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Dr. Joachim Jäckle, former CIO & Global Head of Integrated Business Solutions at Henkel, avoids actionism and values the power of inner motivation. Therefore, it is important to first define the right goal for which people decide to invest their energy every day. Then it can be achieved flexibly and quickly – with a constant look at the big picture and the motivating goal.

My conversation with Dr. Joachim Jäckle – he will be retired by the time this book is published – takes place shortly before his 60th birthday, a time when the top manager looks back on one half of a lifetime working for Henkel. 30 years in the same company is a very long time – how does one manage to be successful again and again over this long period while motivating others to contribute to the success, too? With these questions in mind, I’m on my way to Henkel’s headquarters in DÜsseldorf to meet the CIO and Global Head of Integrated Business Solutions of this globally active consumer goods corporation.

I must admit I had pictured a different work environment of a CIO in a company that is more than 140 years old: Joachim Jäckle sits among many other employees. Everything here is open plan; the boss’s desk is no exception. Art is important to Joachim Jäckle, as you can see in every corner: Items from the Henkel art collection adorn the walls – here and in other buildings of the company headquarters. “Art helps to be creative,” he says. “I also consider the fact that we have works of art everywhere to be a form of appreciation for the people who work here.” After Joachim Jäckle briefly showed me the spectacular view over the extensive premises of the Henkel headquarters in Dusseldorf, we withdraw to one of the “focus rooms”. Unlike the busy open office space, this room is a peaceful haven. Here we can focus fully on our conversation. Before talking about the actual issue of how people are motivated by big goals, we talk a little about goals per se. Even for Joachim Jäckle, not “change” but “goals” are the basis for everything. More precisely: goal setting and acceptance of the goal. The experienced manager obviously doesn’t think much of actionism.

“Before concentrating on the implementation,” Joachim Jäckle says, “I must have sufficiently dealt with the question of what the goal that I want to achieve and communicate really is. I see a major change here that has occurred over the past three decades: In the past, it often sufficed if supervisors – from department heads to board members – defined top-down goals that the company should achieve. All this was unquestionably accepted until a few years ago. Today things are different: It’s no longer just about the goal itself but also about how to formulate the goal. And the goal must be realistic; at the same time it should be ambitious. Most of the people I know want to work on a big goal.”

“In the company, too, motivation is created by the idea of developing a positive contribution that goes beyond one’s own area”.

That’s why the book for which we are having this conversation is called Do Epic Stuff. Today, if you want to have the best people in your team, you have to give them the chance to achieve big goals. “I’m certainly exaggerating a bit in terms of language when I say that it’s about helping to make this world a better place. In companies, too, motivation arises from the idea of making a positive contribution that goes beyond your own area,” Joachim Jäckle says. “Here at Henkel, for example, sustainability plays a major role. Today, I have to be able to formulate goals that contain value components. And in a way that lets people consciously decide to participate. In plain terms: It is not God-given that employees work for me as a manager or for Henkel. I have to earn that decision again and again as a company and as a supervisor. That’s the big difference from 30 years ago, when I started here. I have to consider greater things today. Sustainability and environmental issues are a good example, but not the only one. As a company, we are part of society. And just as society is constantly changing, so are we.”

That also affects our daily working life. We work differently today than we did 30 years ago. Methods that still worked then don’t work today. This particularly applies to change management. But also to the organization of work. “We come from a division of labor: There are several departments that specialize in certain sections of a process or are part of a larger task. In order to achieve great goals together and then continue being successful, we must first overcome the hurdles of the division of labor. That means that all employees can see as much of the picture as possible, the big picture. Everybody should have an overall understanding of what we’re doing here – and why we’re doing it. This is not limited to what your own workplace means in a narrower sense. But everyone should also understand what happens to the results of his or her work, what effect it has on the big picture. In the past, there was less emphasis put on that. Today, I don’t only have to understand that but also take responsibility for it. It also requires a high degree of proactivity: I can’t wait until something is explained to me but rather have to actively acquire the knowledge myself – as a company we have to create the right platforms and offers. It’s about ownership on the individual level with a view of the whole picture. In my opinion, this is crucial if you want to master demanding projects and realize great visions today.”

“Everyone should also understand what happens to the result of their work, how it affects the big picture.”

If this is the new framework, and if a company succeeds in creating it and making sure that people really want to work there, the question is still how to practically get my employees actually to do their share. What are the challenges from Joachim Jäckle’s
viewpoint? How does he realize that people get the big picture, that they see themselves as part of it – and then take responsibility, stay focused, and work towards the ultimate goal every day? And what is different here, too, today?

“Today’s practice is completely different than it used to be,” Joachim Jäckle says. “In the past, there were isolated change projects – I don’t want to use the term ‘patchwork’ but that’s pretty much how you can picture it. For example, they introduced software that adapted processes, trained employees, created acceptance, and then things would stay the same for a few more years. Today the world works differently. Things are changing continuously and much faster than before. For example, today we have evergreen concepts for software where the manufacturer changes things almost every week. There are no more standstills or breaks – instead, you keep adapting to new conditions. The decision to change comes from outside the company; the market and the customers set the pace. This can be transferred to work in general. Today, performance also means constantly changing with the environment: I undergo continuous processes of change and will have to be able to deal with new requirements in two weeks that today I don’t know yet.”

I like to use the formula: Change the plan, not the goal. The focus remains on the big goal, while I must adapt to its implementation again and again. “This is also reflected in the project management and the new procedures we use, for instance Scrum or DevOps,” Joachim Jäckle says. “In doing so, you continually redefine the priorities and don’t even specify everything down to the last detail at first. Today we can be more adventurous because we can also readjust better. If I change a priority in a project today and try something new, I will be able to see at the next touchpoint in two weeks if it was useful or not – and correct it accordingly. That requires openness, flexibility – and the willingness to continuously learn and to admit that something didn’t work out as planned.”

Dr.  Joachim Jäckle (r.) and René Esteban (l., author of “Do Epic Stuff!“) at the Henkel Headquarter in Düsseldorf

You can tell that Joachim Jäckle’s approach is shaped by the IT world. Nevertheless, I believe that the changes in the daily work on big goals that he describes will ultimately affect the whole working world. This is already evident in the change in working environments you can see everywhere today. That’s why I explicitly address the environment in which our conversation takes place at the headquarters of Henkel.

“We totally believe in our open space and the whole new workplace concept, including digital applications such as Skype or Office 365, which we use extensively. These technologies have significantly improved our collaboration. Screen sharing or flexible desks were unthinkable here a few years ago; today they’re indispensable for our organization. I’ve also decided to do without an office of my own to set a good example. It was a great experience for me. It helps me to be much better informed about what’s going on. It inspires me to walk through the corridors more often. When I see that somebody is around, I just walk over there instead of writing a formal email. People talk to me directly more frequently than they used to. We also have special rooms people can use when they need to retreat. However, openness means much more than open space with the same workplaces for everyone. You also need to create platforms and new formats that allow people to openly address issues and talk about where things are going. Not everyone has the courage to do that right away. A new culture of trust is needed, and it must grow first. It’s a development process.”

»Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn«

What kind of new formats are these? Joachim Jäckle gives me some examples: “We started a series of events inspired by the so-called fuck-up nights and the start-up world. True to the motto ‘Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn’, executives talk about failed projects. That’s very popular! It creates the trust that you can speak openly about problems at any time. In the past, people were always afraid of damaging their careers. The key idea today is: It’s not about sharing failures but about learning. Our global IBS town halls, where all employees worldwide can participate, either on-site or by Skype, are another example. We use different digital tools and therefore create a totally different kind of communication: In the past it was always bad if the boss talked for an hour and there was no interaction. Today employees can comment – even anonymously – on anything that has been said in live chats – and the whole world watches it! At first, some people thought that anyone could air their frustration without being identified, and then it would be visible on a huge screen. But such fears are unfounded. Of course, there are times when someone tries to be a bit provocative. But that must be possible, and it’s best if I, as their leader, handle that with a sense of humour.”

At the end of my conversation with Joachim Jäckle, I’m interested in whether there are any situations in the IT sector at Henkel where everyone shows their macho qualities, rolls up their sleeves and really does everything to go that extra mile. “Most definitely,” Joachim Jäckle replies promptly. “I’m proud to have a very dedicated team. This is evident both in day-to-day business operations and in projects. Of course there are situations that are special – and I’m not just talking about critical issues, such as defending the company against cyber attacks. It also shows up in hot project phases. Then it no longer matters who has what role or position. It’s about finding solutions and working together to make the project a success. These are those goosebump moments that end up giving me energy in the end, too.”

About the book

„DO EPIC STUFF! – Leadership after Change Management”, published by Campus Verlag. Transformation expert René Esteban explains together with top entrepreneurs of today’s business world how to achieve challenging goals together. Learn more about the book and order it directly.

About the author

René Esteban is the founder and CEO of the consulting company FocusFirst GmbH.
With his team he supports executives in the global corporate environment to achieve their most challenging goals with focus and inspiration – and at the same time to develop the corporate culture towards more empathy and humanity.

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FocusFirst GmbH
René Esteban
Founder, CEO