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High-Tech instead of cowbells: Long-established companies become agile

How does a hierarchically organized company grow into a self-leading organization? By having consultants talk less - and using agile methods instead. An example from the southern German province that is becoming a high-tech country.

Cowbells, mountain meadows, crystal clear streams: the Allgäu in southern Germany advertises with these pictures. To this day, glass jewellery is blown, hats are felted, and cheese wheels are rolled in tourism brochures – a region that is rooted in tradition, from traditional costumes to the rustic dialect.

But if you only see postcard motifs and historical craftsmanship, you are missing something: one of the region's major energy suppliers may at first seem traditional and not very changeable. But the local municipal utility has opted for a fundamental change, which will have a major impact and raise crucial questions.

How does innovation become part of the company DNA?

With all due respect of tradition, this is primarily about the future, the spirit of innovation and how it is applied to classical hierarchically organized companies. How do routines and habits change? How does innovation become part of the company DNA?

Our practical example: umlaut accompanies an energy supplier at Allgäu. The business rapidly changed in recent years, became more diverse and decentralized. That’s why the company aims for an agile, self-leading organization – an enormous cultural change compared to former structures.

Key to success of this transformation are answers to the following three questions:

  • A common target picture that describes the “Why” of the change.
  • The principles for the future cooperation that concretize the “How”.
  • The fields of application: “What” is affected by the change?

The "why" usually results from the requirements of the market and the needs of the customer. The "how" is a strategic thinking task, which is designed and concretized for example in a day workshop with the management and key persons from the organization. The main objective is to find rules that are as generally applicable as possible and which also function as instructions for action. In this case: “We share knowledge” or “Decisions are made where responsibility lies”.

The process becomes an example for the new corporate culture

To bring these abstract considerations to life, they are transferred to concrete, organization-wide applications. These include, for example, the reduction of regulatory rounds, the simplification of decision-making processes or the handling of vacation or business trip requests.

However, instead of replacing the old hierarchy with a new, rigid set of rules, the change process can already become an example for the new corporate culture. For practical fields of application, concrete solutions are developed that have the greatest possible impact in terms of the new principles and values. In this way, important issues are dealt with immediately – and the agile methods are applied in the company:

  • The process is highly collaborative – for example by collecting suggestions for improvements in moderated cycle workshops with changing employees.
  • It is iterative – improvements are quickly effective in pilot phases and are evaluated in the next cycles and adjusted again if necessary.
  • In the mid-term, the agile methods are established as "tools" in the company without the need for continuous monitoring. A specially compiled "toolbox" helps in this process.

Experiencing instead of communicating

Change is always a question of communication – or like in this case: of non-communication. Instead of bombarding colleagues with memos, the process is designed to let them become part of it. Effective action replaces top-down communication. Then the transformation is already in full swing.

Thus, the Allgäu remains a region of success, even if glass jewellery and hats no longer reach mass markets today. They are replaced by innovative products – and organizations that are ready for the future.