Leading organizational change

I’m able to fly – what about you?


Two days ago I stepped over an article spread along the alumni network of the Boston Consulting Group. Unfortunately it looks like it is not accessible from outside so I’m not able to link to it here. It is basically about 5 follow colleagues who have become entrepreneurs and share their story in kind of an interview structure, answering 4 simple questions. The title is “Dreams, Passion, and Working Without a Net”.

This article inspired me to answer these questions myself. I thought it is a great idea because of a) it will help me to realign with what is important for my venture, b) it will give others another perspective to look at my venture, besides all the presentations, company brochures and business plans I provide, and last but not least c) it will hopefully inspire others to use these questions and write their own story, their own experiences and share their insights and inspire us. This is a call for action. Please share your story. I’m interested in it.

The Elevator Pitch

Welcome to MapleTree CarWash (www.mapletree-carwash.com) the Home of Clean Cars and Happy People. We don’t have an elevator pitch; there are no elevators in a professional car wash. What we have is a car wash tunnel where the cars a cleaned and receive the shine. So here is out Tunnel Pitch:

MapleTree CarWash is about changing the game in a 30+ year old industry: Car Wash. Automatic car wash started in Germany more than 30 years ago. At that point in time there was a clear technology advantage. Those who had the technology to produce clean cars in good quality and short time clearly differentiated from those who lacked the technology. In those times the former players all ran their own equipment manufacturing. These times have changed; already 20 years ago everybody was able to source high end equipment from various suppliers.

There is only one thing to do in order to make a difference: Bring back the human side of the business. In the end it is a service from humans for humans, for our guests – the drivers and passengers in the car. MapleTree CarWash created the CarWash 2.0 concept which consists of three elements: Smart Layout, Self-Learning Wash-Processes and Agile Operations. This will create immediate advantages for our guests and secure our leading position.

MapleTree CarWash is setting up a 100% service oriented organization providing a state-of-the art car wash service. While doing this creating a recognized brand and consolidating the market following a buy-and-build strategy. Last but not least, having fun washing cars.

The inspiration

I love to interact with people, humans. Interacting in teams, listening, chatting inspires me and inspiration drives my life. As – by the way – life is always a give and take, this is the reason to give something back and hope to inspire the one or the other reader. Back to the original path: It took quite some time for me to realize that the human interaction is the most important thing for me. I’m glad that I found this missing link.

In car wash you have the ultimate chance for that. You have interaction with your team, a diverse team of highly educated – partly MBA type – in your central service functions and you have normal people – those who bring the truth of life to the table – in all your locations. That’s what ensures great and inspiring discussions. And there are numerous guest interactions. You can have more than 1,000 a day. You only have a short timeframe to interact with your guests, but you can use these 20 seconds to make a difference.

The BCG Factor

How to make a difference. For sure there are a lot of things I learned at BCG that helped me in my professional as well as my private life. Rather than counting a long list of more abstract things, you probably all heard before; there is one incidence I’d like to share.

I remember a situation during the Senior Consultant Training. Even though it is already 8 years ago, maybe more, it is so present to me that it could have been yesterday. The challenge was the following. While presenting some standard stuff – consider any of your management presentations from daily business usually not thrilling – you should generate a personal reaction from somebody in the audience. I choose an Italian colleague, she really was stressed from her previous client work and worrying about her child at home, so everything but relaxed and happy. My challenge was this: Make her smile! It took me three trials and I was exhausted, but I made her smile. That was a great moment.

During my time in car wash – I worked for one of the top players in Germany and was responsible to run 25+ conveyor car washes – this experience from Senior Consultant Training inspired me to conduct an experiment: When working at the prep gun, how long do you have to smile to the driver before she or he has no other chance to smile back? It doesn’t take long. And the interesting thing is they still have the smile when leaving the tunnel and that makes them feel good.

Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs

This one goes out to all entrepreneurs. Despite the original title …Without a Net, if you feel you would need a net, it is probably not the right business idea you’re following. If it is your vision, than it feels perfectly right, there is no question about it. You see and feel the beauty of your idea. It doesn’t feel wrong, so it can’t go wrong.

With my current vision this holds 100%. It matches perfectly, sometimes I think this vision waited for me, it waited until I was prepared to see it and to understand the beauty of it. Everything matches perfectly together like a huge every small piece fits into it and builds a huge beautiful picture. Somehow all the different jobs I did before seem to make sense and culminate into this vision. This is the one thing that makes me hold on to my idea, my vision, because it feels so right. In the end even if everything else fails and all the money that we have put into it will be gone, there is one major experience that I made: I know what a vision – a real vision – looks like.

You could sum up all of the above into one word: passion. But this is to small it doesn’t appreciate all the feelings and emotions everything that goes hand in hand. Yes, I’m passionate about car washing. And you should be passionate about your business.

If you are, then everything you do in order to reach your vision makes sense. You get the feeling you can fly. Why should you need a net if you can fly?

(Originally posted on March 2nd, 20016)

Picture: © JenkoAtaman / Fotolia.com

Leadership is service

I am frequently asked, why do you always put service and leadership next to each other? What is the connection between service and leadership? A great question, thanks for asking. Let’s throw back some questions: Is it service & leadership, leadership in service or service in leadership?

There is often more than one impulse to become active: A couple of days ago I was inspired by RichtigRichtig.com who recently posted a quote from Denise Morrison (President & CEO at Campbell Soup Company). In her quote she said “I think leadership is service and there is power in that giving…”

This is the one direction. Leadership is service. OK. But what about the other way round? Is leadership a one-way street? Leadership-wise I was raised in service business, actually in the carwash business. I learned my first real leadership lessons while working at a carwash, both from being led as well as leading the team. So I can tell you by heart: It works both ways.

How can you expect that your team serves your customers if your team does not experience service themselves? Your employees need a service environment in order to deliver outstanding service to your customers. They need a leader backing them. They need a helping hand, and feeling free to ask and receive support. They need to be recognized for the work they do, for the value they create, the important part they play. In the service business your employees are the face to the customer.

How can you serve other people if you are not served properly yourself? No service business without leadership.

I am glad that I had the chance to experience all this myself going back more than 20 years to my time at the carwash. At the end of a busy Saturday, having washed more than 1,000 cars, our local manager came around and said together with a handshake “Thank you, Carsten, for your support to day. You made it possible to satisfy more than 1,000 customers today.” This was not only a learned phrase, in that moment he was only with me, no attention for anything else around, I felt important. This feeling he gave me was worth much more than additional 25 bucks payment for a busy day.

Leadership is service & service is leadership. That is Service Leadership Culture. Thanks to Denise Morrison, RichtigRichtig.com and my former carwash manager for the inspiration.

For all those that are eager to see the entire quote, here it is

“I think leadership is service and there is power in that giving: to help people, to inspire and to motivate them to reach their fullest potential.”

(Denise Morrison, President & CEO at Campbell Soup Company)

Great minds

Quite some days ago a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt came into my focus:

Great minds discuss ideas,

Average minds discuss events,

Small minds discuss people.

Nice, isn’t it? I personally prefer open discussions where everybody is free to address his or her ideas, whatever comes to his or her mind. I expect almost everybody will agree. The question is, what happens if you select a couple of great minds randomly from our planet put them together in a room and observe how things are evolving. How do they know that it’s safe to share their ideas? How do they know that the others in the room are also great minds? This question does not come out of the blue. Let me share an experience with you I made some years ago.

When I entered that specific organization whose name I’m not going to disclose, they were discussing people. They were literally discussing people in the boardroom. Whenever something went wrong or any outcome was below expectations somebody was blamed, preferably blue-collar staff. It was not the “Hey we have a problem – How can we solve it – How can we make sure it’s not going to hit us a second time” kind of approach. It was always a he or she who was the root cause and was accused and needed to change behavior. And guess what, what happens in the boardroom happens at all other levels and locations within the company as well. Sooner or later it will permeate into the entire organization.

This is the point where the question arises. Does that imply that the entire organization consists only of simple or small minds? Was it the fault of the individual people? What would have happened to my mind if I had stayed long enough and listened? In fact it was the company culture that over the years drifted away and made room for such kind of behavior. It was an old habit. The company culture drove the individual people’s behavior. It was the answer to the “What makes the people behave the way they behave?”-question.

It was a stony and bumpy road to change the culture and to get them to a habit of open discussions, an atmosphere where people are safe to speak and share their ideas and raise their questions. It was worth each extra mile! Besides a much more relaxed and fun working atmosphere it did pay off in other areas as well. It helped to increase the quality and to foster innovation as ideas where shared and discussed, tested and rolled-out.

Why is it important for me? I have tons of ideas and as well questions. And I am far from being an expert in every topic. In fact I am more the exploring kind of guy, looking for fresh input, new experiences meaning new businesses and industries all the time. Very likely I’ll step into something as a rookie with ideas and questions on top of my head.

Early on in my professional career I experienced this open culture at The Boston Consulting Group aka BCG. It was a supportive environment, where ideas could be openly discussed, questions could be raised without any fear of failure. Was that due to the fact that we were surrounded only by great minds? If you would ask anybody at BCG, I’m sure they would immediately confirm that there are only great minds. But it was also a cultural topic. Since then it is hard wired to my leadership style and closely related to my personal WHY.

If you want to build a lasting business which creates sustainable value, you need a culture of open discussions, a culture of trust. That is enabling an organization for agility and to create continuous innovations. Great minds are less a matter of their brains and the IQ of the people, it is more about their behavior and attitude. Foster a culture of great minds which are open to discuss ideas, and you will automatically create a sustainable organization.

It is as easy as this, but also quite tough in reality. Isn’t it? Did you ever try? It is worth trying.

Power to the people

If you don’t believe in people, they won’t grow

This is an interesting and true thought of Monique Valcour in the HBR . If you don’t believe in people, they won’t grow, they won’t evolve.

Personally it reminds me on two lessons I’ve learned. #1 was in school. I didn’t perform as expected in Chemistry and after some 6 months I had a serious discussion with my teacher explaining my the implications of my low performance. But one thing that made the difference: Somehow he believed in me. He told me: “I know that you can perform much better..” He believed in me. A year later he highly recommended me to study Chemistry due to my excellent performance an natural skills for the subject.

#2 was 15-20 years later, now being a leader myself, one of my team members wasn’t perceived as a high-performer by the rest of the organization. Literally his days were counted before I stepped in to reorganize. It was time to give back. I told him that I trust him and believe that he will be good in leading his own team and gave him a chance and promised to support whenever needed. He took this challenge – and given the unsupportive rest of the organization it was a challenge. The stunning rest of the story is that he became an excellence leader with high focus on people development.


There are two more articles which – at least from my perspective – have the same idea:

“People stopped trusting leadership when leadership stopped trusting people” from Dean Brenner http://switchandshift.com/11-trademarks-of-rebellious-leadership


“Vertrauen führt” from Carsten K. Rath http://www.carsten-k-rath.com/2016/04/06/vertrauen-fuhrt/



Think global, act local – Leading Change

Let me share a story that happened some years ago. We met a group of Chinese investors. They loved our concept and were willing to implement it in China; opening 100 stores in the first year… Isn’t that great? That is fantastic. Back home, we presented it to our board. The feedback we received was: “Who’s gonna run the show?”

It’s a people-thing. In the end, every business development initiative comes back to people and to change. If you could continue business as usual, you wouldn’t have to worry about anything. So there wouldn’t be a need to develop your business.

Think global. If we don’t think out of the box, we don’t see new opportunities, in the above story the new market China. We are not yet there. We don’t have a team to enter the market, identify appropriate locations, manage the building and get the business running. Is this reason enough to stop thinking about it? – Short period of silence… Now you need somebody to shout out “No!”

Act local. Let’s pretend somebody did you the favor. Now keep on going. As we don’t have the team yet to enter a new market, we have to build it up. Find the people – this can be existing members of your organization or external – who are willing to go on a new endeavor. It is more important that they are keen on doing something new rather than that they have 10+ years experience in entering new markets. Set up the team and offer all support they need. Stay to your word.

This is a transformation. For sure entering a new market – and doing business on a different continent with an expansion speed beyond everything that is known in your business – what else can it be than a major transformation? And thinking about a new opportunity in this way “Let’s set up a team and support them as much as possible.” In contrast to the implicit No of “Who’s gonna run the show?” This is a transformation, too.

Change comes in different flavors and for different reasons. The flavors can be anything from changing the work environment, changing behavior, changing skills to changing doctrine and changing personality. I first discovered them in the book “Führungsstark im Wandel” by Alexander Groth.

In the end it is always the Think global – act local principle. First you have to think, then you have to act.

Under Pressure

Today is your day. You literally felt a foot taller when you woke up this morning. The sun is shining, the coffee seems to put more energy into your system and it even tastes better. In 4 hours you are going to present the market entrance strategy for Brazil to the board. The project you have been working on with your team the last 3 months. The board will be thrilled and excited you know that. Nothing is going to stop you.

When you left your office yesterday evening everything was fine, the presentation was set, you read through it and double checked the footnotes. Your team just received an update on the latest market figures and some details on the competition from you local Brazilian consultant. They wanted to come early today and incorporate the latest figures into the presentation. Easy task, nothing to worry about.

You enter your office and you can feel the tense. Something is wrong. Your assistant approaches you: “I’m so sorry. We somehow lost the latest versions of the presentation. While putting in the latest data and mailing the presentation round in the team, somehow we have overwritten the latest version with an older version from two days ago. We don’t have a backup…”

That’s it. Say goodbye to the day of your life. Now it’s time for fire fighting. It immediately pops into your head: Sam has to check the introduction, market description and next stes, he can type into the computer your latest handwritten notes. They must be still on your desk. Go, go, go… – But please halt for a moment and think again: People under pressure don’t work better; they just work faster (Tom DeMarco, Author and Speaker on Software Engineering).

This is because pressure directly triggers our crocodile brain and blocks all what comes next from advancing to our neocortex; that’s where we have the problem-solving ability, reasoning and all the power to handle complex situations like this one. The crocodile brain handles the survival situations: fight or flight. That’s is not what you want and need in this situation.

So you need to calm down the situation. That’s the best you can do for your team and for the presentation. What options do you have? Find the latest version available and check shortly if you can use it instead. And there are still 2 hours left to make some adjustments based on your handwritten notes. What about the printout you have in your bag. You could scan it and present the scanned pdf.

Did you ever consider giving a presentation without ppt on the projector? This is the ultimate chance to do it. You have the entire storyline on your printout. Let’s surprise the board with a totally different performance. Tell them your story, the main things and write key messages and numbers on the flipchart. And promise the detailed project documentation by the end of tomorrow. Then there is enough time to have it rebuild by your team.

I’m sure there are many more options. The common denominator is don’t put pressure on your team. Calm down the situation and let them do their best work on a relaxed basis. Make a difference! They will notice and be grateful for your leadership.

What is in it for me?

Following the “What is in it for me?” attitude. Everyone asks himself “Why should I change? Why should I be part of this change initiative?”

There is a threat in each and every change: It could be worse than today. That is the ultimate reason why a clear vision is one of the success factors of a change project.

Ein jeder Wechsel schreckt den Glücklichen: Wo kein Gewinn zu hoffen, droht Verlust. (Friedrich Schiller – Die Braut von Messina)

Deine Schuld…

A short lesson on leadership – actually it is only three and a half minutes. Just heard this song on the radio.

It is not your fault that the world is as it is today,
but it would be your fault if it stays like that…

The song is originally in German “Deine Schuld” Die Ärzte.

Leadership is: Make things better.