Impossible Things with David Terrar S1 E16
DAVID TERRAR [00:00:55] Hi, this is David Terrar for Impossible Things with David Terrar. And I’ve got a really great guest buT so before I get to the guest, let me just remind any newbies why this is called Impossible Things. It’s partly because of the “sea clocks” third law where any sufficiently advanced technology is seems like is magic. And partly because the queen in Alice “is looking through glass” about doing six impossible things before breakfast. So we’re into impossible technology, we’re into impossible things. But we also talk leadership and the other factors around making the business work. And that’s what we’re gonna talk about today. My guest, Ionly met a week ago, it’s Dr. Erica Jacobi. And she’s an Organisational Design Expert. We actually met because we were both speaking at an event. Erica, welcome to the show. Please introduce yourself. What you do.
ERIKA JACOBI [00:01:47] David, thanks so much for having me. It’s such a pleasure to be here. What do I do? I am an Organisational Change and Behaviour Specialist Development, Organisational Development. I am the Head of the company LC Global Consulting, Inc. We have offices in Munich, Germany and in New York City. And I’m joining you from New York. So greetings from New York. That’s what I do. I help companies reinvent themselves, business model innovation. I help companies revamp their H.R. structures. I help teams work in more agile way. And most of all, I help companies become more adaptive and agile at scale in a nutshell.
DAVID TERRAR [00:02:31] Excellent stuff. Now, I know that you. You didn’t start doing that. You’re actually an entrepreneur. You started a language school which grew. And obviously at some point you must have got interested in organisational design. Tell us a bit about that, too.
ERIKA JACOBI [00:02:47] Absolutely. It feels like two lives. Ago, I founded a language school in Munich, Germany. Foreign language school in Amherst in Europe, languages, foreign languages are really important. Right. So every company needs them. Every leader needs them. Every person needs foreign languages. Right. So a very long time ago…
DAVID TERRAR [00:03:09] Okay we were just assume everybody speaks English. We “announce” languages and we put to shame by people like you.
ERIKA JACOBI [00:03:24] No, no, no, no. So. But I honored with thougt. So I started with a language school in the language school would only cater to large organisations. We would go into companies and codes, top executives. And before I knew it again, it’s a very long time to go. But it started with one woman show, as a one woman show and before I knew it, we had over 100 coaches and trainers and before I knew it, I also knew every single VP, HR and also every top executive. A very, very, very big companies. And at one point the thing was getting out of hand a little bit. And we were growing so much that I was thinking, whoops, how can I grow with the company even more in a better way? And how can we have a really, really great culture? So I became interested in these things, became a certified coach all under the flag that I wanted to be a better leader. Then I studied intercultural communication, specialised in corporate culture. And then from there, I still then think it wasn’t quite enough then I became interested in how can we set an organisation up so that people can really work in a great way, in a fun way, in an inspirational way, that it’s really fun to go to work and that they can give their best. And then it was a huge “first 50 company” that got me away from doing this for my own company and doing it for them. So then I was on call for them for a long, long, long, long, long time as an external consultant. And we had great, great, great, great times. And from there, the rest is history. I got my PhD and so on and so forth. But for our audience, I would like to remind people that I think from the early stages of our lives, practically everybody on this planet is interested in organisational development, because I think when we are children already, we notice through the various social settings that we experience that things can be done in vastly different ways. Family are also an organisation. Romantic relationships, if you will, are also in organisation. And already as children, we experience different social settings. And for example, different cultural settings, different social settings. Everybody has an aunt and uncle and they do things differently in their family. So I think each and every one of us has experienced what doing things differently can do. And we experienced this early on in our lives and up to today. Working with huge companies and small companies, it’s one of the most fascinating things in my life. And it’s very rewarding work to co-create a different future, a more desired future.
DAVID TERRAR [00:06:29] You would say that was the situation we’re in now with the pandemic and the crisis. And the fact that suddenly we’ve been talking about the future of work for years and all of a sudden every person on the planet has actually experienced a change to a different future of work. Where we’ve been working from home and lockdown’s happened. And then we’ve we’ve got to get used to zoom in all the other technology technologies. Do you think that what you do is even more important now because of the changes that are being forced on organisations?
ERIKA JACOBI [00:07:03] That’s a very good question. I would say my kind of work, of course, I’m a “tad” biased. My kind of work has always been important. If you ask me whether people notice the importance of this work now more than before, the answer is yes. Right. So it’s very easy and change psychology, it’s pretty clear. People will change when they have to. Companies will change once they have to. I think it’s safe to say that in the last six months, eight months, companies and the world and people were forced to change. I hope it’s becoming a little clearer that if we prepare ourselves as individuals or as organisations, even as societies and countries in the world, in my eyes, to an ever changing future in the future is now, then I think we will be better equipped to make it out alive. But even more so, make it out to thrive. And that’s what I love, really.
DAVID TERRAR [00:08:16] Excellent. Now, you and I met last week at this conference called the Digital Disruption Conference. Tell us a bit about what you were saying at the conference. You’re talking about the adaptive organisation and personalities. Tell us a bit more about what you talked about.
ERIKA JACOBI [00:08:36] Yes, absolutely. So I think I was a little bit like the outlanders person at the conference, because I think it’s a tech conference out of “Perth Tech” and organisational development and change processes in my eyes should work hand in hand period. So I think that was probably my whole appearance, I think made that statement right. The other thing that I talked about was like, how can we make companies more adaptive, more agile so that they’re well equipped? In the way they have to manoeuvre or manoeuvring in the world and in their markets and how they experience the current circumstances. And I think we all know the adaptive organisation or agility at scale as a structural from a structural lens, which I love and which I cooperate with, with small and big companies. But at the conference, to bring it down to a personal level that we can all deal with and that we can all take away something from the speech or from the lens. I brought it down to identity agility. So for me, for a company or a country or a team or an individual person to be able to adapt and not necessarily go with the flow because then the next wave could hit us. I do think we also need to learn to practise what I call the identity agility. And just real quickly, identity I define as the sense of who we are. “…” down in my doctoral research to who we are, what we do, how we do what we do, how we know we belong, what we can be in the future. “Those five…” and the agility part is like, let’s think about how we can do things differently? How we can construe a new sense of who we are and how we can do, you know, have a new sense of how we do things. Because in my research, I found out that successful companies actually path that before the crisis, during the crisis, after any crisis, it’s their normal state of being that on the one hand they have a strong sense of who they are. They know how things are being done here. They align with that. But at any given time, it’s already in the company that they know how to do things differently than their standard go to. So it’s that mix that I talked about.
DAVID TERRAR [00:11:14] Okay, so it’s all about it’s about strength of purpose, but about not being rigid, about being flexible and open to change. Interesting. Loads of ideas and words that I like there, this old kind of fades in to the culture change in organisations. And how difficult do you think it is for an organisation to actually move to that kind of culture that you’re describing?
ERIKA JACOBI [00:11:43] That’s another good question. I think there is a method to the madness in my eyes depends on what the culture is right now. Also, just a small correction or add on to what you were saying before in my eyes, it’s not purpose. It’s really the structures, the collaboration forums, the reporting structures, the how we reward things. Everything that caters into that idea of a culture or how we design an organisation or how we…
DAVID TERRAR [00:12:17] That’s interesting. So I was talking about the purpose and the why people do it. But you’re saying actually that’s much that’s important. But the operating model and the way it all fits together in a particular organisation is crucial to.
ERIKA JACOBI [00:12:30] In my eyes, again, I’m biased. It’s not only crucial to in my eyes. It’s even more crucial because, you know, if we’re talking survival, I don’t mean to be so, so morbid and so sinister and so dark. Right. Of course, we want to create a better future. But if we are at that pain level and at those traumatic change events, change needs that we’re experiencing right now and have always experienced and will always experience, then the purpose is one thing. But I also know companies that have a wonderful purpose, but they’re going down because they’re not set up for survival. And if you’re not set up for survival, you can also not thrive. Right. I mean, we need to have our bases covered. And if we run out of money or out of a market and that’s it. Right. You can have the best purpose. So in a way, in my eyes, the structures and collaboration forms, they should support your purpose. And for that reason, I’m also saying we should create an identity based design for your company. It doesn’t have to work for any other company. It should just work for you. And for that reason, we also need to co-create it and really, really become creative around this. But coming back to how easy this is to do, in my eyes, it depends on where the company is at right now, probably in terms of like how simple example, how much is failure welcomed, appreciated, and then what, in companies and what do we do with that failure? Because in my books, every failure is just feedback so that we can do things better tomorrow and then around that, how can we support that and so on. And let’s face it, if we have a lot of high ranking levels and then the best gets promoted and we have a promotion system by oh, this is the success you brought to the table. This is what you did. And then the others fall behind. My question always is, if you want innovation, if you want renewal, if you want advance every single day, what do we do with so-called failure? That’s one aspect where I would like to know, what’s actually going on in your company.
DAVID TERRAR [00:14:53] You’re talking my language and it’s you know, it’s quite from my research, I can see that the organisations that I’ve actually got a failed fast culture that recognise that this is experimentation, you’re not gonna move forward and unless you’re experimenting and allowing failure. And as you write, you said, failures is a learning exercise. So it’s all goodness, it’s those organisations that’s one of the ingredients to the adaptive organisation and you were talking about the fact that we all need to be thinking in terms of continuous change because it’s all about survival, it comrs back to Darwin. And the most adaptable of the species is the one that survives. Oh, definitely agree with all of that. Tell me a bit about some of the trends, though, because you talked about hierarchy and shifting away from that. I argue that in today more than ever, we need a different kind of structure, more distributed, more networked maybe with fewer levels. Does that make sense?
ERIKA JACOBI [00:16:00] Absolutely. A totally resonates with me and is also where we’re trying to drive things. But it also needs to fit with the organisation. Right. You can’t sort of throw the baby out with the bathwater. It needs to make sense to them. And I always say it doesn’t help if I or L.C Global, we know how to do things best. The people in the organisation need to find their own way of how they do things best. And then we can go from like super hierarchical to network based operation. Unless there is a strong need for it. Right. So I want to go back to what you said, there is constant change. In my eyes., I want to challenge that a little bit. Because you know, a lot of companies that sort of change for the sake of changing and that can be fatal to, in my eyes and then adaptive organisation, there is daily, daily, daily, daily or minutely by the minutes, hourly advancement. That’s a different thing. Sometimes “to..” we have to keep everything the same. Sometimes to advance, we have to change things. And that’s where there is simply no playbook other than our brains and our collective intelligence to decide what is it now in order to advance. What do we need to do now? Do we need to do more of the same? Do we need to change things? How much do we want to change? What do we change? And that’s where I would really like to repeat one thing that I also said at the conference. For me, the adaptive organisation, yes, it’s structure. Yes, it’s all designed. Yes, it’s culture. Yes, it’s a mindset. Yes, it’s a people’s strategy. Yes, it’s also a market strategy and an innovation strategy. It’s all of those things. But at the core, not to get lost in translation or not to get lost in “many many…” we need to do at the core, I would invite every single company out there and every single team leader and every single individual to only ask one question at the beginning. How well are we set up to have to produce effective change responses to occuring changed needs. Now, we will not always know which change needs will occur. Comes with the territory, uncertainty. But we know, that’s for sure. We know. We know. We know. We know there will be “occuting needs”. And then the question is, how well are we set up to find effective change answers? And I know companies that to “the minut” and they always change and they always change. And they even have it on their flags like, oh, we pivot every six months or so. That’s fantastic. But that doesn’t have to be. In fact, “things respond, they’re occurring take me” if that makes sense, though, if you think about that question. And then how well are you set up to procreate effective change responses, effective change responses, not just one thing, then that has to do with how well we collaborate, how great our communication flow is, how great the information flow is, how well we’re be able to read data, a lot of people collect a lot of data, but are we able to read it, understand it, “plans responses?” So I find it pretty good question for as an “author” do not get lost in this huge shift.
DAVID TERRAR [00:19:59] This is fascinating. So what you’re saying here is that being open to change, it’s not just something that can happen bottom up or top down. It’s going to happen on all the levels of the organisation. Is that what you’re saying?
ERIKA JACOBI [00:20:12] Yes, that’s what I’m saying. I think. It’s a little difficult because change happens on very many levels simultaneously. And I would like to, David, both to one of two books about the narrated organisation, and he always says that an organisation is like a big how is the big building with so many different apartments and in each and every room of these of the building and of the apartments, there are different narratives going on, different lifestyles, different everything, different goals, different… and he says an organisation is exactly like that and nobody knows the full story. Right. So for us to change an organisation or co-create that change, we are as LC Global, we are particularly interested in getting all the narratives on the table and in traditional change management it used to be like, hey, consulting firm, could you come in and change the other people? That’s not gonna work, right? We need to get all narratives on the table. We also need to get the unconscious subconscious narratives on the table because everybody thinks they know their own story. But deep down, they don’t. It’s cluttered. They don’t know exactly where the company needs to go, wants to go. And I think if we get those narratives off the table and discuss them and if we can then discuss expectations and see how that’s where we truly are right now in our mindset, in our operations and everything, how that fits in with what we need for the future? Then I think we get we’re getting a whole lot closer to understanding what we as a collective can actually shift. And that’s when we’re very often talking baby steps that have a great brand, which is better in my eyes than having those brand steps that have very, you know, not so great results because change can also harm a company. So the benefits of getting those narratives on the table and getting expectations on the table and getting that collective with them. I wouldn’t make it available is that it’s not even that people are involved in these things. No. Then every single layer or organisation co-creates that change. And for that reason, I also know when we leave that they can do it because they are doing it. They if their ideas are anything, we ask great questions. We get the money. The companies do the work.
ERIKA JACOBI [00:23:06] Excellent. Tell us about leadership. Because I know how important that is to make all this work, so tell us a bit about what you think the right qualities of leadership on now compared to 10 years ago, 20 years ago.
ERIKA JACOBI [00:23:21] Yeah, that’s a big topic at the moment because I think everybody understands that the leader of the future needs to have vastly different qualities than the leader of the past. And it’s just not that easy. I once led a wonderful conversation around identity and which narratives we would have to change so that we could change for the better in the future. And a lot of really clever people said our idea of leadership needs to change, our ideal of charismatic leadership needs to change and that leaders are even only that important. Now, I absolutely agree with that. But what does that mean for the leader that all of a sudden might not be that important any longer? So that’s what I always say, what the leader of the future or any person, because everybody is a leader, needs to have is this cognitive agility, cognitive agility, emotional ability, behavioural agility and also systemic agility. So let me quickly summarise what that really “means” because there’s a lot of big words.
DAVID TERRAR [00:24:39] Sounds good.
ERIKA JACOBI [00:24:41] Cognitive agility. Can we learn to think in different ways? And now everybody is gonna say, yes, yes, yes, yes, but that’s really mind aerobics and it’s neuro “custody” that needs to be created and that we do not naturally have, period. The best leader doesn’t have it. I don’t have the full capacity. I just have the awareness that we need to work on things. Right. So can we learn to think in different ways? That means we have to learn to become much to use our brains in a much more plastic way and much more malleable way. Can we? Emotional agility can be learn to feel different things. Like, we have hot buttons and what do we do with them? Usually companies will ignore them. Emotions don’t exist. Also, people know nobody has a hard time right now. No, no, no, no, no. So can we allow tha in companies? Can be allowed to say today, I feel really, really bad. And now what do we do with this? What do we do with this energy? Can we learn to transform it? But for that reason, we first need to get it out on the table and not think “pinket”. The third one, behaviour agility. Can we learn to do things in a different way? Every single day, potentially but maybe one day we just leave things the way they are, it’s also behavioural agility. Right. But can we learn to do things different differently? On the behaviour level and last on the systemic level? Are we open to changing the structure? And making systemic changes. And I think that’s another one for the adaptive organisation. The questions are “garus call” that the double loop learning process. Most companies only go through what they call failure and then they survive that. And then that’s that. But a double loop learning process is where we take whatever happens as feedback and then see what in the bigger org designed for the organisation we needed to change so that next time we already have that in our DNA and that way the entire company changes. So these four or five skills I do think a leader needs to have. And when they have that, that also means they can detached themselves much more. they can take themselves out of the game much more and trust the collective intelligence much more and really make sure that we as a collective, as the team, that’s the work that people can sign.
DAVID TERRAR [00:27:29] That’s great. You’ve given us load of “..” of thoughts. Now, I was going to ask you a question and ask you to give some advice, but I know you don’t, “you’re not so sure about” giving advice. What could organisations be thinking about in this next phase? As we come out of lockdown and we change again to what happens next? What could people be thinking about?
ERIKA JACOBI [00:27:48] Yes. Let me quickly explain why I have a beef with the word advise. “I always think” advised is we’re learning from the past. And then we understood what happened in the past. And then someone gives an advise. And I always say we’ve worked for so many different companies and not once have we decide the same or decide not once have we done the same thing. So it’s all in the moment. And it’s what “other Qamar” calls learning from the future. And that’s where your advise or your thought is as good as mine. Very likely, better than mine. Just just for that, what could companies do? I already like that. That “narration” because it means it’s in the future. We’re hopeful. There is something we can do now. Let’s use our imagination. What could we do? And I would simply like to extend an invitation to companies out there to use out there or even to an individual leader or team member to use this time to really sit down alone or with your team or with your leadership, whoever you want to choose. And it’s doable alone as well. And think about what you can be in the future? Think about who you are right now, how you do things, how your people know they belong, how you know where you belong, how you do what you do and then from there, once you really know what that is. Try to think how the world has shifted, how markets have shifted, how a customer needs have shifted, and see how you can then practise that agility. Not drastic steps, but how can we adapt a little bit to our sense of who we are, to what we can be in the future and ask them what we have to be in the future so that we survive and thrive. And I would also really like to invite people remate negativen “feedback” and bring negative feelings on the table. You know, it’s very traumatic to not even be able to discuss these things. It’s okay to not feel great in the biggest disruptive event of our century probably or at least a decade for sure. It’s okay to not feel on top of our games. Let’s just talk about it and then let’s see how we can create that energy. Also, the energy of “order..” told me underused, underutilised for innovation. There is a huge link and huge energy to tap into if we are allowed to even always say it. And then let’s really see, let’s be hopeful. Let’s enjoy it as a game. As to what could we do? There is so much potential in the world could, what could we do now? And it’s a collective question and an honest question. And it’s a great question.
DAVID TERRAR [00:30:54] That’s fantastic. You know what? We’ve run out of time, Erika. You’ve given us so much food for thought there. An “awful” lot around organisational guide design and lots of questions for the audience to ask themselves. That’s been fantastic, Erika. Thanks for coming on.
ERIKA JACOBI [00:31:09] Thanks so much for having me, David.
ERIKA JACOBI [00:31:11] And Erika’s firm is LC Global Consulting. So if you Google that, you’ll find her. That’s been brilliant. Not sure what we’re gonna do for Episode 17 next week, but if you check “@DT “my Twitter feed, Disruptive LIVE’s Twitter feed. If you come to impossiblethings.fyi you’ll get more content like this. See you next time. Thanks very much.