Blog // Digitalization

freedom and flexibilization! Will it work?

The facts:

Daimler surveyed 33,400 employees on how they want to work in the future. They had to answer 130 questions about striking a balance between work, life, family and leisure. CEO Dieter Zetsche is said to have called out to employees: "I’m listening to you. I want to make work a more pleasant experience for you." The aim is a works agreement on how work in the company will be organised in the future. Union boss Jörg Hofmann sees this project as a "lighthouse project" that will set benchmarks for many other companies. He thinks digitalisation will make new ways of working an absolute must, legally and culturally. So far only 12% of all companies have exploited the new possibilities of digitalisation, i.e. working where you want to work from, having completely flexible working hours, being able to work more from home, taking a break from work (being on the job for 3 hours in the morning and then 5 hours in the evening), sharing desks, taking time out, etc. Digitalisation will make this possible. While in the twentieth century it was still necessary to turn up for work, there will be no need for this anymore because of the new technical possibilities. 133 workshops were conducted to establish how this flexibility could be put into practice.

If you read the article carefully, then your attention will be drawn to the fact that Bosch, Microsoft, IBM and Trumpf already have such working arrangements in Germany, and Software AG in Darmstadt has been pioneering flexible working for years. Daimler is no trailblazer for flexible working hours. The article is too self-promoting for that.

A more exciting aspect is the question of cultural change. The company is being described as having been very conservative in the past. “Management. That is the second, quite big, still unsolved issue. How will it be possible to manage staff efficiently when they do not sit in an office eight hours a day?1 As far as can be gathered from the article, the answer is to set individual targets for employees that are underpinned with demanding performance indicators. It says that new control mechanisms will have to be created and that executives will have to completely change their management style.

This is known as the LATERAL MANAGEMENT approach. Daimler would be well advised to fundamentally rethink the hierarchical misconception of the twentieth century in their company. People who work flexibly and independently cannot be controlled and managed with predefined targets. Individual responsibility is the key here. Control in the sense of outside control by “bosses” will not work. The basic question that has to be answered has been formulated incorrectly. We need to shake the very foundations of corporate culture and facilitate management on equal terms. The question must be “how can we create more self-reliant structures in the company?" Or in other words,  "how can we enable employees and managers to set their own targets?” If the company were to take this question on board, that would be revolutionary and would mean a departure from conservative management.


1 Stern, 31 March 2016, p. 36 et seqq. by Silke Gronwald

2 Geschwill, Roland & Nieswandt, Martina, Laterales Management, Das Erfolgsprinzip für Unternehmen im digitalen Zeitalter, Springer 2016