Equal Dignity as Guiding Principle for Successful Transformations

Trans­for­ma­tion is what every­one is talk­ing about, because dig­i­tal­iza­tion demands adapt­able and cus­tomer-ori­ent­ed orga­ni­za­tions. Appar­ent­ly stead­fast orga­ni­za­tion­al prin­ci­ples and behav­iors that have been suc­cess­ful for many years must be ques­tioned: away from the local effi­cien­cy opti­mum in the func­tion­al silo towards inter­dis­ci­pli­nary coop­er­a­tion along the val­ue stream, away from long-term plan­ning in a rel­a­tive­ly sta­ble envi­ron­ment towards sail­ing by sight in the VUCA storm and away from the pyra­mid towards the net­work as the pre­vail­ing orga­ni­za­tion­al prin­ci­ple. How­ev­er, such a rad­i­cal change only suc­ceeds if the peo­ple con­cerned are not mere­ly “won over” as pas­sive objects, but are allowed to par­tic­i­pate with equal dig­ni­ty in shap­ing the change.

Equal Dignity

For the Dan­ish fam­i­ly ther­a­pist Jes­per Juul, edu­ca­tion first and fore­most means hav­ing a prop­er rela­tion­ship. For this to suc­ceed, fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships need a cer­tain qual­i­ty, for which he coined the con­cept of equal dig­ni­ty that he describes in this way:

Equal dig­ni­ty, in my under­stand­ing, means both “of equal val­ue” (as a human being) and “with the same respect” for the per­son­al dig­ni­ty and integri­ty of the part­ner. In an equal dig­ni­ty rela­tion­ship, the wish­es, beliefs and needs of both part­ners are tak­en equal­ly seri­ous­ly and are not dis­missed or ignored with ref­er­ence to gen­der, age or dis­abil­i­ty. Equal dig­ni­ty thus sat­is­fies the fun­da­men­tal need of all peo­ple to be seen, heard and tak­en seri­ous­ly as individuals.

Jes­per Juul: Was Fam­i­lien trägt.

Equal dig­ni­ty inten­tion­al­ly dif­fers from equal­i­ty in that it does not ini­tial­ly address equal rights and oblig­a­tions. It rather refers to the atti­tude of rec­og­niz­ing the oth­er mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty in their indi­vid­u­al­i­ty and their sub­jec­tive needs and desires instead of degrad­ing them to mere objects. The task of lead­er­ship and the respon­si­bil­i­ty remains clear­ly with the par­ents (and is not del­e­gat­ed in the style of lais­sez-faire or demo­c­ra­t­ic approach­es), but with the clear goal of the inde­pen­dent lead­er­ship of the (then adult) children.

From Tayloristic Immaturity to Agile Self-Organization

The key ele­ment of agili­ty is sub­sidiar­i­ty. Agile orga­ni­za­tions resem­ble more a net­work than a pyra­mid. Deci­sions are made local­ly where the knowl­edge is and where the effect of the deci­sion unfolds. This stony path from tay­loris­tic imma­tu­ri­ty to agile self-orga­ni­za­tion def­i­nite­ly deserves to be called trans­for­ma­tion. Thus this change dif­fers already con­cep­tu­al­ly from a mere change, and nobody should be tempt­ed to think it through cen­tral­ly, to pre­scribe it from above and to imple­ment it via stan­dard change management. 

Dia­log­i­cal lead­er­ship works on the ques­tion of how as many employ­ees of a com­pa­ny or orga­ni­za­tion as pos­si­ble can get into an indi­vid­ual entre­pre­neur­ial dis­po­si­tion and how they can work togeth­er pro­duc­tive­ly from such a disposition.

Karl-Mar­tin Dietz: Jed­er Men­sch ein Unternehmer. Grundzüge ein­er dial­o­gis­chen Kultur.

Those who are seri­ous about agile trans­for­ma­tion must over­come this acquired imma­tu­ri­ty and strive for the self-lead­er­ship of the peo­ple, so that in the sense of dia­log­i­cal lead­er­ship as many employ­ees as pos­si­ble get into a this entre­pre­neur­ial dis­po­si­tion. How­ev­er, this will not be achieved by means of a few encroach­ing change mea­sures, but through joint prac­tic­ing and care­ful reflection. 

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart peo­ple and tell them what to do; we hire smart peo­ple so they can tell us what to do.

Steve Jobs

If you want to dry up the pond, don’t ask the frogs.” This sen­tence sounds log­i­cal and fun­ny, but is sim­ply stu­pid and arro­gant as a guide­line for changes involv­ing peo­ple. The agile trans­for­ma­tion only suc­ceeds when peo­ple are allowed to par­tic­i­pate with equal dig­ni­ty. Only in this way peo­ple can become active­ly involved sub­jects of change act­ing respon­si­bly in the sense of the whole instead of just pas­sive­ly affect­ed objects.

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