Case studies

Cultural change in an organization: from patriarchy to participatory leadership culture

Problem definition and consulting assignment

The managing director has been running the company alone since its founding in 2008. Apart from the managing director level, there was only one other hierarchical level with consultants at the beginning of the project, who were constituted in changing teams depending on the assignment. Each new customer project resulted in new individual constellations of consultants, which led to a high coordination and management effort. The consultants' areas of responsibility included concept and strategy development, project implementation, and time and budget planning. In addition to the individual consultants, two other employees took on administrative tasks. The business is a medium sized consulting company advising the food industry.

The consulting assignment was developed after coaching sessions with the managing director, who practiced a more patriarchal style of leadership. The employees were kept away from entrepreneurial issues such as acquisition and income as far as possible. The company's culture was characterized by a strong striving for harmony: "With us, leadership must not really become visible. This is pleasant for the attitude towards life, but not for the economic interests of the agency," said the managing director during the clarification of the assignment. Therefore, he was faced with the decision to undertake a cultural change and set up a new structure for the company. He wanted to install permanent teams. The assignment for me was: How can the patriarchal management style be transformed into a participatory management culture? What changes in processes and in the organizational structure are necessary?

Organizational analysis

Analytically, the consulting approach was based on the four development phases of a company according to Glasl (Glasl/Kalcher/Piber 2014). The company was still in the pioneering phase at the beginning of the project. The employees took the attitude of a sworn action group and formed around the managing director. The managing director's management style was emotional and characterized by a fatherly warmth, but also by rigor and great expectations. Employees reacted flexibly and quickly to customer wishes, but hardly ever worked according to planned processes. This led to crisis symptoms, as a lack of process structures and intransparency resulted in a high number of overtime hours. This resulted in reduced productivity and motivation.

A further development into the differentiation phase was urgently required. The differentiation phase of a company (Glasl/Lievegoed 2011) is characterized by transparency, standardization and controllability. This was achieved by "rationally constructing the agency according to the main principles of classical, techno-structural organization theory" (Glasl 2013).

The following areas of conflict could be identified: (1) One conflict consisted in the incongruity of the managing director at the role level. The managing director found himself in the discrepancy between his self-image "I want to lead in a participatory way" and the experience that he found the patriarchal leadership style easier to follow. At the personal level, the CEO experienced an inner incongruity: "I want to let go more at work and have time for my family." But his experience: "Letting go makes me fear losing control." (2) A second area of conflict was evident in the growing demands of employees for higher salaries without any willingness to take on more responsibility. As sales stagnated, the managing director was unable to meet the demands and feared resignations. (3) There were also conflicts in the fight of returning employees from parental leave for their original positions, which had been transferred to successors. (4) Another conflict arose from the unequal treatment in dealing with overtime. As many employees were beginning to experience the balancing act between their roles as mothers, fathers and advisors, they were not sufficiently relaxed in their private lives to work the usual amount of overtime. As a result, conflicts of interest and roles arose: the non-mothers/fathers regarded the unequal treatment as an injustice and at the same time as a management weakness of the managing director.

Four potentials could be distinguished: (1) The company had a high academic competence potential, which had to be fostered by professional organizational development. (2) A further resource: the high intrinsic motivation and the willingness of the employees in our individual interviews to take on entrepreneurial responsibility in the future. (3) The company had just launched a successful new product that offered access to new industries and customers. There was a lot of growth potential here. (4) The high level of identification of the employees with the company - an important resource for organizational development - was remarkably positive.

Consulting architecture

The conception of the consulting architecture was methodically oriented on the seven basic processes according to Glasl: diagnosis, shaping the future, psychosocial issues, learning, information, implementation and change management. "The basic processes are not to be understood a priori as phases! (...) Rather, they are processes, several of which can be simultaneously dominant in certain phases" (Glasl 2014). In the consulting design, we defined with the managing director which employees offered the potential for advisory staff positions and which for decisive line-level functions. For this purpose, we analyzed and defined important process flows with the managing director in order to eliminate a maximum of existing unstructuredness. The desire for change towards a participatory management culture created the potential for the managing director to delegate responsibility. Below the level of the managing director, a second management level was to be constituted.

Diagnostic processes

As part of the data collection, we conducted interviews with a selection of employees defined by the managing director in order to survey subjectively perceived problems such as patriarchal leadership style and lack of employee participation in the organization, the so-called problem inventory.

Within the framework of the organizational analysis, we used the Trigon Aspects Grid (Glasl/Kalcher/Piber 2014, p. 163 ff.) from our repertoire of methods, among others, and used it to examine the internal system and environment of the company. The focus was on topics such as corporate identity, structure of the organizational structure, teams, working atmosphere, leadership and processes as well as physical and material resources. The employees evaluated the areas with regard to the quality of the current situation and, as a result, identified the necessary need for action. As a result of this aspect grid we collected overall scores. This enabled us to produce an analysis of strengths and weaknesses.

Processes for shaping the future

While the diagnostic processes were dedicated to raising awareness, the process of shaping the future focused on the willingness of employees and managers to embrace change. The aim was to define a common vision. Consequently, we held a vision workshop with selected employees to develop a culture and mission statement. We developed a strategy to achieve a participatory corporate culture. For the key areas of acquisition and consulting, new team models were designed as independent performance centers. We used methods such as objective agreement questions, scenario techniques as well as tools to define the objective vision.

At the same time, we used additional diagnostic measures to obtain information on the extent to which which employees were involved in important sales-relevant consulting tasks. We presented the results to the employees concerned in two further workshops for discussion and worked out agreements with them on the desired new corporate culture.

Psychosocial processes

Within the framework of the psychosocial processes, we took up the conflict issues that we had identified in the diagnosis process and offered the employees accompanying psychosocial interventions, e.g. guided conflict talks, mediation and role negotiation talks. Our goal was to clarify any misunderstandings that arose, to resolve uncertainties, to work through tensions, to modify inadequate role concepts and to develop new role models. Our experience shows that during the discussion about future models, values often clash and may put a strain on the interactions. As person-centered organizational consultants, we ensured an open, growth-promoting atmosphere in the discussions, which gave employees room to address destructive power structures and adopt a positive attitude towards the future.

Learning processes

The interventions we preferred focused on the goal of questioning employees' patterns of action with regard to their ability to adapt to the current context of job requirements and to acquire new skills. Our organizational development focused on three levels of competence development: professional, social and methodological competence. We therefore planned interventions that combine seminar learning with practical experiential learning. These included individual and team coaching and management training. We also set up a monthly forum for collegial case management. We also installed a knowledge management system. Parallel to this, a mentoring training course was held to train selected employees who had moved up the career ladder in team leadership as mentors for consultants. These measures were accompanied by continuous training and coaching of the managing director on the topics of leadership profile and communication and process consulting for routine organization.

Information processes

Changes are accompanied by a very high demand for information among those affected. During change processes, organizational consultants are often exposed to the latent accusation that the affected parties feel they are not sufficiently informed. The goal of the information processes designed had therefore to be that all affected employees felt honestly and competently informed. Because information gaps can encourage rumors and fantasies of fear, but also wishful thinking. Therefore, we developed a strategy for the continuous transparent communication of the relevant topics and measures in the change process, which we specifically conveyed to all those involved in the change.

Implementation processes

The discussion and planning phases must be limited in time, the implementation phase should be fast. Therefore, we sharpened the awareness of the managing director that a sense of achievement through the implementation of concrete measures boosts the organizational development process. Consequently, we moderated a meeting on the planning and implementation of the change, at which representatives of the employees created a comprehensive matrix for the sub-projects to be implemented.

This matrix had to record preparation and implementation activities as well as the results of the respective sub-project. The matrix provided help in deciding what can be implemented and when and makes it possible to identify the activities that can quickly achieve positive effects and motivation. In order to implement the new participatory management style, we asked the managing director to have sub-projects implemented by employees on their own responsibility.

Change Management processes

For the change management process, we advised the establishment of planning and steering bodies that would act as steering and development groups for the change. We recommended that a change project organization team be set up and asked the CEO to give the steering group the authority to offer the innovations to the decision-makers in the routine organization and to anchor them in the processes. We also advised the managing director to name project groups that - oriented on the change matrix - would designate concrete improvement opportunities and future plans. These project groups reported to the steering group, which is responsible for forwarding the results to the decision-making bodies of the routine organization. As process managers, we made sure that all change activities were monitored, evaluated and made acceptable to the employees in terms of what was reasonable. To avoid destructive tensions arising between routine management and the parallel organization of change management, we advised the installation of intermediate bodies. The steering group continuously presented its work results and proposals from the project groups to a decision-making group consisting of the managing director and other managers for approval.

Difficulties and obstacles

Change processes often threaten the professional self-conception of employees, intensified by the employees' challenged identification with the organization. Fears and worries were also clearly visible in the change of this company: employees experienced that established relationships, competencies and privileges were lost. In addition, they had to give up the security they had acquired over a long period of time to be able to control work processes with confidence. These upheavals threatened the relationship and loyalty of employees to the organization. In addition, the change meant that employees had to experience work intensification and acceleration. This resulted in an increased need for flexibility and qualification as well as a higher requirement to take on responsibility. Taking these aspects into account, it was essential to involve employees as much as possible in organizational development.

Already during the diagnosis process, we let the employees participate in as many diagnostic activities as possible. This was the only way to ensure that the change towards empowering the organization and its employees to develop and renew themselves. In the interviews with managers and employees, their view of the situation changed and was already able to trigger impulses for change.

Because the employees were involved in the recognition of the grievances of the unsatisfactory current situation and the perception of the incentives of the desired target state, they experienced the change as feasible. They accepted the challenges more easily because they recognized the sense of organizational development and their own benefit.

We therefore made sure that the formalization process, which was dominant in the differentiation phase, did not lead to over-organization. This is because the change in corporate philosophy from a feeling of a conspiratorial action group to the specialization of individual competences created the danger of compartmentalization. We therefore preferred interventions to strengthen the level of interaction in the teams and at the interfaces between departments and added a concept for internal communication to our consulting architecture to ensure the continuous flow of information.

The change process placed high demands on the employees: They had to break away from the old management culture and embrace a new one. This change triggered fear of excessive demands on some employees. This was because employees had to adapt their qualifications to the demands for more personal responsibility, including in the areas of acquisition and customer loyalty. This was also done under time pressure, as the change process had to be implemented very quickly. As organizational consultants, we were therefore responsible for keeping potential internal resistance among employees at a minimum and ensuring a positive attitude to the changes. As a result, we attached great importance to listening to and integrating the various departments, functionaries and interest groups. By taking the different points of view, ideas and concerns seriously, the change process became a success in which the company could develop in cooperation with its employees.

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