Irina Hagen, Founder and CEO
Idealistic as it sounds, a business establishment is a micro-society that directly influences the wider society that is currently facing a lot of changes that are accelerated by technological and political disruption. The manner in which colleagues at a workplace treat one another is a reflection of social behaviour at a macro level. Irina Hagen, an economist and psychotherapist with an affinity for studying international corporate cultures, is a strong proponent of this ideology. “If you start cultivating positive behavioural changes at a workplace, the positivity will resonate in the world around us that is highly impacted in all aspects of life by the digital transformation,”asserts Irina, the founder and CEO of MenschWert Consulting, a change management service provider headquartered in Munich.
Irina arrived at this ideology through her personal experiences. During her years as a human resources officer for several large German corporations, Irina observed that although many organisations strive to be “people-oriented”, they rarely make an effort to comprehend the behavioural tendencies of employees. “Working with people is hard work; it means you can be personally affronted. As a result, companies fail to ascertain the strengths or weaknesses of various employees and don’t handle their resources properly,” she adds. More strikingly, Irina deduced that while organisations seek maximum value from their people, they don’t reciprocate the same by valuing them enough, “It’s not a two-way street; companies seek value from their people but don’t value their people.”
"HR is no longer the supporter of the organisation but in the driving seat enabling performance, responsibility and collaboration"
That companies weren’t fully utilising “human value” was enough motivation for Irina to venture into entrepreneurship. By late 2013, after constructing a framework for her service offering, she started MenschWert, a name that reflects Human (Mensch) Worth (Value). However, her approach was unconventional, to say the least. She was admittedly driven by a rather unrealistic objective to “make money, build ground for innovation and work with people to bring about positive social change.”
Six years later, MenschWert is a household name in the change management landscape, having spearheaded reform and recruitment initiatives for organisations such as Rolls Royce Power Systems, Sky Germany and Amazon, to name a few. Besides increasing the number of “happier” employees across organisations, MenschWert has been at the forefront of the ongoing HR transformation. Irina says, “The role of a people officer has changed dramatically. Today, they are required to play a crucial role in the digital and/or agile transformation initiatives of companies. HR is no longer the supporter of the organisation but in the driving seat enabling performance, responsibility and collaboration.”
MenschWert’s “human value” change management services focus on strengthening collaboration and ownership and therefore includes (the articulation of) vision and guiding principles, leadership and personnel development as well as agile transformation, especially in the fields of HR, recruiting and talent management, business performance, post-merger integration, and innovation management. With this philosophy and strong execution capabilities, MenschWert has gradually harnessed a litany of powerful procedures and methods to instigate organisational development, enabling companies to achieve their full potential.
Getting Employees out of their Comfort Zone
Every MenschWert project begins with a series of behavioural interviews conducted by Irina herself. Rather than interviewing just the C-Suite, MenschWert involves every employee in the preliminary assessment process. These interviews are of utmost importance as it is not only about gathering insights but also making people reflect about the situation and alternatives. Getting people to think about their beliefs and strengths is the first step of the transformation. Thereafter, MenschWert performs collaborative analysis by comparing the various problems detailed by the employees, and pain points plaguing upper management. “We present our findings in chronological order to management and employees. Thereafter, we work in collaboration with our clients to bridge the gap between their concerns and the issues faced by the employees. This process ensures 100 percent transparency,” says Irina.
Unlike conventional change management practitioners who use pre-defined tools, MenschWert utilises the approach of humanistic psychotherapy to understand factors impeding an organisation’s growth. After transferring principles of the therapeutic model to a business context, MenschWert incorporates innovative technologies to sharpen the approach. This process ensures MenschWert’s consultants— vastly experienced in consulting and operational roles in various specialist areas—and participants of the programs can operate with “unconscious resistance” and thereby are free of inhibitions. Irina explains, “We uncover the underlying and unconscious problems that regular methods will never unearth. After all, the idea is to get to the root of the problem and drive change from the true identity of the organisation.”
This “liberating” approach is particularly effective while dealing with participants who aren’t enthused by the prospect of transformation. As observed by Irina, while some participants are reluctant to “get out of their comfort zone,” others feel the relief of finally being able to talk about “the real problems”. Also, there are instances of upper management delegating change management activities to their subordinates, a decision that is unhelpful when delivering change, since it is all about engagement. “Change management is effective only when everyone has access to all the information and sees the impact of their own behaviour. After dealing with varying types of clients for years, we have developed the unique ability to get them involved in our processes,” elaborates Irina.
The consulting process extends to five steps:
Change management is effective only when everyone has access to all the information and sees the impact of their own behaviour
1. They begin with “positioning”—analysis and diagnosis— where MenschWert examines the existing situation of a client and presents them with an interpretation of data collection, surveys, and observations.
2. Thereafter, MenschWert evaluates the possibilities (extent to which change can be brought about in what time) and accordingly develops concepts. Irina adds, “On the basis of the diagnosis, we collaborate with the client on which measures we would initiate and create a corresponding concept. Together, we determine KPIs that determine the success of the change.”
3. In the next step, MenschWert begins what it calls “iterative implementation” whereby Irina’s team harnesses internally-available skills and sharpens the same. In an agile manner, MenschWert divides a big project into small individual steps and delivers results in short intervals.
4. The following stage is where MenschWert “stabilises and anchors” implemented practices through project presentation and success measurement. “At the end of the project, we present an overview of the changes, including success criteria and ‘Lessons Learned,’” says Irina. During the fourth step, MenschWert implements an “early warning system” so clients can sustain changes rather than resorting to old habits.
5. Finally, MenschWert provides “sustainability assurance” to its clients, performing reviews and checkups at regular intervals to ensure new processes are effectively assimilated. If necessary, MenschWert can turn the smallest set of screws. The objective is the client must benefit in the long term without enduring painful hiccups.
The Tools and Methods
During various stages of the consulting process, MenschWert relies on a number of methodologies. All tools and methods are used to encourage collaboration and connections, strengthen awareness and empower responsibility and ownership.
MenschWert helps companies to find their way in the digital age. Being a scrum master herself and incorporating agile values within Menschwert, Irina helps organisations to gain the agile mindset as base for being effective in their processes and efficient in customer success, therefore all activities concentrate on involvement and personal experience, in order to learn new behaviour.
(LSP), a concept developed by Lego as an internal crisis management method, has proven to be a powerful way to take participants out of their comfort zone so they can tangibly explain their viewpoints through models and discover new traits about themselves. Everyone is required to exchange ideas and test them immediately. Although the design thinking exercise is held in a fun and safe environment, the “serious play” stands for a profound process that enables goal-oriented communication and sustainable penetration of complex topics in a playful context. Torsten Wunderlich, MenschWert’s agile coach, leverages LSP as he reckons the tool is capable of shaping long-term solutions and ideas. MenschWert uses LSP workshops to deliver services such as Identity and guiding principles, employer branding, strategy development and process design with clear roles and responsibilities as well as for innovation, and anticipation of trends. It is fostering team building and conflict abilities.
MenschWert also leverages Profilingvalues, a unique “Personality Positioning” process that depicts the talents, abilities, and potentials of applicants, employees, and leaders (for example, empathy, practical and structured thinking, achievement and goal orientation, stability, sense of responsibility). While uncovering unique traits of participants, the process takes into account their ability, willingness and other intangibles that shape their personalities.
When organisational structures witness drastic changes, the methodology titled “Business Model You” has proven beneficial in helping people acclimatise to the idea of a new job in a short time. Irina, one of the few certified practitioners of the methodology in Germany, says, “Employees are no longer threatened by losing their job but are excited to find their own future, whether inside or outside the company.” Therefore, even during rough times, a change doesn’t mean personal catastrophe and FTE reductions can happen without the ugly act of “firing people.”
Also, MenschWert’s consultants are experts in Objective Key Results (OKRs), a goal system used by Google and other Silicon Valley giants. It is a simple performance management tool to create alignment and engagement around measurable goals. Rather than traditional target it breaks down the company’s vision in what impact a single employee has to be part of the vision.
Kanban is a framework used to visualise, measure and steer progress. It requires real-time and honest communication of capacity and full transparency of what people are working on and which challenges they face. This method shows where underlying problems are hindering teams to be successful and can be used in project management as well as operational everyday work.
A PLETHORA OF SUCCESS STORIES
While some clients are upfront about their problems—be it depreciating sales numbers or high attrition rate—MenschWert often runs into complicated scenarios.
Just take the example of an automotive supplier based in Lake Constance, south Germany. Despite 100 years of success in mechanical engineering and drivetrain technology, the company was marred by poor attrition rate. Also, since the supplier was based in a rural area, it was not an attractive prospect for young engineers. To make matters worse, the HR team lacked an understanding of ways to evaluate key competencies in roles such as a data scientist, agile coach, and an AI engineer. “Agile was misunderstood as fast, off-the-cuff, and whichever-way-the-wind-blows; rapid successions of U-turns had left the staff working overtime as standard,” says Irina.
MenschWert stepped in with the primary objective to build and recruit an agile digital unit. At the start of the project, MenschWert conducted interviews with existing team members and ascertained that classic project management approaches had hampered their understanding of agile methodologies. Irina explains, “These interviews helped us to improve the understanding between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ spheres of the organisation, building bridges by sorting projects and orders into different categories—such as project management by order, product ownership for ideas, and an ecosystem for innovations with immediate operational relevance.”
In lieu of the new categories, profiles (of potential recruits) had to be changed and establishing meaningful job descriptions allowed MenschWert to comprehend what the organisation was looking for, competences available, and gaps that needed to be closed. “We were able to propose a reduction in FTE using a ‘right profiles in the right place’ approach which avoided doubling up and helped enact potential synergies,” explains Irina.
The result? MenschWert succeeded in creating a coherent, attractive narrative in the job adverts which substantially improved the image of the company as an employer of digital talents. Meanwhile, MenschWert prepared a management training programme to improve the HR team’s ability to conduct competency-based interviews to fill complex jobs. Each of the 27 new hires made it through the six-month probationary period.
MenschWert brought tremendous value to a software firm that originated as a spin-off of technology giant Siemens and microchip manufacturer Infineon. Struggling to achieve financial and organisational independence, the company had a staff of 25 males with an average age of 49.
Clearly, it needed an infusion of youth.
However, the knowledge possessed by ageing engineers seemed non-transferable. The company’s core products were software solutions for highly-complex testing processes, a demanding field. Also, sales and marketing teams needed background in engineering due to complexity of the products. The overall intercultural diversity in the organisation was isolated in islands limited to country sites: management and development in Munich, sales and marketing in Silicon Valley, and one/two-person sales offices in U.K. and Japan. “Language barriers were pronounced, an issue which made cooperation between sites difficult. The technological complexity of their work led to the engineers being typecast as ‘nerds’,” recounts Irina.
MenschWert was determined to drive change across all four sites. Following an office-by-office analysis using a structured survey and informal conversations (for example, lunch breaks, after-work beer & pizza), MenschWert spoke with each member of the staff. Irina elaborates, “After helping employees grasp their position within the company, we conducted workshops involving key figures in the company. This process meant employees could contribute their perspectives, allowing us to define the core purpose of the company.”
The conversations were followed by an informal event as MenschWert invited each member of the staff and their family members. Thereafter, the client conducted a series of side events at conferences (meet-ups, pizza and beer) attended by leading technical account managers and software engineers. As a result, software developers felt understood and spent time at clients’ offices to get a better understanding of their requirements. In the meantime, MenschWert developed concepts for integrating new competencies and employees from Generation Y into the company. Thanks to content marketing, hack-a-thons, and problem-solving contests orientated towards the newly-defined purpose, a worldwide community was set up. It continues to expand until this day.
MenschWert aided an online retailer to overcome scarcity of software developers. The few programmers the client had were frequently switching between projects and couldn’t gain expertise on pressing issues. Before implementing a solution, MenschWert felt it was important for the developers to build an in-depth understanding of how the different departments worked, and conversely for various teams to uncover what was technically feasible (as it pertains to improving the retailer’s website). “In order to implement this agenda, we needed to gain the trust of everyone involved,” says Irina. MenschWert sent over consultants with strong track records as software developers and agile coaches who could communicate with developers based on comparable levels of experience.
The core of the solution was to dissolve the development team and to integrate developers into various departments. Taking a radical approach, MenschWert requested the client to be open and honest about its experimental nature. “This disarming frankness left sceptics punching at thin air while heads of department were briefed in detail on what was to come; right from the beginning, an evaluation at the three-month mark was set, at which point the change could have been re-versed or modified; individual departments were also given opportunities to train and practise agile methodologies,” details Irina.
With developers joining departments that matched their interest levels, the time formerly required to familiarise developers with departments was saved. Within the first six weeks, the provisional reorganisation was made permanent.
Adding to such success stories, MenschWert is working with many technology startups and firms, driving their digital transformation. “I like technology companies because they are progressive and open to change,” reveals Irina. In fact, MenschWert is reluctant to undertake projects where a client requires “brush up” services and isn’t “all in.”
MenschWert plans to remain a boutique consultancy as it prefers working with fewer clients that can fully benefit from its services. “We want to focus on smaller teams as an ‘island of madness’ from where the success can be spread out team-by-team,” Irina says. However, MenschWert isn’t averse to globalising its operations. “When our customers go global, we can’t stop at the border,” concludes Irina.