Heiko Fischer is the CEO and Founder of Resourceful Humans. The company’s motto is 100% Entrepreneurship and 0% Bureaucracy. How does Heiko incorporate this motto into his company and the companies he consults with? Find out in this episode.
With me today is Heiko Fischer who is founder of a company called Resourceful Humans. He’s been described by Gary Hamel, one of the world’s most influential experts on strategy, as the Tony Stark of human resources. And if like me you don’t know who Tony Stark is, he is the fictional superhero Iron Man from the American Marvel comic books. Heiko, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much for having me.
By the way, once I tried to answer the question of who Tony Stark is, I found that Elon Musk was the inspiration for the actor playing the most recent version of Tony Stark a few years ago in Iron Man, right. You are aware of that, right?
Yeah. As I’m sitting here in my office, I’m looking at a statue of the Iron Man suit that my team gifted to me to kind of hit the point home. Outside we have a Tesla Model S parked so that’s the brainchild of Elon Musk there, Tesla the electric car company. I feel a kinship to both of those very crazy people. I think my team will say it’s as much a curse as it is a blessing to have those very innovative person running around the company because it means that you have a very short attention span for anything and putting anything into action is a challenge but I can come up with a lot of pretty good ideas, so that’s the main thing.
I don’t think you’re doing yourself justice. Some of the ideas that I’ve seen and some of the products and processes you developed are pretty robust. We’ll get into that in a minute, but just while we’re on the subject of Elon Musk, and I am hoping to have Ashley Vance, the biographer of Elon Musk on the show in the new year, so you are in good company.
Heiko, the mantra of your company which is called Resourceful Humans is 100% entrepreneurship, 0% bureaucracy, so maybe you can just describe your journey in the workplace and conclude with setting up a company that lives by these two very important principles if you like.
Gladly. So, I think there is a main takeaway for me. My last employment was in a computer games company. It was Europe’s largest independent videogame designer called Crytek. I was the first HR director in that company. We scaled up rapidly from a 200 to 1,000 people within a couple of years, just a crazy experience. The one thing I took away from this in video games world was that people don’t think in processes, they think in experiences, the kind of stuff that happens to them very visceral. I mean you always take the world in through our pathos not out of logos primarily. That’s true for most people. I reflected on that for myself and looked back in my childhood, and I found that the way I grew up was very much influenced by a dad who loved his work who felt such a high level of identity with the company that he worked with that the way I experienced the notion of work was completely different from 99% of my co-students, experienced when their dad would come home and would be tired and maybe open a beer and sit in front of the TV and just just slack off and digest another whole of the day in the office. Whereas mine came home with kind of a spring in his step. He had this “Hi-ho. Hi-ho, it’s off to work I go.” He would talk about the contributions that HP made to the world. He would talk about calculators that help the space shuttle re-enter the atmosphere and then all these crazy inventions that HP made. He never talked about being an HR guy. For me it was kind of a letdown when I heard that he’s not an astronaut. He does work for NASA, but he’s an HR guy. It shaped my reality that a company could actually be something that gives you energy, it’s something that gives you purpose. It was something that gave energy and wealth to our family and we were able to travel around and was able to live in foreign countries, learn different languages but I always had this nucleus, this company, this HP way of experiencing the world. There was such a strong management philosophy behind that which was imbued by the founders by both Hewlett and Dave Packard that I had a very positive experience, unreflected experience of a company can positively influence a family, a young boy, and actually the community in which it operates. That was the nucleus of this 100% entrepreneurship and 0% bureaucracy because I was fed that, my mother milk in a way.
And you worked there as well for a period, didn’t you?
Yeah, I worked there briefly until I found out that it’s super stupid to work for a company where your father has been super successful and you even look like him because every conversation starts with “you look just like your father” which at a certain point in your life is cruel and from then you want to prove your own worth and it gets in your way. It was part of my own emancipation process. At some point, you have to kick the king off the throne and become your own king but that’s an entirely different podcast.
Yeah. But then you also went to, I mean a big German company and then a big US company which is Bayer and General Motors. I mean to what extent did this image of work is being a force for good remain? Was that increased or decreased by those experiences? How did your thinking evolved by working in those two large companies?
Increase is the wrong word. I think it got shattered, beaten, waterboarded, and electrocuted. When I left HP, I really had this drive to say I want to start from the bottom. I had a great network from my dad but I said I want to start in the trenches. I want to go my own way. I want to work from the bottom up and that really was where I started in these companies, and they are huge. These are 200,000 people plus companies. You really felt like a resource. You felt like number 3,581 on an excel spreadsheet, a person that will be moved around. If your voice was heard or not, who knows? You really felt small and the more you rebel against it, the more it was put into focus just how meaningless and replaceable you were for these companies. This was my experience working there as a very junior person with extremely high ambitions of changing the world and the kind of heritage that I have. I think it gave me against motivation like this is what I don’t want. This is what I would describe with bureaucracy. When there is a system that actually works against a human way of working. It is completely geared towards a metric. It’s geared towards maintaining a stock price or shareholder value but it doesn’t really connect to the human being other than being a means to an end. I couldn’t articulate it that way back then but that’s really what it gave me. This is not the way organizations need to be structured to get us to the next level as a species.
You have a good view of what you needed to move away from. Then you went to this company which you mentioned early on, Crytek which exploded in terms of growth in 2008 I guess, right?
Yeah. It was a fantastically innovative company founded by three brothers. It was really a garage story. It started out in a garage of their parents in a small town in Germany which then just went through the roof but really it was one of those companies that had the same drive as HP did back in the days. They said we don’t want to be a “me too”. We want to define our own industry. We want to break new ground and go somewhere where nobody had been before. They were also open to not just disrupt their industry, they were open to disrupt the way they work and that’s where we found each other and said “Look. If we want to become a company that brings network gaming to the world, we have to create a network game inside the company. That game will be the ideal company culture.” Because of what these guys are saying I asked them on day one what’s the best thing that I can do for you. And they said the best thing would be if you were not here, right. If there were no need for you but she said “that’s not what you want to hear in your first day”. But they said what you call management makes it hard for me to make kickass games, right. That stuck with me and I was really lucky that I had a fantastic team around me at that time who said “Well, you always told us about this weird HP way where the founder just set the overall objectives and then get out of the way of people and let them lead, right.” I sat down with the founders and I said “What if – just hear me out – what if we created a company where we don’t scale into silos and matrices and all these but what if we became a network of entrepreneurs where each game project became a company within a company and we drive this mindset of it’s your game down to every level. So, we have leadership at every level. They were just crazy enough and entrepreneurial enough to say that it’s a good business and the right thing to do. That’s how we grew up. That’s how we became successful. We want to make other people successful. That was the real genesis of a 100% entrepreneurship and 0% bureaucracy mindset. How do you craft such a culture? How do you design a workplace that can hold that promise? I remember at the time I watched a video by an Austrian psychologist called Victor Frankel.
Man’s Search for Meaning.
Exactly that one, yeah. His speech about his experience of learning to fly, right. His flight instructor showed him how to approach a landing when you have crosswinds. He said you basically have to aim for something that is further than the landing piece. You have to kind of overshoot it and that will make you land in the right spot because you’re crabbing into the wind. Whereas if you just aim for the piece you will be be off course. That was kind of the mental image for us to say what if we strove for 100% entrepreneurship and 0% bureaucracy? We might just get out of that point of what this organization is maximum capable of, but if we approach this realistically with all the crosswinds in the crazy world and in everything that we have out there we will not do justice to the potential of the people in this organization. We will undercut ourselves. So, let’s go in with guns blazing expectations as high as possible and we’ll come out where we could be.
What is the end point of that? What did success look like for you?
Unemployment. The success was that we became superfluous as an HR team. So this was a four year track where at the end we had a self-sustaining ecosystem of entrepreneurial teams, a federation of teams and a company that needed very little central guidance especially no shit services so all the marketing and finances and HR competencies were actually repatriated back into the team so they would recruit themselves, they would recruit their own people, they would develop their own people, they would set their own salaries. Salaries were transparent. They have no vacation policy anymore. They could decide whoever takes vacation when, that was up to them.
We radically simplified the organization. We added a lot of technology way before the whole digitalization buzzword came out. We were in a great position, we had a tech company at our fingertips so a lot of those tools to hack performance management and meeting management and feedback management we could pioneer back then because we had the tech at our fingertips. We repatriated that back where we thought it belonged all along and then kind of in the end of the journey, “We succeeded! We are done. What now?” That became what is Resourceful Humans now.
Let’s come to that in a minute because I would love to pick up on those three areas of meetings, performance management, and feedback – a little feedback or poor feedback. But just wrapping up this story here if you don’t mind Heiko. You mentioned when we first met that corporate culture can be seen as a source of competitive advantage. To what extent was Crytek able to convert this unique culture into competitive advantage in the marketplace? Are there any sort of business outcomes that you participated in creating that standout in the story of Crytek?
Absolutely. Apart from the fact that you can see it in the products themselves, so if you actually go on sites like Metacritic which rate the games you will see that Crytek has a proven track record of extremely valued games. So, what they came out with in a marketplace where you have such a schizophrenic value creation chain which is you have to be super innovative on one side so people actually want to buy your game and on the other side you have to be super on time in budget to get it out in the window of opportunity let’s say for Christmas. This company consistently hits its deadlines and came out with games that were rated and reviewed as top of their class so that interest in terms of product, that’s the validation of a culture. That they can sustain that in such a boom or bust industry is quite remarkable and that’s something anybody in this industry will tell you about. I think another thing is that recently they were acquired by Amazon so if you want to talk about success that is if Google or Facebook or Amazon wants to buy you, it shows that you have certain value and something to bring to the table, not that I particularly like that outcome but it speaks to the fact that they have something to offer.
Right. So let’s get into your company now, Resourceful Humans, founded in late 2011. I guess if I look at some of the materials it’s about hacking human behavior in the workplace and you focus on three things Heiko, that you have experienced in some of these large organization you work with: useless meetings, too little feedback and non-value adding performance management. Maybe we can start with meetings because the two biggest time wasters in the corporate world are meetings and email. Email they say that 28% of people’s time is spent doing email. Meetings probably 70% of a leader’s time is spent either in meetings preparing for meetings or debriefing meetings. We all know what a bad meeting looks like. Tell us a little bit about how you think about meetings either internally or when you work with clients. Maybe from an industrial company that’s got sort of maybe bad meeting practices. What kind of things are you able to do? What kind of outcomes are you able to create in this area? I would imagine that every listener can roll their eyes when they think about meetings and can relate very strongly to useless meetings. So, let’s get into this subject.
Yeah. I think one thing that is important to put this in context of is that our main product or main service if you want next to the tools is a management framework which we call the RH way. This management philosophy is founded on what we call the first principle. That is something that actually goes back to Elon Musk you mentioned at the beginning of the show where you said what we do way too often when we talk or when we innovate is think by analogy rather than reasoning from the bottom up. If you break things down to their very fundamental truth, then you can come up with stuff that is revolutionary rather than incremental in nature. We do that too little. We look at the same thing for organizations. We looked at what are the kind of the natural laws of organization that are undisputed so like you know you can have an opinion on gravity but gravity doesn’t have an opinion on you. We were wondering if the same was true for organizations and we came up with three principles. The first one is that if you give good people a choice or autonomy then they will step up and they will act responsibly. It’s been true for all these Maverick game changers that had been out there way before the digital age and that worked as entrepreneur on networks like W.L. Gore who did the Gore-Tex of jackets and stuff like that. Morningstar company, one of the biggest tomato producers in the world they all work in that logic and they have nothing to do with fancy startups or anything, right, so they’ve done this for decades. Samco working in marine heavy industry pumps and stuff like that.
The second principle that they applied was you have to give radical transparency on anything, on any formation especially on process, progress and results because you can only increase the decision-making capability of a team if they can base their choices and the evolution of their choices on ever better information. Then you have accountability. So, choices lead to responsibly. Transparency leads to accountability.
Then the third one is that you have to keep things small. You have to really keep things to a level where the human factor still works so that the connectivity thrives. It doesn’t matter if team size or tasks size. These things have to be extremely small because nobody understands it when you say our goal by 2020 is 20 billion or something like that. You can’t. Your brain can’t.
Now we try to apply these first principles of such network organizations to the symptoms of bad culture as we said performance, feedback and meetings. I think a great example would be a tech company that is a big tech companies that is very bureaucratic, SAP. We work with the HR board member Stefan Riess. He said he wants to try this tool, this card tool because what he hates is that his team is very often gets into this sort of consumer position. For example, I come to your meeting and I will consume what you give me as the meeting host and I will say it sucks and that it burns my time and it wastes my time. As consumers, they were unhappy with the meetings. As the hosts, Stefan was unhappy with the meetings because he said it feels like I push and I feed and all I get back is nothing, lethargy and antagonist and stuff like that.
How can we actually get into a meeting where — If it were up to me, I would make no meetings. For me I’m just trying to enable them to do their jobs, right, so by my disposition of spoon feeding my senior leadership. We said okay try this tool what it does is the following. You log in as a meeting host and you will have four cards on your virtual board, on your iPad. We’re making things as simple as possible. We are honoring our values. We’re very clear on follow ups and owners and the customer is the center of this meeting.
If you log in now to this meeting or if you’re in the room, you will login with your smartphone. You will have the same four cards on your phone and you can swipe through them like Tinder style. At any point when you feel that any of those statements are not true, like we’re not honoring our values right now or the customer is not at the center of the meeting or were not making it as simple as possible, you’ll tap the card and the card will turn from green to red on your phone and everybody else’s, so the meeting host can see that Heiko just said that the meeting has lost sight of the customer which begs the question who is the customer of this meeting. Which you would be amazed to find that in any of the companies that we work with, when you come to that point to say who are you serving with this meeting? People ask what do you mean? What customer are we serving? Who does this benefit specifically? Like if I go to a shop let’s say with our experience with T-Mobile. If I buy an iPhone or a contract with T-Mobile, how do they benefit from this particular meeting? Well they don’t. This is about an internal issue. Okay then, basically this meeting should be redundant. If you cannot relay its value to an actual customer experience even indirectly then you should question the existence of this meeting. This is super hard for people to actually put their actions into connection to an actual customer because we’ve become so used to serving our internal mechanisms and processes that that’s not the mindset that we approach stuff with. We had fantastic experiences on the board level where you have to imagine you have to kind of hold them to this tool in the beginning because they will say “The tool sucks. This is not useful. Go away with it.” And you’re like “No, we’ve committed to this and I’ll go through it.” And the card for the customer is still red. Somebody burst out. I mean this is C-level of a DAX company like a Fortune 500 company in Germany, right. He says “I don’t have time for the customer in my job!” You say “Hold. Now everybody just hold and reflect on that for a second.” In terms of you’re the leader of this company and you just said you don’t have time for the customer. Who pays your salary? Then they were like “Group headquarters”. “No, man. Your salary is paid by the customer. You’re forgetting about that in your leadership practice.”
Therein lies the roots from Hewlett Packard. That’s a very HP based approach, I guess, for why businesses exists ultimately.
The customer defines a job well done. The purpose of a company is not to make money. The purpose of the company is to contribute something to the customer. And that customer decides if you are on the market or not. Today, I just saw that picture of Stephen Elop, the Nokia CEO, who said “We haven’t done anything wrong and still we’ve lost. We’re out of the game.” Why? They’ve lost touch with their customer, right. They lost that next step that they wanted. If you’re too preoccupied with your internal organization, you are too in love with your own product, if you’re too secure, you will lose that touch. This tool is a prime example of holding people accountable to serving a customer need and if you are not doing that, you are wasting your time. We’ve actually built that in this system so that if you have the right information feeding into it and you have the right interface, an optional feature, the tool will tell you how much money you’re currently burning because it will calculate the salaries of the people participating in the meeting so instead of telling you “you have 15 minutes left” it will tell you, you have burned 450,000 euros at this point. Do you feel the outcome is worth it?
Extraordinary. I can imagine this creates some kind of existential angst among executives because many of them probably look at their agendas and realize that none of their meetings have anything to do with their customers at all. So, there is a pivot you have in large companies like SAP where the organization slowly wakes up to this reality. What’s the end part of the story with SAP? Have they embraced it? Is there a real shift going on in the culture based on this intervention, this tool you use to intervene?
In this particular case, it really wasn’t intervention because I think it was too crass for them. It was just really – you can only shift the culture so much but I’m all for it, Stefan is going to take this to the next level but it leads to exactly what you are saying. The problem is that you start arguing with the tool. You are arguing with your culture and your leadership model. We are saying you have to move away from the leader-follower model to a leader-leader model. You have to give people the choice to participate in meetings or not. That’s why the next level comes in. This is actually a future inspired by eBay. I worked for eBay briefly. I had a fantastic manager who at the end of each meeting would hold her supervisory team accountable to the meeting and say “Now, we will go once around the table and we have to score the meeting on a scale from 1 to 3. 1 the meeting was useless. 2 it was somewhat helpful. 3 it was really meaningful or valuable.” We went around and usually just strike stuff on experience. We will be like 1 or maybe a 2, on a good day. 1-1-1-1. She would be like “Okay now, tell me what you’ve contributed to making this a valuable meeting? 1 – nothing, 2 – a little bit, and 3 – I gave all I could” Obviously, they’re like “Oh damn it.” You know like 1, 1. Somebody would say 3 and we really shoot him down and go “No you didn’t.” The system tracks that. It will show you and say your average meeting score as a host is a 1.2 and the average participation of people is 1.0 so if people don’t participate this meeting is meaningless.
Then it will actually tell you that if you stay below that threshold for too many meetings, you can’t do invitations anymore, you cannot host meetings anymore. If you are not participating, if you are not contributing to making meaningful meetings,, if you don’t contribute, you cannot participate in meetings anymore as a participant either. It holds you literally accountable to your actions and not your words. That’s where people say I’m not empowered to make those decisions. Well that’s where the leadership comes in to say yes. You have to be able to empower people to say “No, I’m not going to participate in that meeting because that host burns my time. I can show you his track record.” or, “No. I refuse to allow you to join this meeting because I see that you are never contributing value to meetings so I’m free to exclude you from it.” This of course is not nice you know, and a lot of the other things that we’re seeing like there is too little feedback flying around organizations, it has to do with the fact that these courageous conversations are very tough for us to have in organizations. We’re talking about being nice to each other, about being human, about being honest. That’s something that we’re not very good with, right, being positively, constructively, critical, that is very hard to do. These tools force you to do that. They literally hack the system to create such a transparency and they take all the excuses away for it to work if you wanted it to work, if you have the competencies to make it work but it brutally exposes if you lack either the will or the ability to do it.
Let’s say we got a team leader listening thinking what can they do now to begin to hack the system if you like. I mean I think you mentioned earlier on that you’ve got a sort of a hack template. Maybe we can make this available in the show notes but can you just give an example of how someone in a large German DAX company, feeling a long way away from the customer and from many senses of mission. Perhaps your experience between working in HP and working in Crytek, people in this situation, what can they do this afternoon or tomorrow morning with this tool that they can download to bring a little bit of life back to their meeting worlds if you like?
I think that the first thing is to actually simply use it and see what your score would be, right. If you are brutally honest with yourself and you say okay in this meeting we are going to go in and we’re actually going to define what customer would pay for this. Let’s say you work for Mercedes or something and somebody is going to buy a new C-class and they will witness us having this meeting and this meeting makes the C-class 100 euros more expensive. Would they say yeah, it’s a valuable meeting to have because it will invest in the safety feature that might save my life? I will pay for this or will it add nothing to them? And try to reason through that because it’s hard if you are further away from production or design if you’re in internal organization to challenge yourself to say even if it is by 3 degrees of separation or 6 degrees of separation, try to connect what you’re doing in this meeting to what the customer experiences with your product or service. From that rationale, now work back and score yourself honestly, did you achieve that? Would the customer score you the same point? Then set yourself a target and say you know what? We suck now. We got a 1.2 and a 1. By the end of this month we want to get up to a 2. We want to make this somewhat valuable. But for that you have to clearly define who your customer actually is and how you want to contribute to that. In computer games, you always start from the gamer’s perspective. You don’t make a game because you think it’s cool but you make a user story. You say as a well playing gamer, I want to experience an endless world where I can be a green orc, something like that. But in the end to feel completely immersed in the game world and feel bigger than I am currently, but if you can create a user story to say as a person who is buying a Mercedes, I will invest in this meeting because it gives me XYZ. Then you’ve cracked it. All these tools that we’ve created are ultimately training wheels. We want them to become instinctive, intrinsic behavior. You shouldn’t need the tool at some point anymore. It should be obvious that you think about this. Does this meeting add value or not? If not, make it optional for people to come. If there is one hack that I would offer in terms of the meeting culture is make it optional for your people to come to the meetings that you as a team lead hold and few shows up.
You’re creating an internal marketplace essentially.
Exactly. Then you become literally a servant leader because you have to inquire, you have to ask and say “Okay. Nobody showed up to my last meeting, why? What would I need to do to make this valuable?” And have shitty times you know, make it like a 9 o’clock in the morning meeting. Make it unpleasant for people to be there so you can really gauge if the value is there. Would they get up at an earlier time to come to your meeting because they really feel like if I’m not there I’m missing out? Don’t make it attractive. Don’t bring pizza. Make it about the core of the meeting. Do you add value to your team as a leader? Do you have a feeling that they’re there because they want to, they see that purpose, they want to contribute to that purpose? Or are they there because they have to be?
I mean the servant leadership model is – we are not going to have time to get into it but it’s based on the work by the book called turn the ship around by David Marquet. We’ll put that in the show notes as well. I think it’s an important book. In 30 seconds, can you just describe that model? What’s unique with that model?
Well, David took the worst performing submarine of the US Navy and within about a year, he turned it into the best performing submarine in the fleet ever. An incredible turnaround story. What he did was refuse to give orders. He only asked questions. He forced his team to become autonomous and he said there are two pillars to that, clarity and competence. If the people are competent in their jobs and I have given them a clear mission, I have to get out of their way. That goes right back to what we talked about with HP and when David and I talked about our partnership and he said this RH way is the way to create leadership at every level and that’s how we blew every other ship out of the water. My teams didn’t have to wait for the orders of the captain. They act it. That’s why we were faster and better and stronger than any other ship in the fleet because no matter how good the captain, we were a tidal wave because we act it autonomously. People have the choice to do what they felt was best and they aligned amongst themselves.
That gets back to the idea of corporate culture or a culture on this nuclear submarine was a source of competitive advantage in that environment essentially.
And it proves out that it doesn’t have anything to do with your industry. It doesn’t matter if you are a fancy startup, if you’re in retail, if you’re in heavy production or if you’re a highly hierarchical navy military submarine environment. I wouldn’t even dare to say the more adverse the environment, the higher the likelihood for success because people really want to change something right. If you’re doing fine because you’re sitting in a fancy Berlin startup office and you have your cheese ball tables and your sushi then why rock the boat. David and his crew, they felt like they didn’t just want to rock the boat, they wanted to rock the fleet. And they did.
Wonderful. Heiko, so let’s begin to wrap up. One final question before I get to the questions that I sent across. You’ve got I think 5 children? Is that up to date?
The only ones I know about, yeah.
You’ve been studying how work, and you’ve been actively involved in shaping the world of work, what can the next generation expect? What are your expectations for the kinds of workplaces that your kids will find themselves in? It’s a hugely broad question but are you optimistic that some of the things you’re talking about are actually resonating with the technology, with the gamification, with the millennials coming to marketplace that this wave has been unleashed? Or are you kind of deeply deeply concerned that you’re just looking through at the very small proportion of workplace environments and the status quo will remain more characteristic of some of those big German and American companies you work for.
Absolutely this is coming. It’s inevitable at this point. The pace is picking up and certainly I would do this or I would die trying but from what I can see is that you know we did it ourselves at Crytek, then we worked with small to medium size business like Swiss Hotel or Heifer in Switzerland. They proved out you can do it externally, then we stepped it up and we showed you can do it in a big company within the group at T-Mobile and we’re currently doing a very interesting project with Accenture and that’s 400,000 people globally. I think once the first big domino falls, you’re going to see a cascade of things happening in a chain reaction but the best way I can put this really is that what I learned from my dad and what I learned from HP and the HP way was that you create spaces which the next generation can built something into. Don’t build it full, they are going to destroy it anyway. That’s the way to do it. When I talked to my daughter, my 14-year-old, she’s incredibly smart, fairly smarter than me at this point. But I was invited on a diversity panel. It was just white dudes in the diversity panel talking about women and how to create quota so women can make it in the workplace and stuff. They gave us a question that we should answer at the end which is what the next generation expect from us, so I asked my daughter and I said “Hey, I’m going there and I’ll talk about that diversity. What do you want me to tell these guys? What should they do for you so you can succeed as the next generation?” She said something that for me sums up the whole topic which is “just leave me alone, I’ll take care of it myself.”
But as you say, create the space for them to play but don’t get in the way of them essentially.
Yeah. In your logic, you would call this the shit list and the wish list. What we see in organizations is people don’t want you to add too much stuff. If you remove a lot of the nonsense that you are doing things will already go a lot better. If you just remove barriers instead of adding super fancy new stuff. I think that’s what my daughter essentially said. If you remove some of the major hurdle, some of the major obstacles, I can create my own best environment. I think that is something that would set our management philosophy art from something like phallocracy which is again very prescriptive as a new model. We’re saying this needs to be an organizational future created all for and by the teams themselves.
Interesting. Heiko, let’s just get into the 3 questions if we can to wrap this up. What have you changed your mind about recently?
Well, in light of Brexit and Donald Trump.
I should put a non-political frame around that question.
I think it’s inevitable because I cannot name other instances in my life that – let’s forget 9/11 or fall of the wall but something that as an adult man impacted me so much that I doubted the society I live in. You know you start looking over your shoulder like could that be a Trump or could that be somebody who voted for a Brexit? Why would you do that in a day and age like this? I think what I really changed my mind about is that we are as a society at a tipping point again. You know I think we always have this evolutionary burst and I think right now with the interconnected world we are at such a tipping point and there are those that are disenfranchised. Those who are not connected to the wealth and prosperity and the positive outlook of what that world might create. They might not have had the experience and the good fortune I’ve had through HP and my family and they are just sitting there going “What is everybody so happy about?” I want things to go back to how they were when I felt like I had a grip you know, there’s this positive nostalgia which might be true or not but in the past I always have the feeling only go with the people who go forward, always forward. I think what we’re seeing right now is a backlash from people who are saying you can go screw yourself with your forward, I’m going to hold you back and we are sizeable part of this country and we also have a voice. I think if we don’t engage in dialogue with people who we might find despicable, who Hillary Clinton called the – what was the term for them?
I think it was the deplorables, wasn’t it?
The deplorables. The bunch of deplorables. Those are human beings and they have for whatever reason a good mind to vote for Donald Trump whatever that might be. We have to engage with them. As much as we go forward we can say what we think is the right side of history. You can’t call the other side foolish, stupid and backwards because that will divide the world into two and that will not work. I have changed my mind about you have to engage these people and you have to talk to them. You can’t ignore them or label them as idiots.
Yeah. Which I guess presumably has implications in your work when you’re – people resist change for all sorts of reasons so when you are going to 400,000 employee company with very high standards of performance. Not everyone is going to go with you to the new future so this also is a change management lesson in there as well, isn’t there?
Absolutely. I have to tell you that one of the biggest lesson that we took away from the T-Mobile story was that the level of cynicism that you encounter in these organizations about oh here comes another company that is going to consult us in the future of work. There is going to be another set of PowerPoints, there’s going to be another set of something that ultimately results in layoffs, rationalizations and budget cuts right. So, don’t give me the spill, just tell me how many people I have to let go to actually make it over that hurdle and they had to create a very strong symbol. What the CEO at the time, my client and the head of the worker’s council, Emma Chapman did was they created what they call an asshole list. They said we have the same 10 people holding us back for the past 5 years but they are top performers. We have to engage with them and we have to say do you actually realize you have been given the feedback that people hate you, that they feel that you perform on their backs rather than through enabling them. We want to tell you that we would give you the chance because we’ve groomed this behavior to change but if you don’t change within this timeframe and with this help, you will be out of this organization. That actually turned heads when the first people who were resistant to this were also shown the door but they were shown so respectfully. The dialogue had been there. The chance, the opportunity to turn their ship around had been there, and to do that in a human way. But then to say sorry, but now we are going forward in another way – hugely powerful.
We didn’t touch the non-value adding performance management piece but that is a great example of what it actually could look like in extreme circumstances. Second question then, what do you do to remain creative and innovative?
A lot. I think the answer is do as much as possible. I have the fortune and the misfortune depending which day of the week you ask me that my wife is extremely different from me. If you introduce me with the analogy of Tony Stark in the beginning, then the rest of the team calls her Pepper who in the movie is the sidekick or the foundation to Tony Stark’s success because he doesn’t remember his social security number and he can’t tie shoe laces but she’s the one who gives a crazy guy structure. But she’s very very different from me. Her interests are always elsewhere. She will always kick my butt to do different things and explore very different areas that I have blind eye to. I think the more you do interdisciplinary the more you expose yourself to stuff that you would never ever do. The more literally synapses in your brain fire and the more ideas will come up. One fantastic example from David Marquet when he came visit us in Berlin and went for dinner is that he always lets the waiter or the waitress to choose dinner for him. He will say I don’t like fish but anything else on the menu, look at me and tell me what you would get and then go and do it. He said the only caveat is I would later want you to tell me why you chose that for me all right. Those are things that take it different way to work, try to find 10 different ways to work. You have somebody else choose your food. Try a sport this weekend that you’ve never done. For me, as you mentioned I have 5 kids, I’m trying to engage with my kids on everything. My kids are the first people I let test our new products because I’m saying if they have to engage with the sea level, it’s better that a 4-year-old can explain it too because that’s about the same attention span right. It’s fantastic to look at how a 3-year-old or an 11-year-old or a 14-year-old look at the world and look at your products or stuff like that and play. Play a lot.
Then final question, to what do you attribute your success in life? Do you have any specific skills, habits or mindsets that you think you’ve mastered that have a significant impact?
Well, what I put down to this question was an inspiration to me was a guy called Sir Richard Francis Burton who was a traveler, I think in 18th century. He was in the army and he was one of those renaissance men. I think he spoke 26 languages and he was in the east India company and he travelled to a hundred different countries. If I had to point to a success formula of my life is exposing myself to a lot of different cultures living in Spain, in Egypt, in France, in the United States, Switzerland. Learning the language, learning the culture, trying to immerse yourself in the culture to a point where even as a 6’4 white dude with blue eyes, you’ve become as indistinguishable as possible from the rest. It shows you about walking in someone else’s shoes. In terms of working as a leader or as an entrepreneur, consulting others in being successful, trying to enable them to be successful, this adaptability to culture is becoming native but still retaining your identity so you can get perspective to those people. Travelling and learning languages that would be my answer.
Love it. Brilliant. Brilliant. Heiko, where can people get in touch with you?
Well, I think the easiest bit is that if they go on our website which I guess you will link.
Show notes, yeah.
Otherwise it’s really just – I’m happy to engage with anybody personally so just send me an email at [email protected] We want to come out with something fantastic and I just want to advertise that here because there is a great way to get to know us, to get to know the companies that we work with. In honor of Jerry Seinfeld who has a fantastic show that you should watch, it’s called comedians in cars getting coffee, watch the Barack Obama episode, it’s fantastic. We’ve created a show called leaders in cars getting coffee and our first ride is with David Marquet, the submarine commander who will tell us about how we turn his ship around and he would do so in Elon Musk car, in the Tesla Model S. We have the perfect tie ribbon to your introduction here.
All these game changers are in it. Tony Stark in the car with David Marquet in a Tesla Model S which is Elon Musk’s car. .
Brilliant. Will link to those in the show notes as well. Heiko, this has been great. I mean this has been fantastic conversation. Sorry to cut it short but you know a lot more here for people to dig into. We’ll put everything in the show notes. I really appreciate your time, your openness. Thanks very much for coming on the show.
Fantastic. It was a lot of fun. Thank you very much Mark.
Great. Have a good day. Bye.