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Clear out the management myths!

The management theorists have discovered a new wonder weapon: New Work. Pretty much everything to do with agility, the meeting of equals and self-organisation in the widest sense is subsumed under this term. The hope is that this will generate greater innovative energy and enhance companies’ ability to create value, or to put it in a nutshell: New Work is supposed to cure all the painful symptoms of a dysfunctional organisation at a stroke. All the time- and energy-sapping meetings, the corporate policy that devours your creative spark, the never-ending decision-making processes, the silo mentality cemented into people’s heads. The deeper the pain an organisation feels, the more hopeful the New Work promise of being the solution for the digitised, disruption-friendly VUCA age sounds. All the employees are highly motivated to work with each other, focusing on the customer and for the benefit of the enterprise, self-organised, collaborative and in blissfully agile coexistence.

Peace and love and harmony? As if!

There could be no greater error as this level of expectation conceals several fallacies. And whenever a fundamentally good approach runs the risk of turning into a hype, and overblown or even false expectations are invested in it, disappointment is sure to follow.

There are numerous examples showing that New Work offers the potential to have a positive effect on a company’s ability to create value and on it’s vitality. Whether it’s Upstalsboom, a North German hotel chain with over 600 employees, or Semco, a Brazilian industrial heavyweight that introduced unconventional management practices as early as 30 years ago. Or Sparda Bank München with its 290,000 members and 700 staff or Morning Star, the world’s largest tomato processor based in California and with sales of 600 million dollars. As different as the New Work philosophies and practices are — these are all highly successful companies and highly attractive employer brands.

And precisely because New Work contains the seed of a wonderful idea, it is so important to take a close look at what it can achieve and how it has to be embraced to unlock its full potential. It’s time to reveal the biggest New Work misconceptions — raise the curtain!

Misconception No. 1: New Work is like a pill you swallow that makes everything better

Firstly: There is no one single New Work. The avenues leading to the world of New Work are as diverse as the people and organisations that populate them. Whether project management approaches such as scrum, innovative organisational systems such as holacracy or a managerial mission statement that puts the focus on keeping employees happy — there is no right or wrong. Every organisation is invited to find the right approach and the right route for itself.

This requires a very precise diagnosis of the problem. What are the perceived dysfunctionalities of the organisation? What attitudes and behaviour patterns are exhibited by managers and employees? What are the unspoken dogmas that pervade the organisation? And also: What role do the perceived dysfunctional behaviour patterns play?

Does that sound like hard work? That’s because it is! At the same time, this analysis is an important factor in the success of New Work. Because in the long run, superficial treatment of the symptoms helps nobody. To enable New Work to be successful, we must not lose sight of the causes of dysfunctional patterns of behaviour, and for this a collective process of reflection is required. This often automatically provides the answer to the question of what the next step on the way should be because the process as such activates the collective intelligence of the organisation.

New Work is therefore no quick “down pill and all better” approach. Rather the process resembles that of a physiotherapist who supports the self-healing process of the organism with patience, precise observation and constant intervention.

Misconception No. 2: New Work is quick and easy to learn

Misconception No. 1: New Work is like a pill you swallow that makes everything betterNew Work is much more than just working from home from time to time, sticking a few multi-coloured post-its on the wall in a meeting, deploying collaboration software or working in colourfully painted offices. New Work is also more than just applying new meeting formats. New Work expresses itself primarily in a new attitude. An attitude marked by the belief that people are responsible and that they have more potential in them than they normally are able (or want) to show in the organisation. And that the act of giving up supervision and conventional displays of authority on the part of managers, coupled with the self-organisation and assumption of responsibility on the part of employees, activates additional potential for creating value. And that organisations gain substantially in resilience and adaptability as a result.

Every paradigm shift requires time. New Work is therefore not something that can be learned on the run. This process is laborious and at times painful. You may lose an employee or two along the way. And those who stay will find themselves being drawn out of their comfort zone on more than one occasion. Honest peer-to-peer feedback — however appreciatively it may be couched — doesn’t always feel so comfortable as some truths don’t really fit with the way we see ourselves. It requires a high degree of reflective capacity to deal with such criticism constructively. At the same time, New Work facilitates major leaps in personal growth in an appreciative environment and genuine person-to-person encounters — if the individual is willing to admit them.

That is why people who jump on the bandwagon (“We’ll adopt New Work too because it’s trendy”) don’t stand a chance. Because New Work practices can only develop their full potential if the underlying world view is internalised and embraced by everybody — including the managers. Anyone not deeply convinced by it and who does not feel a serious need to tread a new path towards a more effective, soulful organisation (and who does not have a genuine interest in their own learning curve), shouldn’t touch it. Otherwise, this will only end in disaster for all concerned for want of authenticity.

Misconception No. 3: New Work can be prescribed

New Work is different from classic change programmes in many respects.

First and foremost, New Work can only be successful if the top manager in the organisation (or department or team) is unconditionally behind it and is also prepared to live out the paradigm shifts and behavioural changes themselves. With all the successes and failures that go with them. New Work cannot be prescribed, therefore, but you can embody it by example — and advocate it through discussion.

But with a certain degree of New Work maturity, the organisation makes significant gains in its skill at initiating change. It then basically finds itself in a permanent change mode. Traditional change programmes are then superfluous.

And there is another difference from traditional change programmes: there is no end date. There may be dates for certain milestones but New Work is by definition a journey which never ends. Anyone familiar with system theory knows that every problem contains its solution and at the same time, every solution contains a new problem. And the world around us also does not stand still. So there will always be grounds and potential for refinements — both on a human and organisational level.

New Work: Panacea or hype?

Now that the most important misconceptions and myths surrounding New Work have been revealed, if you still feel the inner urge to embark on the journey, I must congratulate you. I myself am embroiled in the middle of this process with my team, and as strenuous as it may sometimes be: I have not regretted this decision for even one day. Because ultimately, New Work is nothing more than authentic encounters — with yourself and others, i.e. your fellow employees and customers. New Work is thus neither a panacea nor hype. It is a natural evolutionary step for mankind and a process leading to a better world. No more and no less.

We are in an age when we must constantly change. A world where agility is utmost. It is no longer a matter of classic change management. We must enable a working culture of willingness to change. A culture in which people have the right mindsets and tools for continuous development and rapid changes.