• InspiringPeople

Case Study: Project “Nautica”

In our series of client stories, we take a close look into successes and learnings from our Culture Transformation projects.

We proudly present the first published case study about the project "Nautica" - a collaboration between Plusnet GmbH & InspiringPeople.

A strong and sustainable culture enables strategy

A new strategy is a great moment to look into the mirror and check whether the company culture also supports strategic ambition.

With the help of a framework, we looked at the “AS IS culture,” determined the “aspired culture,” and identified concrete development topics. We did this by engaging the entire organization. There is no pure bottom-up, no pure top-down, but a healthy mix of both.

Starting with the leadership team, we identified small and simple steps the organization as a whole could take to bring the aspired culture to life. The leaders were the first to additionally take personal steps to develop themselves toward this mindset. They reflected on their strengths and weaknesses, inspired each other, and planned concrete personal actions.

Creating an empowering movement

Plusnet positions itself as the pacemaker for the digital future in Germany. It is one of the country’s leading telecommunications partners for small- and medium-sized enterprises and municipalities.

With the right solution for the internet, telecommunication, networking, and high-speed technology, Plusnet makes telecommunications simple and future-proof for their customers. With their investment in optical fiber, they are making an important contribution to sustainable economic and social development in Germany.

Plusnet GmbH (Plusnet) evolved from different companies over the years and recently joined another big corporate group (EnBW). Plusnet wanted to gain new strengths by aligning its internal culture, mindset, and behavior with the new strategy, especially supporting the leaders to become strong drivers of this new direction.

The idea was to create an engaging and empowering movement rather than a top-down “culture project.”

The start: Appreciate what you have to bring clarity on where you want to go

Remember when you came into a friend’s house as a child and said that you found a certain behavior in that family weird? It was probably not taken well, however well-meaning your statement was. That is a normal reaction. People need to feel secure about themselves and their behavior to a certain extent, to be healthy and able to function in society. The same is true for organizations.

By using a culture framework to analyze the current culture, we kept the discussion structured and appreciative. We used the cultural framework of Cameron and Quinn. Based on an analysis of the 100 most common behavior models, eight culture styles that can be measured have been identified. Every style has its advantages and disadvantages; none is better than the other. The styles are based on an estimation of company culture along two dimensions: how people interact (independence <> dependence) and how people react to change (stability <> flexibility).

Some styles fit better than others, depending on the business model and aspired strategy. The model (see illustration) clearly shows that a combination of different styles always brings compromise. You simply cannot have it all at once.

We find this knowledge very consoling. Indeed, it is never about perfection. With input from the entire company, we were able to map the current culture and have a dialogue about its different facets. We appreciated what was there, which is an important part of culture work.

Side note: We often encounter employees, leaders, and CEOs who are hesitant when it comes to cultural change. After all, it holds the implicit assumption that what is there is not good enough. Culture is a very personal territory.

Usually, the existing culture is not wrong. We shouldn’t make the mistake of condemning it, but rather understand why it is there and why it was somehow functional to have it in the past. It is important to understand that it was good and helpful before, but there is also a reason to change now. We shouldn’t expect a 180-degree change, as that almost never happens, but a change in some ways is good enough to start with.

People often start realizing the beauty of their culture and are strengthened by the fact that there is common ground. This is what happened in our three employee workshops at Plusnet. We appreciated the existing culture. We reached out and told each other, “I am so amazed that we all have a similar view, and that we find some things that are great, and some things that are really annoying.”

We also identified one area where opinions were rather torn. Some liked the safety and the team spirit of working collectively, which was a strong driver of the existing culture. This strong and special bond made many go the extra mile. Others, however, felt that people needed to take more personal responsibility and that this collective view was holding them back.

This is a typical conflict. Organizations are the sum of all individuals working there, but not all individuals are the exact mirror of the organization. Understanding this, Plusnet knows that there needs to be a balance between dependence and independence.

This appreciation of the IST and this joint energy quite naturally led to a discussion about “why it is helpful to make some changes.”

Eventually, through multiple rounds and involving many people, we crystallized the reason why we needed to work on culture. We also came up with four development topics for the upcoming year.

Start acting: Timing is everything!

Throughout the project, we had the complete trust and commitment of the leadership team. We cannot stress enough how crucial this is to any culture project. This trust resulted in a pragmatic “just do it” attitude for the project team, which led to quick wins and great results.

Leadership activation could not have been at a better time. After identifying the new mindset, we acted on it. Every leader was able to take over a concrete role in this journey, and to contribute and make this journey their own.

Together, we created visible actions, one for every development topic, that would work on the organizational level and affect everyone’s behavior in the organization. Usually, the list of potential actions gets long quickly. The challenge is in making the actions concrete and reasonable.

Focus is a success factor in culture work. We must say that we were very impressed by the leaders’ hands-on attitude to define actions, pick the best, and take responsibility over their teams to bring these plans to life.

This is just the beginning: Continue learning from each other

Cultural change happens on multiple levels, from the largest (the entire organization) to the smallest, and possibly the most important – the individual. Organizations, business units, teams, and individuals move at different times and at different pace. Our work is to enable those shifts to happen through concrete, doable, and visible actions starting to emerge on those different levels.

Again, the individual is possibly the most important level in any aspired change, as the organization is the sum of its individuals. When it comes to leaders, they are even more important since they have dual roles. They act as role models with their own actions, and they have a great impact on the way their teams work.

So, leaders are asked to take a step toward this change and be open to a learning curve.

For true willingness to develop, it is important to not compare people with each other, but with themselves. We used our proven peer learning approach to connect leaders across departments.

The first step was an individual reflection paired with feedback. Out of the development topics, every leader picked a topic that they wanted to develop the most and also a topic that they wanted to share their experiences on.

In the second step, we organized a matchmaking activity. Leaders presented their best practices to a certain development topic in a short and structured session. Other leaders could sign up and learn in their field of development.

The dynamic was fabulous. Here is some feedback from participating leaders:

  • “To bring my personal best practice to the table, really invited me to reflect on myself. I rarely take the time for that.”

  • “So valuable to learn from colleagues from other departments.”

  • “Very healthy to know, that we are all learning.”

  • "It really helps our internal connection and facilitates the dialogue.”

In the third step, all leaders came together again to act on this collected inspiration. From what they had learned in the sessions, everyone established a personal action on how to grow in their area of development. They then made these actions concrete and easy to implement.

The analysis of the peer learning produced good insight for the leadership development team on the rhythm and capabilities of the organization to help itself achieve cultural change.

What inspired us and our client?

Working on culture is not always about changing from bad to good. Plusnet had (and still has) a powerful culture. This is what made them strong in creating a new joint horizon that they are aiming to achieve now.

Opinions don’t deviate as much as we think but having a focused conversation across departments shows how similar the people’s views can be.

As always, it was incredibly inspiring to see what leaders can learn from each other and to hear the stories that people were sharing, regardless of tenure or age. Feeling this strength in a team gives true confidence that they can achieve a lot together.

The “can do” mentality really wowed us. We are fully convinced that everything is possible for Plusnet as the team is following a consistent path, making tangible and practical steps towards an even stronger culture.

Sources of Illustrations: Havard Business Review, Jan-Feb 2018; Plusnet GmbH; Unsplash