition to that: New Work or agility should be reached by the comprehensive use of appropriate methods, first and foremost Scrum, by quickly conducting relevant trainings and educating Product Owners and Scrum Masters.
Michael: I don’t think that learning by training is generally wrong, but often the intention remains undefined. Why does an organisation want to become more agile? And what does that even mean? Be faster on the market? React more flexibly to customer needs? Develop sustainable products or spend a cool time in the company? Apart from that: who forces change in companies?
Andreas: I’m with you again – there’s nothing wrong with acquiring knowledge through training. Of course. But that is by no means enough, the reduction to that is the problem. I share your questions about the intention. From my experience the examples you mentioned are already excellent. Sometimes the reaction time is more in the spotlight, more generally speaking the adaptability of an organisation, sometimes better customer service and so on. Those who push for change are one thing. However, six years ago, when I started researching the case studies of my last book in the companies on site, I realised that it was more important that the top management really wanted the change, that it set a good example for the whole organisation and that they were open to self-reflection. In other words: without sincerely having the top management on board, there will be no success in building bridges.
The Bridge to Lean Management
Michael: Building bridges is a good catchword, because you want to create connections. If I understood it properly, between Old Work and New Work. I would be interested to know if this separation really exists or what Ralf and you imagine on one side or the other. But before that – and this was my second surprise at #LATC – I would like to bring “Lean” into play. Under Lean Management there seems to be even less common ground?! Some people talk about innovative approaches and, for example, the development of minimal viable products, others see it as a mindset, and some build a production line in which people optimise their sequences of steps in order to only have to walk seven steps between two operations instead of eight.
Andreas: It’s not just Ralf and his team and I who want to make connections. They are also the cultural accomplices Daniela and Stefan Röcker. Together we want to push the topic forward.
I perceive Lean in the same way. But is that any surprise? Lean is just like New Work a more or less clearly defined term. As a result, everyone projects what is important to him or her into it. In Lean I do not presume any sovereignty over interpretation at all. However, I find it much more interesting that the two concepts and their associated worlds have exciting connections. For example, to understand the themes of self-organisation, participation, thinking and acting jointly as a continuous, ongoing process. For both, the organisation and its environment are not static, but constantly changing. Therefore the organisations have to adapt again and again or their actors have to work out this adaptation in continuous communication and interaction. Does that make sense for you?
Michael: Yes, it does. In fact, there is a reassuring message in your derivation: change is normal for people and organisations. Of course one – i.e. the individual person, you, me, we and the organisation as a regulatory framework for people – should pay attention to change, perhaps also strive for change, but in itself there is nothing frightening about it.
Andreas: I think that’s a very valid point. Basically, it’s about something natural: lively adaptation and change. Life is not static. Even the most hardened representatives of Top-Down wouldn’t contradict that. I’ve always said that in terms of corporate democracy: It’s about making leadership more dynamic. Get out of the static of the formal-fixed hierarchy. Corporate democracy, self-organisation, participation and, of course, New Work does not mean that we no longer have leadership, or that now everyone decides everything.
With regard to leadership, it is only a matter of dissolving the rigid structures. The idea is basically simple, but the path to it is anything but trivial. It is about reviving our organisations and the work there. Of course, tayloristic organisations have also adapted – but far too slowly for today’s speed of change. To put it bluntly, it needs more life in the shack. What’s important, as I wrote an SAP employee today, is that we don’t want to tear down everything. Sustainable building of bridges is more about finding out what was good in the past and what still makes sense today. Not everything from the old world was bullshit. We may still be able to use some things, but not others, but they should be honored. Well, and we can dispose of some of it without pomp and fuss.
Michael: If I understand you correctly, there is neither a blueprint that fits all companies, nor a “we just do everything differently now”. And now what? As an organisation, how do I decide what I should do, change, or keep? You also introduce a new term into our discussion: “leadership” – is leadership perhaps the bridge that provides the framework for change? Or to put it another way: do New Work and Lean overlap when it comes to leadership?
Andreas: Exactly. Blueprints or best practices that can simply be transferred by copy and paste are a naive illusion. However, those who “simply want to do everything differently” have found a great recipe for driving against a wall. The whole thing could be accelerated by changing everything at the same time.
About leadership: Yes, I see overlaps. In Lean, for example, Gemba is an important principle. Improvements can be made on site rather than from a management office far away from production. In other words: management by walk around, the workers on site are the ones who have the relevant know-how and we should involve them, ask them, let them think. It is easy to see that this is a democratic element. That’s what it’s all about, among other things: What can we learn from each other’s concepts, where are any relevant similarities and differences? And how can we use both framework concepts to build this “damn bridge”?
Michael: “Damn” as in “damn necessary”?
Andreas: You’d have to ask Ralf. That’s how I understood it: It’s about bloody time …
Michael: … time, to take joint control of change and initiate it. Can you tell us what you and your team have considered for the two days of the event?
What happens at the #NKNA20?
Andreas: I would love to. This time we do a few things differently than at the kick-off conference #NKNA18. We’re responding to the criticism that we got to hear along with a lot of praise:
- First of all, we now have two days instead of just one.
- Second, the workshops and sessions are now twice as long, 90 minutes.
- Third, we have added an important fourth social sector to the keynotes: science.
- And fourth, we invited one of the participants from the 2018 event to hold a future conference within the #NKNA20 on the second day. We want to facilitate the transfer into the working day after the event.
- Fifth and finally, this time we have even more time between the workshops and sessions, so that there is more air to breathe, to let your thoughts sink, to network etc.
Michael: Will there again be a keynote speech for each subject area – art, politics, business and now science? It sounds to me almost as if you want to build a bridge not only between Old Work and New Work and Lean Management, but also between essential social areas?
Andreas: Yes, there is one keynote per social sector. And yes: Exactly, we also want to bring together what is all too often separated in everyday life. I assume that building bridges sustainably and, above all, on a broad scale will only succeed if we also connect these sectors, allow ourselves to be inspired by each other and learn from each other. That’s why the #NKNA20 is also called a “trans-sectoral (un)conference”. It’s a bit bulky, but it’s a central aspect that I don’t know about anywhere else when it comes to the future of work.
Michael: Well, the future of work. What will it look like? Will there be a great similarity with Taylorism like perhaps in the past, or will an infinite number of variations of future work develop? What do you think?
Andreas: I would assume that there will be many variations, a kind of post-postmodern fragmentation, as we see in other sectors. We no longer have only three television stations, but countless TV/streaming media, which, by the way, is also a social problem. But that is another story. Of course tayloristic companies will continue to exist, at least for quite some time. And hopefully there will also be an increasing number of companies that are fundamentally different in terms of their basic entrepreneurial assumptions and culture, and thus also in terms of the respective organisational form and process organisation.
Michael: Is there anything you want from the participants? And maybe something you would be happy about if participants took it home with them?
Andreas: Oh, talking about wishes is nice. I would be very happy if the participants, both from “our” #NKNA20 and from #LATC2020, would go to the other event and get some inspiration. You often won’t have two exciting (un)conferences at the same time in one venue and the ticket also allows you to take part in both. It would be great if those interested in New Work could get a taste of Lean and vice versa.
Last but not least, it would be nice if our guests could both take a few specific ideas along and see the social dimension associated with the great transformation of work. In any case, we will offer both, and towards the end the future conference already mentioned will come, in order to facilitate a better transfer into everyday working life.
Michael: I’m already looking forward to the transfer into day-to-day work. Thank you for the interview.
Andreas: It was a pleasure. And we thank you for the opportunity to talk here about the #NKNA20.
Die #NKNA20 “Neue Konzepte für Neue Arbeit” – Old Work vs. New Work is held in German. (The translation would be: New Concepts for New Work.) It should have taken place on 19 and 20 March 2020 in Mannheim, Germany, but had to be postponed to January 2021.
Dr. Andreas Zeuch has published several articles in the t2informatik blog, including
Dr. Andreas Zeuch
Dr. Andreas Zeuch works as a freelance consultant, trainer, speaker and author. He accompanies companies on their way to more empowerment and corporate democracy. His books "Alle Macht für niemand. Aufbruch der Unternehmensdemokraten" and "Feel it!: So viel Intuition verträgt Ihr Unternehmen" are bestsellers and provide many practical examples.
Head of Marketing, t2informatik GmbH
Michael Schenkel holds a degree in business administration (BA) and is passionate about marketing. He likes to blog about project management, requirements engineering and marketing. And he is happy to meet you for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake.