A real buy and reading recommendation – the Leadership special edition on “How does leadership work in the age of digital transformation? A booklet on management in transformation“. In addition to articles by e.g. change guru John P. Kotter on the networked organization, many management thinkers such as Sprenger & Co. have their say. And there is a best practice article on digital transformation by Christina Kestel about Otto.
Otto is one of my favourite examples, because the company has now developed into a globally successful e-commerce group. A huge transformation, because after all, no small shopkeeper is being converted here. Instead, the Otto Group is the largest online retailer for fashion and lifestyle in Europe – the second largest in the world after Amazon!
Six people have their say, all of whom work for the Otto Group. Five of them are Otto employees I value very highly, one is an external and has been able to accompany Otto in the digital transformation for over 10 years, that’s me. The idea for the article was born – how could it be otherwise – at a BarCamp. Jens Kappe reports on a software project “with a goal, but without a plan” and Olaf Schlüter on a perceived loss of control and trust. And I can report on the exciting process of building bridges for and with Otto between the digital, agile e-commerce affinities and the long-standing key players who made the former catalogue business great and thus of course made today’s success possible in the first place.
For example, we have had young employees and experienced managers work out in workshops how they want to work together. We have also ensured that the digital know-how available in the organization is passed on among employees – a far more effective instrument than the frontal presentation of a manager giving a speech on e-commerce.
Curiosity is key
One of the biggest and most important challenges in this respect was – and still is – mutual tolerance and appreciation. What products should Otto have in its range? The experienced buyer knows that, of course. And Big Data. Only an apparent contradiction, because of course the purchasing department can use Big Data with its clever data analyses to make the right decisions. And of course the data analyst can work with the purchaser to evaluate the relevant database. The prerequisite for this is openness and curiosity on all sides.
In our experience, this always works well when the parties involved pull together because they have the same goal. For example, it is not difficult to inspire the young generation of employees. Most of them are familiar with the digital mechanisms, are well trained and are literally waiting to contribute their knowledge to the organization in order to be successful. Reaching senior management is also comparatively easy, although somewhat more difficult, as some resentments have to be overcome. But of course the upper management is aware that these changes are necessary to keep the company successfully alive in the long run. The most difficult and at the same time most important is middle management, because it experiences pressure and expectations from above and below. For them, it is most difficult to identify a common goal to which they can orient their own success and, above all, the necessary changes associated with it.
Leveraging values of the internet
That is why we have developed numerous workshops in close cooperation with the human resources department. The topics were varied, from the “language of technology” to “collaboration tools”, “organizational structures in the digital world” and “agility and new management methods” – all topics related to digitization. As is usual in co-creation formats, we did not set a fixed agenda. So everyone was forced to embrace the new and unexpected. For us, it was one of the best experiences: Just as the managers became more and more curious after a while and gradually realized that agile management can be applied to many topics and business areas. And so a new system of values increasingly developed, namely one characterized by openness, speed and transparency. And this is the basic prerequisite for making profitable use of the success of the Internet. And Otto has demonstrably succeeded in doing so.