“The Corona crisis creates a momentum of the new”
The current Corona crisis is causing offices in Germany to empty and forcing many companies to switch to remote work and virtual meetings on very short notice. As a result, some managers and team leaders face the challenges of having to control management activities digitally for the first time. In the following interview, 31-year-old Prof. Dr. Maximilian Lude, interim Professor for Innovation at the TUM School of Management in Heilbronn, discusses this sudden change in corporate culture and provides some recommendations to managers and family entrepreneurs who need to react adequately.
Professor Lude, looking at corporate culture, what is happening at the moment in companies that were previously characterized by a culture of presence?
What we are seeing in many companies is an abrupt change, without warning, away from a digitally-averse presence work to digitally-dominated home office situations. Of course, we all know a large number of companies that have always used digitization par excellence and for whom terms such as Zoom, Hangouts and Slack do not sound like the latest youth slang, but are tools that are firmly anchored in the corporate DNA. However, a look at corporate reality clearly shows that such “digital natives” are rather rare in the German corporate landscape – and that is a good thing! After all, we live in a production-oriented economy characterized by traditions that at first glance seem to be a mismatch to the values of a digital world – but only at first glance. We can now, perhaps reluctantly, let the new situation show us quite the opposite. Whether the respective corporate cultures will support this sudden, externally imposed change depends above all on the managers who now – more than ever – have the duty to lead, motivate and orchestrate their teams – and have to do so digitally.
To what extent are particularly family businesses experiencing this sudden change in corporate culture?
Of course, the crisis does not distinguish between family businesses and non-family businesses. Approximately 91 % of the German economy consist of family businesses, which are thus the engine of our economy and are particularly affected by the situation. In addition, family businesses often have their own productions, which of course cannot take place remotely. In my view, however, family businesses have a decisive advantage: family businesses – as research clearly shows – are long-term oriented and have an intergenerational decision-making horizon. This means their decisions, even in acute crises, are designed for long-term success. This horizon is much shorter in the case of some large corporations, financed by external capital. A long-term view has advantages on various levels, whether it is the implementation of remote work, or other measures, that may only bear fruit in the unforeseeable future. The last financial crisis has shown that family businesses lay off significantly fewer employees in difficult times and hold on to them more sustainably.
What challenges does the situation pose for team leaders and managers in particular?
The breeding ground of any corporate culture, no matter how digitally manifested, is the physical interaction between colleagues and superiors. This involves rituals, symbolism, a culture of feedback and discussion and general interaction. To transfer all this digitally to the home office is a massive task for every manager.
Which options do managers have to avoid losing touch with their employees working from home?
The goal of entrepreneurs and managers should be to convey to their employees that they care about their well-being. In addition, managers should involve their employees in the process from the very beginning, develop measures or initiatives to improve the digital day-to-day work to, so to speak, push bottom-up innovations or idea submissions.
Overall, the aim is to maintain the direct link to employees working from home. My team at philoneos currently offers a free “Covid19-ECG” (www.philoneos.com/covid19-ekg), which is designed to map exactly such a thing. It is a weekly employee survey. The survey is about the current well-being of employees working remotely. Satisfaction with the management and the general measures of the company are mapped. In addition, employees have the opportunity to submit ideas (such as a digital coffee break). Managers and entrepreneurs receive a detailed report of the results every week and can thus adapt and control their digital management activities on a data basis.
In addition, there are certainly many more opportunities to strategically accompany the change in corporate culture. The “ECG” constitutes a scientifically based measure that leads to quick findings and ensures the maintenance of the (new) corporate culture.
Your research focuses inter alia on innovation in the context of family businesses. To what extent is the current situation furthering innovation?
It is not for nothing that “necessity is the mother of invention” is a common saying. I find it fascinating to see how family businesses in particular have adjusted their product range or even their entire business model in recent weeks in order to respond adequately to the situation. Be it the family-owned company MEY, located on the Swabian Alb, which has realized a production changeover to related, but non-industry specific products within a very short time: The company now produces mouth and nose masks in addition to their lifestyle bodywear. Or the owner-managed Swiss winter sports mecca for alpine enthusiasts LAAX, which, with the team of President Reto Gurtner and CEO Markus Wolf, converted its existing app into a delivery service application within a few days. They now supply the residents of the region with food and other necessary products. To come back to the question: Yes, I think the current situation can further innovation – but mainly on a cultural level. Many (family) entrepreneurs are currently experiencing a strong culture of innovation in their companies. Employees are moving closer together (virtually), reflecting on the core competences of the company and questioning the status quo more than ever. This creates a momentum of the new. This should give courage for the future.
Related News in this category
Technical University of Munich
TUM School of Management