Josef G. Böck founded his first company through a Management Buy Out (MBO) more than 20 years ago. It was a software and consulting company selling business information systems to customers in 28 countries worldwide. After handing over his responsibilities as CEO to his successors, he founded the think-tank The Human Side of Business which concentrates on bringing academic thinking and results to entrepreneurs. Josef G. Böck currently holds board positions in Spanish, Swiss and German companies. He is the author of books and articles on leadership, consultative selling and entrepreneurial thinking.
Hans A. Böck / @LP_Hans
Question (Q): We are living through some very tough months for companies and employees. Telework has been implemented abruptly. Do you think that organizations are ready for widespread teleworking?
Answer (A): For global enterprises like Telefonica and physically decentralized knowledge workers like big law firms remote cooperation on projects and digital communication have a long tradition. Unfortunately, not much of their experience and know-how has trickled down to medium and small organizations.
On the one hand this emergency accelerates learning. For many companies this means supporting their professional work through technologies their employees may have been using in their private lives for quite some time. So the technical challenge is not to big. On the other hand, it now comes as a shock to many employees to recognize how negligent their bosses were about keeping the technical standard of their IT equipment prepared for such a situation. That leads to disillusionments and mutual blaming which lower productivity. As a consequence it will widen the gap between organisations with a good IT standard and those which have not given their IT enough thought. They fall back – if they survive the current crisis.
Q: Having a work environment that mixes with the family does not help much to concentrate. How can productivity be evaluated while teleworking?
A: I would think that there will be a steep learning curve for all. The people in home office will have to push back the temptations of their family life during working hours. The family will learn what their income earners really do the whole day and leave them alone.
The remote managers will learn to assess the productivity of their team members through the quality and the timeliness of the results and not so much by how busy their people look. It may even lead to a boost of productivity if managers let their team members alone and trust them that they get things done.
Q: You have studied leadership in the age of digitalization for quite some time. The result is a book that is very well received by critics and readers: Digitization and Leadership Practice. Unfortunately only in German. Can the organization of groups and their leadership be managed via digital media?
A: I do not think that digital media will completely replace a personal relationship between manager and employee in the foreseeable future.
The major managerial tasks – attributing resources and making decisions – can certainly be executed and communicated through digital media. But all aspects of leadership which require a personal relationship – who deserves attention, needs encouragement or can only do a good job if she or he feels appreciated – are a matter of regular personal contact. It is often the unconscious perceptions of another person that bring you on the right track of what is expected of you as a manager or an employee. Digital media will always narrow down the channels through which manager and employee interact.
Q: In one chapter of the book you talk about leadership and digital competence. What competencies, tools or digital skills do you need to be able to lead?
A: Number one for me are all sorts of communication tools. You should be really good at choosing the right tool for your desired effect and use it yourself competently. Number two is getting the data you need to assess a situation or make a decision. You should know where the data come from and whether you can trust them. Number three is to know what business process tools make the life of your employees easier and guarantee the results that you need. You should know the difference of what the sales people of such systems sell you and what will be the results that you can achieve with such systems. And last but not least you should be competent to recognize what digital tools your employees like to work and have fun with. If you are not aware of that you can spend a lot of money on the most advanced tools but are a far cry off what you imagined they could contribute to your success. Your employees will see you as bullying them and not taking care of them.
Q: You have successfully managed a company with subsidiaries and customers in many countries for many years. Do you think there are substantial differences between the forms of leadership in different countries?
A: As far as the basic needs of us humans – challenging tasks, attention, belonging, trust, fairness – are concerned – I do not see much difference. But if we look at socializing, self-esteem, individuality, discipline or focus on results, then there huge differences – even within Europe. I see huge differences in the expectations of followers in the different areas of the world as to what good leadership is. Successful managers adapt to this.
Q: In the current situation we only have digital tools to lead. What would be your advice to exercise leadership in these times?
A: As a manager you do everything to make working with digital tools as easy for your team as possible. The cost of good equipment and attractive software is nothing compared to the time and motivation your team members loose due to bad equipment. Do not make the mistake and take yourself and your digital needs as the reference point for everything – serve your team.
Q: And finally, it seems that the economic future is full of dark clouds. Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs on how to act now and face the post-Coronavirus time?
For me, our entrepreneurial talents will overcome this and future crises. The current circumstances show us our deficits.
There is not the one single way to respond to them adequately and successfully. It is always a bundle of measures. They should all lead to building dynamic-resistant structures in our organisations. We do this by upgrading to modern tools and by attracting and hiring talents who dare to bring in new ideas. They will make us stronger for the price of being challenging at times. But they will expand our entrepreneurial toolbox to better cope with the next blow to our business.