Equal Dignity as Guiding Principle for Successful Transformations

Transformation is what everyone is talking about, because digitalization demands adaptable and customer-oriented organizations. Apparently steadfast organizational principles and behaviors that have been successful for many years must be questioned: away from the local efficiency optimum in the functional silo towards interdisciplinary cooperation along the value stream, away from long-term planning in a relatively stable environment towards sailing by sight in the VUCA storm and away from the pyramid towards the network as the prevailing organizational principle. However, such a radical change only succeeds if the people concerned are not merely “won over” as passive objects, but are allowed to participate with equal dignity in shaping the change.

Equal Dignity

For the Danish family therapist Jesper Juul, education first and foremost means having a proper relationship. For this to succeed, family relationships need a certain quality, for which he coined the concept of equal dignity that he describes in this way:

Equal dignity, in my understanding, means both “of equal value” (as a human being) and “with the same respect” for the personal dignity and integrity of the partner. In an equal dignity relationship, the wishes, beliefs and needs of both partners are taken equally seriously and are not dismissed or ignored with reference to gender, age or disability. Equal dignity thus satisfies the fundamental need of all people to be seen, heard and taken seriously as individuals.

Jesper Juul: Was Familien trägt.

Equal dignity intentionally differs from equality in that it does not initially address equal rights and obligations. It rather refers to the attitude of recognizing the other members of the community in their individuality and their subjective needs and desires instead of degrading them to mere objects. The task of leadership and the responsibility remains clearly with the parents (and is not delegated in the style of laissez-faire or democratic approaches), but with the clear goal of the independent leadership of the (then adult) children.

From Tayloristic Immaturity to Agile Self-Organization

The key element of agility is subsidiarity. Agile organizations resemble more a network than a pyramid. Decisions are made locally where the knowledge is and where the effect of the decision unfolds. This stony path from tayloristic immaturity to agile self-organization definitely deserves to be called transformation. Thus this change differs already conceptually from a mere change, and nobody should be tempted to think it through centrally, to prescribe it from above and to implement it via standard change management.

Dialogical leadership works on the question of how as many employees of a company or organization as possible can get into an individual entrepreneurial disposition and how they can work together productively from such a disposition.

Karl-Martin Dietz: Jeder Mensch ein Unternehmer. Grundzüge einer dialogischen Kultur.

Those who are serious about agile transformation must overcome this acquired immaturity and strive for the self-leadership of the people, so that in the sense of dialogical leadership as many employees as possible get into a this entrepreneurial disposition. However, this will not be achieved by means of a few encroaching change measures, but through joint practicing and careful reflection.

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

Steve Jobs

“If you want to dry up the pond, don’t ask the frogs.” This sentence sounds logical and funny, but is simply stupid and arrogant as a guideline for changes involving people. The agile transformation only succeeds when people are allowed to participate with equal dignity. Only in this way people can become actively involved subjects of change acting responsibly in the sense of the whole instead of just passively affected objects.

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