Who’s afraid of the new?

An invention, combined with successful business management, allows something new – like a creation or discovery – to evolve into a market success. Only then would I speak of innovations. Since companies are competing in markets, well-managed companies are constantly striving for innovations because, if they successfully do so, these innovations create special opportunities for profit. And this brings us to one of the most important reasons why successful companies are reinventing themselves almost constantly: competition forces them to do so. They have to be innovative, or they’ll lose touch with the marketplace.


Grannemann and Burisch have worked on this topic. They say that the desire and will to go along with changes and healthy self-esteem at work assume something, namely a so-called healthy storyline. The goal of one’s own work should be clear and imaginable for employees from their respective individual perspective. An inner picture should be evoked that is also considered achievable from an individual perspective. Without a clear goal, no picture or tangible inner conception can emerge. This leads to an important, well-known task of corporate management.


Here, the pathway to the goal is particularly important. Employees should be able to understand and recognise individual steps from which the path then emerges. They ask themselves what effort i.e. what personal exertion will I incur as a result of the change or on the pathway to the goal? Of course, everyone checks from time to time – explicitly or in passing– whether their effort or personal exertion and the resulting benefit are in a “reasonable” relationship with one another. What is considered useful and reasonable can of course vary greatly from one employee to the other.

A reward or recognition is also an important part of a healthy storyline. If employees are given recognition, they’ll understand that their work is important to their company. This contributes to a creation of meaning and to influencing the relationship between individual effort and individual return in a good way.

  1. Clear objectives?
  2. Calculable effort?
  3. Clear reward?
  4. Benefit or meaning?

Now imagine that a number of such storylines are created by the work in the company. You are then speaking of functioning action episodes.

If employees describe their action episodes as functioning and company management has managed to establish or support this, everyone should actually be happy, right?


But now the changes – brought about by innovations, among other things – are shaking up the balance of power and influence of the four dimensions. These changes are triggered by the actions of competitors in the marketplace, or by creeping or even massive (disruptive, thus destructive) innovations. As I said before, these also have to be discovered within one’s own company, always in the pursuit of profit opportunities on which the company depends.

To open yourself up to an invention in an entrepreneurial way means that something innovative actually appears in the employees’ world, but this new thing can now harm or irritate the previously healthy action episodes. Employees are now suddenly expected to act and work differently. Goals can become much more diffuse for them because those personally affected, but management too, don’t know yet whether the innovation will be successful in the marketplace. New tasks can involve a very high or an as yet unknown personal effort because there are still no highly developed routines that describe and enable an “optimal” completion. And thus, for the time being, the reward is still vague.


It could thus be quite a natural human reaction to question the meaning and usefulness of the whole. Employees might withhold their input contributions i.e. perform less, because they want to avoid the change or at least reduce the effect on themselves. They want to slow down the impact, so to speak, so that it doesn’t hit them full on.

Seen in this light, management’s dilemma is that, on the one hand, healthy storylines should be created and strengthened so that employee satisfaction and productivity are high, but, on the other, the company must constantly change its own storylines in order to remain successful in the marketplace.

So, how can a company maintain its innovative ability and at the same time a high level of performance, a high willingness to perform on the part of its employees? This, then, also means an individual willingness to change.

Well, one possible way could be to make the workforce the owners of change, which goes far beyond mere participation or instruction. But if you’re not careful, you risk seeing your employees as intrapreneurs and treating them as such, with the corresponding, sometimes undesirable, consequences.

I believe that the ability of a company to change directly affects its culture. And that then leads not just to the question of what a desirable change culture might look like. It’s important and a good goal, but how do you get there? There are many aspects to it. In my experience, the path to a culture of change cannot be taken without the stability and reliability of certain framework conditions that are highly relevant for employees. In this sense, the role of management is to ensure reliability in the face of so many long-term changes. Long-term – one could also say long-lasting – change and the necessary individual willingness to do so is a prerequisite, and this is often overlooked. It’s easier if a company both produces and offers stability. The exciting question arises as to how this can be possible without violating all four dimensions of a functioning storyline. Answers can only be found for the respective company. There’s no doubt that the integrity and reliability of corporate management are among the most highly relevant framework conditions for employees.

Grannemann, U. / Seele, H. (2016): Führungsaufgabe Change