I recently met for a virtual round of the digital innovation units of major German corporations such as Commerzbank, Deutsche Bahn and Bayer. Twice a year we invite you to this exchange of blows in the Cyber Innovation Hub of the Bundeswehr. We talk about what moves us and what challenges us. This time it was the strange new situation in the world that overturned all plans last spring.
Innovation units are the fast, agile companions of their large parent companies. They come up with ideas, try out what works and what doesn’t, and then quickly develop it further.
We asked ourselves: Will the “new way of working” end with well-known tools like Zoom and Webex? What happens to innovations when budgets are frozen and there is no more money (and no courage) for trying things out and possible failure? Above all: What does leadership mean in such a time?
Hybrid and decentralized work is here to stay. You cannot freeze the old status quo and thaw it after the crisis.
Good leadership has to rethink many things by now at the latest: mental health, social contacts, the structure of the working day.
How does trust arise when you only see yourself in the video? A team is more than a group of people working together. A team is a group of people who trust each other. How do we create this trust when we are no longer physically facing each other?
How does innovation come about when there is no informal contact and the wild spin-off of ideas, when there is no coffee kitchen and no after-work beer? How do we then create impulses?
Leadership in the new normal must be empathic. She must understand the employees in their entirety as people who also have a private life to master, and not just as workers who are available throughout the day. This also includes rituals such as regular “check-in”, where you can open up and bring in your own private thoughts and worries.
A year ago, mindfulness and resilience were something you read a lot about, but didn’t see them as part of the business. Today they are central elements of good leadership.
What is really important right now has not yet reached a broad level: the new leadership does not control, but serves. She takes care of the employees and ensures that they can do their job as well as possible – and that they know what to do. When the “what” is the goalsettlements is clear, then you can tell the employees themselves about the “how” of the goalachievement let decide. In the home office this is even more true than before.
In the Bundeswehr’s Cyber Innovation Hub, we rely on the military concept of mission tactics. In the Bundeswehr, for example, this means: When a unit is ordered to take a hill, then the goal is defined. How exactly the unit occupies the hill is essentially up to itself. It is different with the American-style command tactics, where every single step has to be clarified: The unit is in the field, then the order comes: “Go around to the right, across the path, along the stream to take position there . Wait for my order to smash the enemy. ”So the how is already given.
The principle of order tactics is basically very similar to agile work. Command tactics are exactly the opposite, namely: micromanagement. The Bundeswehr has therefore long had agile work in its DNA. And so also with us at the Cyber Innovation Hub, where soldiers, reservists and civilians pull together to make our armed forces digitally innovative.
This has nothing to do with anarchy based on the slogan “everyone does what he wants”. On the contrary: control is even more important to avoid chaos. We therefore work with “Objectives & Key Results”, or OKRs for short. With this method, the teams coordinate themselves to achieve their goals – decentralized and across silos. So everyone knows what we’re up to, where we stand and what needs to be done.
In our innovation round, we were absolutely in agreement on one thing: We do not need prepandemic leadership principles with control, micromanagement and presence culture, even post-pandemic. If you trust people and give them the right tools, they will perform. This is leadership in times of Covid: creating a clearing where people can meet. Otherwise we will continue to hide in our caves.
Sven Weizenegger has been head of the Bundeswehr’s Cyber Innovation Hub since May 2020 and is one of the “Top 40 under 40” of Personal-Financial.com magazine. The Bundeswehr’s Cyber Innovation Hub was founded in 2017 as the first German innovation unit in the regulatory environment to act as a “fast dinghy” to advance the digital transformation of the Bundeswehr.