The digital transformation is hitting German companies like a steam hammer. For clarification, this trend typed by many magazines, this article examines triggers, human image and employees in the digital transformation. To do this, I’ve studied the hashtags future work, digital work and leading digital. The first part of the article examines why companies strive for “leading digital” and what exactly this means. The second part discusses digital work in response to digital transformation.

Leading digital

Leading digital means market leadership through digital transformation of the company and/or the business model. The article deals with why companies are aiming for this and how this change is manifesting itself and what steps are necessary for implementation.

The trigger of digital transformation

The digital transformation refers   to the rapid growth of technology introductions in German companies. Due to global markets and a high competitive density, companies strive for differentiation (leading digital). Since 1970, the dynamics of the markets have been rising sharply due to globalization, and even large corporations such as Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW are now threatened by IT giants such as Apple and Google. It seems to be a race for the digitization of the automobile. In other industries, conditions don’t seem to be any different. To this end, Niels Pfläging has published the following illustration in his book, which shows the increase in complexity after 1970. For more information on the complexity of digital transformations, read my article on Complexity in management.

digital work
It is becoming more complex again in the modern and global world. (Pfläging).

From settler back to pioneer – leading digital

digital agility
Many authors demand a departure into risk instead of predictability! (own presentation on the idea of Brandes)

According to Brandes et al, this is now the case. “back to the venture”! The example of car manufacturers shows that it is no longer enough just to improve the established, but that new markets such as electromobility must be opened up with digital transformation. From settler to pioneer or “departure” to innovation.

For example, settlers rely on predictability, i.e. infrastructure such as rails and strict regulations. So they have already founded a city and are trying to improve it permanently. This is the difference with the pioneer, who, on the other hand, creates new markets or cities and “gets something going”. According to Brandes et al. not overnight, but we need to gradually approach each other. According to the authors, this is chaotic and aims to open up something new in order to survive. An example can be given here when a city is threatened by a long ice age and the inhabitants will freeze all in the short or long term. For the pioneers, the idea of “nothing like getting out here and surviving” counts as the settlertries try to withstand the ice age for as long as possible and optimize the city to do so.

But how can this be implemented in digital transformation and how can companies create such a departure and fulfill the vision: “leading digital”? The digital work is intended to shed light on this. Have a look at the book by Brandes   or read my article on Management Y.

Digital work

It seemed like the great lightness of being. The workplace, no longer in an anonymous office tower. The working time, no longer controlled by a time clock, but designed by yourself. The notebook as an office, the net as a bridge to the world. The work as great freedom (Friedrich Ebert Foundation). This is how the foundation defines the project of digital work. This kind of work could be a response to digital transformation and leading digital.

Man and digital work

The modern employee. A kind of Frankenstein’s monster characterized by many management frameworks and coachings. (Source: Appelo)

As early as 2010, Appelo and its Management 3.0 framework examined modern knowledge workers and found that they are a bizarre combination of management frameworks and are actually specified at all corners and ends as a kind of “Frankensteins” monster over theories from front to back. Take a look at the book Appelo!

Back in 2016, authors call for “reviving companies” and provide different approaches such as Management Y, Sociocracy or Holacracy. All approaches are agile and evolutionary in their own way. One thing is certain for the authors, however: “Frankenstein’s Monster” does not seem to be able to cope with the digital transformation. Instead, they demand a new form of work and employees. Sattelberger et al. define them as “shapers” in “agile networks” and find that many organizations have many employees in the converter role and are therefore increasingly overloaded. So this does not seem to be a sufficient answer to digital work and the vision “leading digital” is hardly fulfilled with it. Take a look at Sattelberger’s book!

The 4 types of employees in organizations. The authors increasingly find implementers and designers in the modern age (own representation on the idea of Sattelberger et. al).

Employees as “creators” and digital work

At current HR conferences, the topic of agile or digital HR is increasingly being traded as the main point of German companies. Together, we think about how to find and bind such employees. However, the former   is not to be addressed in this article and can be read in an extra article on agile HR.

The figure below clearly shows that such employees demand and need a lot. According to many companies, they demand too much. Certainly, this statement can be correct in many cases. However, the illustration by Brandes et al. shows that some demands also seem to make sense. In The course of the roundtables has shown that companies are making every effort to address such claims and thus to become a “agile” and “evolutionary” companies. According to the first statements of the managers who work with me in the course of the research project, they even seem more successful and sustainable. More about this can be found in my article on digital Leadership.

digital work
The best employees demand and want to design. Brandes et. Al. summarized the demands in this picture (own presentation based on Brande’s idea)
Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

Falls es noch Fragen gibt, können Sie mich gerne anrufen. Hierzu einfach im Buchungssystem nach einen freien Termin schauen. Ich nehme mir jeden Monat einige Stunden Zeit um mit Lesern zu interagieren.

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Source: People photo created by freepik –

Verwendete Quellen anzeigen

Appelo, J. (2010). Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. Boston: Addison-Wesley Professional.

Brandes, U., Gemmer, P., Koschek, H., & Schültken, L. (2014). Management Y. Munich: Campus Verlag.

Pfläging, N. (2014). Organization for Complexity. Munich: Redline Verlag.

Sattelberger, T., Puppy, I., & Boes, A. (2015). The democratic enterprise. Munich: Haufe Verlag.



I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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