Mindset matters

Most of my newsletters address the issue of challenging the status quo, the necessity of change – both from a social and entrepreneurial perspective – and the question of how this can be achieved. 

How do we manage to change a situation, a process or a behavior which we consider invariable? In the preface to his book ‘Mindset matters’, Martin Permantier describes the situation in Berlin in the fall of 1989. Almost all of the Germans had accepted the Berlin Wall as a reality; travelers from West Germany had get used to the authoritarian behavior of the East German border guard officials. Most of the people didn't like the Wall, but only few could imagine that the Wall would eventually disappear. Then came the 9th of November, and as if we had decided overnight to no longer believe in the Wall, it was possible to end its existence. New behavioral patterns among citizens were possible, simply because they no longer took the Wall for granted. They simply went or drove towards the Wall. Border guard officials were unsettled. They felt the change in the people’s attitude and could no longer rely on their long-standing role of being authoritarian border guard officials. Thus, the fall of the Berlin Wall became possible.
The Wall was a physical reality. If we transfer this to our daily business, we observe that the realities frequently only exist on the basis of agreements and established practices. So if a wall made of concrete can fall because the time has come, then agreements, practices and expectations in our corporate environment that seem to be invariable may also fall to pave the way for something new...

One example for such a seemingly invariable practice is the agreement of individual targets connected with an individual bonus or a salary increase – I already highlighted the absurd nature of this practice in my last newsletter. Another seemingly firmly entrenched matter of fact is the existence of team leaders and department heads with HR responsibilities who take care of their employees, but who also seek to ensure (or control) that each employee makes his or her contribution to the company’s success. A third, very common expectation is that managers know the right goal and the right way to achieve this goal, always have a plan, and know the answers to any question.

Let’s dare to make a thought experiment and assume that these realities are outdated. Which general mindset do we have to find in ourselves (we as managers and we as employees) to create new patterns of cooperation? (Similar to the example of the fall of the Wall where the mindset ‘the Wall exists and there is nothing you can do about it’ has changed to ‘why do we tolerate the Wall in the first place – what would it be if it wouldn’t exist at all?’.)

In my view this would represent a paradigm shift for managers as listed below:

Confidence instead of control
Managers must feel the willingness to let go of most of the established control mechanisms, such as timekeeping and target achievement. Decisions as regards acquisitions, choice of suppliers and communication concepts would also be delegated to staff teams, at least in part. Needless to say that this list can be extended at will, but in terms of decision-making it is strongly recommended to address this on a step-by-step basis in order not to ask to much of oneself and also of the employees.

Provide space and safety instead of penalties
I already addressed the topic of providing space in the context of delegating decision. The safety aspect comes into play directly afterwards. Let’s assume that the team or a single employee has made a decision and in hindsight it turns out to be an adverse decision. Then, the critical moment is reached where the manager has to provide safety instead of imposing penalties (even if it’s simply a negative comment). The question is: would I as a manager be willing to do?

Having an open mind instead of the attitude: “Surely I know what is best.”
This is about providing real free space for employees. The manager must seriously question whether she already has a desired result in mind or whether she really has an open mind. The potential of the employees can only be fully utilized when the employees themselves can come up with a solution to a problem and can also walk the way to the solution on their own. 

Pull-principle instead of imposing roles and tasks
Based on the aspect of confidence and the need for security of every single human being, only the pull-principle makes sense. Under the pull-principle, the employees or teams select those areas of activities that best match their aptitudes and skills and only take as much work as they believe they are able to cope with. Of course the alignment to aptitudes and skills already happens when people are recruited, however, the idea of change is implied under the pull-principle: employees develop new passions as well as new skills and take the types of work they feel called upon. The basic mindset of the manager to allow such behavior is in stark contrast to the push-principle which is derived from the ‘Command and Control’ approach introduced by Frederick Winslow Taylor.

Until this point, I have been asking a lot from the manager in terms of the necessary basic mindset to enable new realities. However, it is also up to the employees to create something new. In my way of thinking they are an equally important element of the full picture.

The following paradigm shifts should be carried out on the part of the employees:

The willingness and capability to organize oneself instead of the attitude: “Please boss, just tell me what to do and what’s the deadline for it.”
The willingness to take care of your development on your own instead of waiting for someone else to take care of it.
The desire to serve the team instead of chasing my own bonus (well, it doesn’t exist anymore...).
The courage to take responsibility for decisions that I was allowed to make myself instead of delegating the issue back to the boss when the smallest of uncertainties arise.

Whoever reads this should be honest to herself and to her employees. Do these attitudes resonate with me as a manager? Are there at least a few employees who embody the mindsets described above and potentially want to be the first to try out different ways of working in a possible transformation, and later encourage others to come along?

If the answers to these questions are ‘no’, the organization or the relevant part of the organization is not yet ready for change. Or by applying the example of the Berlin Wall: November 1989 has not yet come to pass for us (i.e. the organization)... Because in order to be able to create new realities, the mindsets shown above have to exist at least to a large degree.

This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here

Further reading and watching:

Andrea SchmittInnovationstrainerinAm Mittelpfad 24aD 65520 Bad Camberg+49 64 34-905 997+49 175 5196446
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