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6. May 2020
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15. September 2020

Digital Leadership – the digital transformation can only succeed with a completely new leadership culture in the company!

Businessman using tablet analyzing sales data and economic growth graph chart. Business strategy. Abstract icon. Digital marketing.


I have already written about the development of new business models and the use of digital technologies in your companies. This month I will be going to the core of the companies – the organizational culture!

If you are serious about digital transformation in your company and don’t just want to digitize old processes, you have to take the human factor into account. “Companies are social entities,” my business administration professor emphasized in the very first lecture. In the age of digitalization and innovation, this is exactly where the process of change comes in – in the culture, values and vision of the company!

Digitization is not possible without transformation

In many conversations and projects I experience the attitude that there is a willingness to introduce new IT and to digitalize processes – but only as long as as as as little as possible changes for those affected. Often it is the middle-level managers who block changes here as a “clay layer”. This has fatal consequences for the success and development of the company.

The corona-related break and the resulting move to the home office has overtaxed many managers in precisely this layer. All of a sudden, the employees were no longer gathered around one another, mistrust arose as to whether they were able and willing to work, and contact via an online tool was completely unfamiliar. Yet it is precisely this crisis that makes it possible to change the mindset of the employees and thus the culture in the long term.

This can only be achieved if familiar work processes are not simply transferred to the virtual world. I hear from many that they now spend up to six hours a day in calls or online meetings, which is not conducive to productivity at the end of the day. Working together virtually has a lot of potential, for example by using a project management tool to reduce the coordination effort. This requires the openness to use such digital possibilities and, at the same time, the willingness to consistently forego everything else to which one is accustomed.

Such far-reaching decisions cannot be decreed from above. The most important thing for cultural change is to understand digital transformation as a corporate task. Companies need new leadership qualities and, above all, an intensive discussion with their teams on how to deal with this new situation together with all its opportunities and challenges. Every manager should be able to access the full creative potential of the employees* during the change process. The change process creates innumerable new situations and even the managers have no model solution at hand.

Control vs. trust?

One of the biggest challenges of distributed working from the perspective of managers is to find the balance between trust and control. For many managers, the reflex could arise to want to control at a distance “now more than ever”. However, this does not fit in with a modern organizational culture that focuses primarily on the personal responsibility of employees and thus seeks to promote creativity and innovative strength.

Of course there are many employees* who still need a structure for their working day. But for managers, this is a great opportunity to offer these employees* their support and be there for them without exercising too much control. Through the use of digital tools in collaboration, the human aspect must not be neglected. Why not introduce a round of small talk in the virtual team meeting? Or use the project management tool to dare to look over the shoulder (function “screen sharing”) to find out which problems the employee is attached to?

All these measures promote trust and lead to a positive perception of the changes. If the managers underpin this in individual discussions with their employees and also talk about their own feelings of stress, this is the best basis for a sustainable transformation in the company.

How does the basic understanding and role of the executive change in digital leadership?

There were already many different leadership styles in analogous times, and in my opinion there is not the one leadership style that is most likely to lead to success. What has always been important for good leadership is authenticity, i.e. genuineness with regard to expectations of employees and one’s own behavior, and predictability, i.e. no sudden changes of opinion or mood.

In digital leadership, these values are still very valuable, but new aspects are emerging that should be taken seriously by managers. An important point is that one’s own “sensory perception” should be sharpened anew. The manager who walks through the open-plan office in the morning and feels in his eyes whether the employee is feeling good or bad this morning has few starting points for this in the team call. This means that especially in virtual collaboration even more empathy and empathy is needed when it comes to the needs of the employees*.

Digital Leadership demands an even stronger coaching attitude. Assuming that you want to change the culture towards more personal responsibility and the use of creativity, always ask how you can support employees in dealing with their issues. In doing so, you should by no means shy away from obtaining regular feedback on your own leadership behaviour. We are all in a learning phase and feedback is an important part of it.

And finally, communication sets the tone. In virtual mode, we tend to get to the point even faster; small talk or the little joke in between is not necessary, as it could be misunderstood at a distance. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make clear announcements in the future, but these are much softer success parameters that you should set. Trust in the fact that the employees* can feel for themselves whether they are currently making a good contribution to the company’s success or not. Make sure that the rules of the game are adhered to and that the focus is increasingly on goals and goal attainment rather than on formal specifications such as working hours or attendance.

What are you starting with tomorrow?

There will be no return to the analogue world after the corona-caused break! We are increasingly gaining confidence in dealing with the virtual world and see numerous advantages such as the elimination of long business trips. Personal meetings will be perceived as a luxury good in the future and should be treated as such in companies. This makes it all the more important for companies to firmly anchor the virtual-analogue world in their culture. On the way there is a lot to be done, especially for managers, the following tips can be implemented starting tomorrow:

  1. introduce CHECK-Ins: Start every team call with a little small talk. How do you feel today? What’s on your mind? And above all, as a manager, don’t take it out on yourself!
  2. check the tools you use: Currently you are inundated with great recommendations for even better tools. This can easily lead to excessive demands. Limit yourself to the essentials. For a good collaboration you need a video call software with chat function, a project management tool in which all projects and processes are transparently displayed and a data room where all files are stored. By concentrating on this, and switching off all other (analogue and digital) channels, employees gain security and the efficiency of collaboration increases.
  3. change the meeting culture and agendas Ask the question “which meeting is necessary at all?” I maintain that you can eliminate every second voting meeting if good project management software is established in the company. The first premise must be to discuss only those things in meetings, whether virtual or digital, for which personal exchange is necessary. So a discussion on the redesign of the marketing campaigns YES, but information on the new business trip regulation to Corona certainly not. Reduce the planned meeting time and rather introduce the “ad hoc meeting” if someone needs to talk. Delete all items that are purely for information or coordination purposes and consider every minute of a meeting to be valuable, which means that no other things should be done in parallel.
  4. refrain from analogue content: Underline the digital transformation in the company also by not printing out any more content or collecting piles of magazines. Keeping order is difficult enough, but concentrate on the virtual storage space.
  5. start small experiments: Take your team on a journey of discovery in the virtual world. Maybe a few employees* will organize a virtual coffee round or others will build a virtual meeting room for internal voting. The possibilities are many and varied. Challenge your employees to use them and thus complete the digital transformation.

We stand at the threshold of the age of innovation. As always in times of change, not everything will succeed at first go. We learn together at breathtaking speed to handle new tools, implement new rules of the game and say goodbye to many habits. It is above all the task of managers to give their employees* the feeling of security and to encourage them in the change process.

If you ask me, one of the nicest changes in recent weeks is that we have become more relaxed in our professional dealings. I have never seen so many managers in polo shirts sitting in front of untidy rooms. Children or cats jumping into the picture are no longer seen as embarrassment but as lived normality and the pitfalls of technology that is not yet fully developed are now more likely to be smiled at than annoyed. If we keep this looseness – with all focus on the quality of our work – we have gained a lot for our organisational cultures!

Use the current crisis situation as an opportunity, I and my team are at your disposal at any time, just write to me at