On April 10, the Bertelsmann Foundation is organizing its Camp Q in Berlin – the leadership conference for unconventional thinkers.

For the blog Creating Corporate Cultures, I have been thinking about what makes a digital transformation successful?

In the end, it’s all about the right mix of strategy and passion.

For all those who haven’t read the text on the Bertelsmann Foundation blog in German, I’ll publish the English translation here:


What does sound really modern, is an insanely great buzzword, should actually be urgently implemented by all companies and is still a lifeless term in an empty shell like so many others? Exactly: digital transformation.

Yet everyone agrees on the importance of this change for the survival of large parts of our economy. A recent GfK study concluded that almost two-thirds (62%) of German companies with annual sales of EUR 250 million or more consider digital transformation to be one of their three most important corporate objectives. In the previous year, it was only 50 per cent. Most managers now seem to have recognized the signs of the times.

In addition to the fundamental recognition of relevance, self-assessment also improved: in the previous year, only one third of companies felt that they were “very well” or “well” positioned in terms of digitization; now the figure is 42 per cent. Nonetheless, GfK analysts also pointed out that the results demonstrate a “clear discrepancy between the self-perception of German companies and the real challenges posed by digitization”.


Management does not have to exemplify digital transformation – it’s about strategy and passion

The logical next question in this case is: how do we approach the digital transformation? How must a company position itself so that it can really convey the importance of change to its employees, that this change is really wanted and instigated?

Despite all the agile romance: setting such an example only goes from top to bottom. The management should live and work digitally in a practical and natural way. It comes down to the right mix of strategy and passion.

Because if I learnt one thing during my twenty years as a digital pioneer, it is the fact that digital transformation is not so much a task as an attitude.

That’s why so many large consulting companies take the wrong approach when they always use the same playbook to invade a company, turn it upside down and trim the company digitally. This can work, but it doesn’t always. The danger of failure is much higher with such a one-size-fits-all approach than with an individually tailored strategy.

It creates such pressure, that employees and management are forced to change. But this is not a real cultural change. It is not voluntary and may not be sustainable.

In fact, each plan must be individually aligned and made to fit. A good example of this is KNF. The technology leader for high-quality diaphragm pumps and systems for gases, vapors and liquids was founded in Freiburg in 1946. It has however been active in more than a dozen countries for many years and awards its daughter companies the highest degree of independence.

We did not develop a standard strategy for such a decentralized company to respond to digital change. Under the guidance of the managing director and CMO of the KNF Group, Reto Furrer, the family-owned company consciously decided to focus on their Hamburg office and a co-working space and approach the digital transformation from there. Such a space comes with a young and modern start-up culture, based on networking, exchange, collaboration and mutual inspiration.

A true Digital Leader must develop this instinct out of himself

For such a step, top management needs courage, creativity and a certain instinct to simply try things out.

Especially when it comes to the latter, Germany is still highly skeptical towards technology. There are few people here who are truly curious to try out a new service, a new idea or a new gadget before making their judgement. The best example is the introduction of Apple Pay. It took the iCorporation finally more than four years after the US launch and even two weeks after the launch in Belgium and Kazakhstan, to launch its new payment service in Germany. Ouch!

With such a mindset, a successful digital transformation is very difficult to implement. A true digital leader has to develop this instinct to try out new technical gadgets. He has the responsibility to always be up to date and to fathom new possibilities with great pleasure.

Hence my personal appeal: be curious, be courageous and try it out. Long live the urge to play!