What are you doing there
“Agility isn’t rocket science”
Jürgen is working to realise an optimal working culture at Nestlé, Eliza is committed to the OAWOW concept at ING. A conversation about work, fun, and something no one enjoys discussing: mistakes.
There are many definitions of agile work in circulation, what are yours?
Jürgen: We don’t refer to it as agile. Instead, we have a programme, which operates under the title “Continuous Excellence”. Our strategic goal is to create values – from the customer’s perspective. Then we can enjoy sustainable success. Our strategy for this is to give our employees the right skills. They must have a certain amount of autonomy and the skills necessary for solving problems themselves. Alongside this, teams must coordinate with another and among their respective ranks. The mindset of continuously improving yourself and the work processes is of course just as important.
Eliza: Exactly! It’s about having a philosophy, an attitude. If the triangle described – mindset, methods, structures – is present, then we work well together. And this is then – in short – agile: the customer is the focus, we are quicker and people are happy to work for our company.
Where do you see the difference with the old, grey world?
Eliza: Ideally, there should be a development towards the agile method of operating. Agility won’t just establish itself at ING overnight. It has its origins in IT. When we saw that this worked well, ING rolled it out to other areas. In this way, agile working developed gradually. It is important to try things out and to learn from them.
Jürgen: Absolutely right! I see the difference with the previous system in the area of autonomy. This means, you come from a hierarchical company to a situation, in which the focus is on empowerment and the employees can reach decisions themselves. Ultimately, it is about all employees, it is a cultural issue. It is important to create transparency here, as can be seen directly on the boards for example. But the methodology doesn’t work when it is just about them. It’s not all about checklists.
Eliza: There are around 60 agile methods. Each person must find the method, which fits their task. We don’t want to become method experts.
„No one is happy about making mistakes. But they must be dealt with openly. After all, when you experiment or try out something new, mistakes can happen.
Eliza, Organisational Design, ING
What does a working environment have to have in place to support the new working methods?
Eliza: It is about cohesion. That is the most important thing. At the same time, it is helpful to have an open space. We no longer have any closed doors. Everything is open. The working environment, that is, whether or not the furniture is colourful, isn’t important.
Jürgen: We have not done things quite so radically. Instead, employees at Nestlé can spend a little time in other units and learn from one another. Cross-functional projects create excellent cohesion. Alongside the spatial aspect however, the relationship between the management and employees is of enormous importance. It is a question of trust. If I want change, I must have trust. That is an indispensable prerequisite. And an open culture, for example being able to admit to mistakes, is part of this. Respect plays a huge role here. Because when employees feel respected, they throw themselves, their hearts and minds, into their work. For us this means we believe in the potential of the individual employees and teams. And we encourage this accordingly.
„It is important to create an atmosphere in which every employee says: hey, this product is now my baby.
Jürgen, Head of Operational Excellence, Nestlé
Eliza: That’s right. Only when people feel respected and understood, are they ready to step off the beaten track and engage with the unfamiliar. But going back to the subject of a culture of tolerance for mistakes: this is not a new topic. Clearly, no one is happy about making mistakes. But they must be dealt with openly. After all, when you experiment or try out something new, mistakes can happen. It’s not about whose head will roll for a particular mistake. To deal with it openly requires trust. The question is, how do I, as a manager for example, learn to trust my employees and adjust my feeling of control. This is often a balancing act. But trust is also important from the other side: as an employee, I must trust my manager to make the right decisions. This is precisely what is needed in our transition phase.
Jürgen: There’s one more thing that I would like to add: ownership also plays a part here. It is important, to create an atmosphere in which every employee says: hey, the product, process or machine, that is now my baby.
It takes longer than a moment for the agile processes to be accepted. Why?
Eliza: We are still at the beginning of the process. Since August, we have begun transitioning the first 800 employees to agile working. This doesn’t mean that everything works smoothly right away. On the contrary, it takes time. Each person has their own speed at which they deal with the change. That is totally okay. First, you need to put things into practice, experience them. It’s about falling over and getting up again. You have to try out a lot of things, as a team too. And this requires courage and patience.
is the ING Expert in Organisational Design. She became familiar with agile working in 2017.
But not everyone is brave. How do you manage to bring all employees round to the new way of thinking?
Jürgen: Communication helps. You have to explain, why we are changing as a company. And everyone needs to understand this. You have to highlight the opportunities here. It is important to make the change palpable. That is, to show what is in it for me as an individual. And our experience has shown that, there are a lot of benefits: less overtime, less stress and better cooperation as a team. Each team must define for themselves why and what they would like to change and then approach these changes head on. Even if it isn’t straightforward at the beginning, the success achieved and improvements made vindicate the new approach.
is Head of Operational Excellence at Nestlé in Germany. Together with his team, he helps units to optimise their work processes.
Eliza: It is precisely through this change curve that everyone must go. The sooner the first successes set in, the quicker the changes are accepted by everyone.
Jürgen: That’s right, as in times of crisis, many revert back to old habits. For this reason, it is good to grapple with large changes in times of strength.
Eliza: At the same time, it is important to see the employee as an individual. We have tried to enable each employee to address what these changes will mean for them personally. But, at the same time, it is also fine if you aren’t gripped by euphoria when change is on the horizon. Scepticism is fine, but you should at least examine the big picture. Agility isn’t rocket science after all. In other words, just do it.