Leadership Alongside Technology - Johannes Drooghaag [Interview]

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Leadership Alongside Technology - Johannes Drooghaag [Interview]
Leadership alongside technology - Johannes Drooghaag [Interview]

About Johannes Drooghaag

Dr. Johannes is an international coach and his interests lie in a vast range of topics, from emotional competence, JAR business, and leadership. He helps build competent teams and helps understand the limits of using the latest technologies to build an even better team. His current interests are in transition and change specifically related to the confluence of humans in tech. With the range of depth of experience to back it up, Jay Dee, as he is popularly called, talks about the future of the workplace and the interaction of humans and technology in it. 

Leadership Alongside Technology - Johannes Drooghaag [Interview]

Aishwarya Jain

We have the pleasure of welcoming Johannes today to our interview series. I'm Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDuC-8n0mI4

Aishwarya

Welcome Johannes, we’re thrilled to have you.

Johannes

Well, thank you for this very kind introduction. And it's a pleasure to join you on your platform. I'm always looking forward to exchanging ideas. I'm always looking forward to feedback on interaction. So this is again for me, a wonderful opportunity. Thank you very much. 

Aishwarya 

It's our pleasure. So, Jay Dee, if I may call you that, you know the first thing that I had for you was, you know you've had more than 25 years of experience and you’ve had the range and depth of your body of work. 

Can you tell us a little bit about what are your non-negotiables or core principles and critical focus areas as it applies to run a business are?

Johannes 

Well, for me personally and in business, the first and foremost non-negotiable item is the safety of people involved in the process, especially when we look at manufacturing processes, then safety becomes very important. But also, when we speak about traveling, when we speak about having to work in a different country for a couple of months or even a longer period of time, the safety of people is for me, non-negotiable. 

And then when it comes to the business and being on the winning side of the business, the most important part and I'm not really willing to negotiate or discuss that when I start an assignment, is that to create an environment in which it is important to learn and part of learning is making mistakes. That's a part of life. That's how you learn the most.

But it also means that you have to be willing to accept those mistakes, and you have to be willing to say, yeah, I made a mistake and what are we going to learn? And it also means you have to be courageous almost enough to say, 'Hey, I need help.' 

Those things have to be implemented in your culture, in your vision and that starts with leadership and what we, unfortunately, still see a lot is at the leadership level is that people are afraid to fail and not willing to admit mistakes. They're not willing to say, 'it's okay, you made a mistake. Now let's solve it and learn so we don't do it in the future.'

If you do not have this culture, then you created a blame focused culture. But also if you do not have the courage to look at your mistakes and learn from those mistakes and put controls in place that you don't repeat them, you will repeat them. These, for me, are the two most important parts - safety and the culture in which we can make mistakes, in which we can learn but we also accept responsibility for the mistakes we have made. And that’s about accountability, that's about empowerment.

"These, for me, are the two most important parts - safety and the culture in which we can make mistakes, in which we can learn but we also accept responsibility for the mistakes we have made. And that’s about accountability, that's about empowerment." 

Aishwarya 

Absolutely. And I think, you know, leaders of today, they have to kind of dissolve their ego so that they can admit mistakes and they are humble enough and mindful enough to actually accept their failure and then move on.

But do you think that that is something that you're seeing in leaders now or are they resistant to doing that? And if they are, why is it that they're resistant?

Johannes 

Well, I see something very interesting. Leaders have understood this. They learned a bit for a journal, they learned a bit during their pieces of training and they understood it and they want it down in their organization. But most leaders, especially in the upper roles, are still not willing, still not able to imply those rules on themselves. Leaders focus more on the mistake or on the denial of the mistake.

 "Most leaders, especially in the upper roles, are still not willing, still not able to imply those rules on themselves. Leaders focus more on the mistake or on the denial of the mistake."

And that's lacking. It's lacking that leaders themselves say, 'Hey, I made a mistake or Hey you made a mistake. How can I help you?'

What you see a lot at the moment is that they just move on to the next topic and pretend that the previous thing never happened, especially when you look at the Coronavirus Pandemic, which is going on at the moment.

You see leaders from businesses and countries making certain statements and then two weeks later, make another statement, sometimes even two days later without accepting, 'Hey, the thing I told you last week wasn't the smartest thing' and that's, on the one hand, interesting because this crisis is so big, basically everybody is in crisis holding the boat. We are confronted with it constantly, but we also see what the weaknesses are. 

We see that when the leaders are not living this culture, then the followers of the second line management, etc. are also not living this culture. Why should they? Because they don't get the environment in which they are encouraged to learn from mistakes and get support when there is a mistake or in an environment in which you can have that discussion without being confronted with denial. 

https://open.spotify.com/episode/2wOPkQNtAmVfM6o96arefQ

Aishwarya 

Right. And that could also be related to the hierarchical organizations that are out there. They have to live up to their position and they think that they have a reputation to really live up to. And I think that gives a lot of pressure to them, and they don't understand that for example, their setting might really be the wrong one, especially for future generations, right? 

Johannes 

Exactly. And I don't mean that they have to come up with a press statement and a press conference every time they made a mistake. That's not what I'm expecting. But what I do always advise my clients and really want to see in companies and governments at the same level is that when that culture of learning from mistakes is cultivated, you will see two things.

  • Number one is there's a lot of lessons to be learned from those mistakes, and when you share those lessons, you learn as an organization.
  • And the second thing is, you could come to the conclusion that the mistake I made has consequences. So now let's focus on reducing the consequences. When you deny a mistake, you're not focusing on reducing the consequences because you pretend it never happened.

"When you deny a mistake, you're not focusing on reducing the consequences because you pretend it never happened." 

Aishwarya 

Right. You just pretend that that never happened. And then you're kind of not accepting reality and to, you know, people who are looking up to you, they'll start doing the same thing and start pretending as if things are all going, you know, it's all a good day. Make hay while the sun shines and all that. So absolutely, that makes a lot of sense.

But, you know, when you talk about these organizations that are trying to implement this in these days of the virus, right, what is your outlook? How should leaders now look at employees, what kind of examples should leaders really set at this point in time? 

Johannes 

Well, the first and most important thing that I always tell the people I coach and the people I work with is to Have the courage to show that you're vulnerable, have the courage to show that maybe you do not have everything under control.

"Have the courage to show that you're vulnerable, have the courage to show that maybe you do not have everything under control."

It's about showing that you are who you say that you are. That's an important part, which people are now also looking for because that gives them confirmation.

'Hey, this person knows what he's talking about and this person is actually doing the things that he's speaking about'. And there's one thing that you then also need to filter out. Some leaders will have a preference to now give the good news or to show that everything is fine and then 10 minutes later you see another press conference. 

Nurses is one very, very clear example, and that hurts me personally because I have a lot of friends who are working as a nurse and they’re literally risking their lives at the moment.

They are the closest to the patients and we see people making statements about all the protective equipment they are producing and leaders of countries saying, well we have everything covered and then we see crying nurses saying, 'Hey, listen, I don't even have a mask but I don't want to abandon my patients. Help me'. And this, this enormous gap between the statement and reality is really damaging the credibility. 

So a much better leader would stand there and say we have an enormous problem because we cannot provide the health care workers with enough equipment. Now I cancel everything and for the next 24 hours, that's my only topic and expect a call from me or this is what I will be doing. If you at the same time demonstrate that this genuine leadership and this genuine taking responsibility for the problems that are part of our society at the moment, you live that responsibility. That's when people start believing you.

Not by saying, 'oh, in the next two weeks, everything will be fine' when there is a crisis at the moment, and not by making conflicting statements and not by trying to downplay the problem so people will not panic. That’s not the way it works. The time that people believe that this is not the major crisis I think was two months ago.

Aishwarya 

Absolutely. I mean, you should have the right growth mindset and you need to take up that challenge and you need to be the rider of the storm so that there are people you know, looking at you, they've latched on your back and if you cannot rise to that storm, then I think that's very unfortunate that you as a leader cannot really lead by example. And this will be a trying time for all the leaders out there, you know.

Johannes

Exactly. There's a wonderful expression about leadership that is as follows: Do not post a picture from your beach vacation when your team is standing out in the rain.

"Do not post a picture from your beach vacation when your team is standing out in the rain."

That doesn't mean that you cannot go on a beach vacation and it doesn't mean that it will never rain on your team. But you must as a leader, know the moment when it's not correct to post a picture of your beach vacation.

This is a very important lesson that we should now learn, right? Tone down a little bit, show your vulnerability, show your humanity, show that you are part of the population which is dealing with this problem, and then lead by example. 

And fortunately for us, we do see some examples of that, but not enough. That's a bit of a challenge. And that's why people are confused because we also respond emotionally to all the things that we see here.

If we didn't get a feeling, I cannot trust this person anymore but I should depend on what that person is doing, you start to feel more and more insecure and you start to doubt much more of what is said. So, why should I believe statement number six when statement number five and number four turned out to be not correct? 

Aishwarya

Yeah, you need to have that trust and need to really build and be empathetic at this point in time towards your team and yeah, that really makes sense.

So, you know, you do mention that you’ve learned a lot from the mistakes that you've made. So can you tell us about one such significant learning? 

Johannes

Well, let me give an example not so long ago. We started on a project with a team and our goal was to improve the quality and energy consumption on the melting area, for aluminum production.

So you have a big furnace, you melt the aluminum, you put it in a smaller ladle, and then you bring it to the different machines, which are producing parts. The aluminum will cool down, so you have to make sure that you fill it at the right temperature, and it's much more complicated than you think because aluminum is not always brought in time and not always at the right temperature.

There’s a lot of energy costs and a lot of material costs and it would be possible to reduce those costs. So we started by putting in sensors and measuring things and collecting information. 

What we didn't see is that there was one assumption. One of those everybody knows that things, the assumption that the temperature development is linear, and we worked based on that assumption of being linear. All the changes we made led us to improvements and better accuracy of our forecasting model of the development and when to fill, what machine to achieve, what temperature but never as accurate as we wanted.

And the improvements we made did improve the model but still not what we wanted and what we were expecting until we finally, after all kinds of trials and all kinds of testing realized the temperature development is not linear. How can it be? Everybody knows that the temperature development is linear. 

Well, we learned that if you put the aluminum in the ladle and you put that ladle somewhere and you measure the temperature, it is actually almost linear. But under the production environment, it's not linear because you're tilting the ladle and then you change the surface and size. You’re doing all kinds of things which do influence the temperature. So, yes, stationary temperature development is linear.

In a production environment, it's far from linear. It's a small thing, and we spent eight weeks based on a wrong assumption because we just were not able to do what we ask, as change leaders and as consultants, and to do all the others. Question everything. Check everything. Stop with what you believe is great, because if everything you believe was great would be good, we would not be there to improve, right?

When it would be great, you don't need me. So a very big mistake we actually made as a team was not doing what we are expecting the people we work with to do.

"Challenge everything, question everything. Forget the status quo. Take the entire process apart and build it again and eliminate all the weaknesses."

As soon as we realized, 'oh, how could we miss this? It's not linear'. Within three days, we had the perfect model, and it was as much more accurate than we would have hoped that it would be. And after that, we sat down and all said, 'How could we have missed this?'

So we then started looking in our own mirror. 'Okay, gentlemen, we come here. We are the design thinking experts and deal with experts. And I think we should read our own books again because we missed something'.

And that's one example of a mistake from which I learned a lot about, 'Yes, I know how it works, but I also must do it myself'. After several years of focusing on consulting and training, I lost that connection myself. So I re-aligned myself with my own instruction, questions, challenge. Don't accept it because if it would be good, you would not be here. Lessons learned. My own lessons apply to myself as well.

Aishwarya 

Wow, it's amazing. So it's kind of like a science experiment where you know everything under controlled conditions and controlled environments have certain set parameters but then if you actually do it practically it is much, much different.

And then there are always deviations that you need to, you know error rates that you need to look at and you always have to challenge it and ask questions because nothing is set in stone and there would be uncertainty.

Johannes 

It is something that I always use in my own workshops to just shock people a little. I always say one plus one is three for large volumes of one and they say, 'Whoa, wait. What are you just saying? One plus one is two.' I say, 'yes, but for large volumes of one, it is actually three', and they are like, please explain what you mean with large volumes of one.

And I said listen, '1.4. if we round it, it's one. And if we take 1.4 plus 1.4, we round it, it becomes three. But if you look at the 1.4, it is one rounded. So one plus one can be three if we take a closer look at the volume of one.'

And that's how I explain people the importance of always questioning, always challenging, always looking at the next level. Where is the mistake in the next level or where is that missing detail in the next level? Grammatically, it's nonsense, but it is a wonderful reality. After best practice comes better practice. 

Aishwarya 

Yes, that makes a lot of sense. And it's, it's very interesting how you put it, one plus one equalling three. You never really kind of, think about, you know how it came in. You might say that a lot. Oh, yeah, Let's do one plus one equal to three but you don't actually think about it. And that's very interesting the way you look at it.

So you know Jay Dee, there is a lot of talk of, you know, people in the workforce, workplace, marketplace, and everything now is kind of humanizing.

It's getting more human-centric and it's revolving around the future of work. So how do you look at the future when you think of a workplace?

Johannes 

Well, we will see a couple of interesting developments. One thing we're now forced to accept is, we can work without all being in the same place.

"One thing we're now forced to accept is, we can work without all being in the same place".

And the majority of the companies are still based on every day, everybody comes in, we're all in the same place and then when the work is done, we leave again. Now, part of the work we do can actually be done from other locations.

So I do expect that there will be some changes in having big offices in one location and everybody has to commute to that. It might be a development that we see that there will be smaller officers spread about a large city to have because then you don't need the high price locations, you don't need the big, huge office spaces, you don't need all the conference rooms. You could actually, have a couple of smaller office facilities or flexible office facilities closer to the people that are working for you.

We will also see much more focus on that remote working capability because what we at the moment are experiencing is that a lot of the functions that we have today when we are in the office are actually not available when we are somewhere else. So there will be a shift in making those available and cloud surfaces can help with that and excess portals can help with that.

But we must also realize that that is mainly surfaces, office functions. When we look at a production facility, when we look at manufacturing, when we look at, at refineries, when we look at power generation, that's not something you can do at home. That's not something you can take with you so there you will still have factories and concentrations of people going to a place and working in shifts because the machines are where they are. But what we might see is that we stop putting all those machines in one huge production facility. It might be that we bring a couple of those processes closer to where the people are, to where the resources are, to where the materials are. What we're already doing in the lean concept, we're no longer making one big machine which does everything and everything has to be aligned around it.

"But what we might see is that we stop putting all those machines in one huge production facility. It might be that we bring a couple of those processes closer to where the people are, to where the resources are, to where the materials are. What we're already doing in the lean concept, we're no longer making one big machine which does everything and everything has to be aligned around it."

No, we make work cells and the products are basically moving to the people and not the people moving to the product. Or it could be that we take it to the next level and say, well, now we bring the work cell closer to where the material is, that could be for the manufacturing, an interesting aspect. 

When it comes to surfaces, we will see more inclusion or at least I hope that we will see more inclusion because very slowly, companies are starting to realize it's not just the optimal customer base and there are much more customers out there who also need to excess your surfaces, who also need support who also will buy your products when you enable them to buy your products.

Technology will help in ways of creating artificial intelligence-based chatbots where people can already get a lot of information and not depend on the actual person being available. We will see that artificial intelligence starts to take care of the repetitive jobs and recognizing patterns and recognizing what the real information is and what just data is. That will influence the way we work. 

The most important development I am expecting and I'm already seeing at a lower level, is that we use the technology to filter all the data and take that part of the information which at that moment is important for the person.

So making the information from all the data human-focused and then give that human being, working with that piece of information, the ability to take actions, and to make decisions based on what is there. That, on the one hand, takes away that the person would have to go through all the data, and on the other hand, it allows the person to make a decision by which the system can continue, and those things we will see, not just a surface level.

We will see them in factories. We will see them in online portals. We will see them when we're shopping, but we will also see them in health care. We will see them everywhere where lots and lots of data are available and we collect more and more and more data. It's exploding and we're not at the end, but we're not able to access all the data.

We're not able to analyze all the data because it's too much how technology will be a layer in between and we will at one point have conversations and we will ask a system what we're thinking and the system will give us the information on that and then we will ask the next question, so all that filtering process will be handled by technology. And that's one thing I'm very much looking forward to. 

Aishwarya 

Yeah, and as you say it, filtering the noise from the music, I think that's what tech can be used for and, and it can be an enabler. And that's also something that we're trying to do, you know, by creating a human capital management platform that has automation in it, and we've integrated chatbots in it.

So just, making it conversational, trying to make all the routine tasks simpler so that humans can really focus on higher-level tasks, and they can do the higher-order thinking. And as you said, that would be the future and that we all hope to see that. 

And in your lifetime, technology adoption, right, has it increased over time? Or I'm sure, you know, I really hope it must have. And if it has, what is it that most organizations are really looking for in terms of automation and tech and where is the gap? 

Johannes 

Well, the adoption of technology is going very well, but unfortunately, the technology itself is developing much faster than we as a society can keep up with. So We as a society are always behind and the gap is increasing because the technology is developing so fast

"We as a society are always behind and the gap is increasing because the technology is developing so fast"

...and a part of what we should do is to involve the people much more in understanding where that technology is going and why it's going down and what can be done, but also how we can use it in safe way. Because no matter what kind of a top technology we create, there will always be human beings interacting with that technology. 

Now, if you just look at the fact that 80 to 90% of the cybersecurity issues are caused by human failure, that can be misconfiguration, that can be the wrong usage, that can be the result of social engineering. That makes clear that technology can be great and still is depending on human influence.

So we need to pick up that pace in making the technology explainable and understandable. But we also must, and consumer-centric, human-centric, human involvement focuses much more on those from the beginning. Not afterward try to say hey, here is a wonderful brochure and it only costs 30 euros per month and just go using it. It's great. You're gonna love it. How can I gain market segment? How can I improve my profitability and how can I improve my bottom line? Those will always be the three drivers of businesses. 

"How can I gain market segment? How can I improve my profitability and how can I improve my bottom line? Those will always be the three drivers of businesses." 

Now we have wonderful, interesting people who have a long term vision, who says yeah, 'well, I want to make money on making this world a better place'. Elon Musk is one of those examples, and I love his story by saying, Well, my goal was to create sports cars, make money on creating sports cars, use that money which I make on creating sports cars to make a more accessible car and then make a kind which I can put in mass production and throughout the process, just have some car production, which is based on newer, renewable energy.

So what he basically says is, of course, I want to make money, but I want to invest that in making further improvements. And he does that through investments, and he puts his own money on the plate every time when he makes a new investment. But it still means that if he would not show this as a future profitable enterprise, no investor would be willing.

So he is also driven by the bottom line, the profitability, efficiency, gaining my consent, and that it's possible through technology. Well, just look at how much Tesla cars are sold and you know that it can be done. 

Companies and businesses and organizations, to some extent, even governments have to start focusing on how can we improve our market share, our bottom line. So how can we reduce the debts that we own? And still provide better surfaces to our population.

How can we, as a company, make sure that we take better care of our people and still make more profit? Interesting thing is, the better you take care of your people, in most cases, they will make your company more profitable, and technology can also help in those circumstances.

Tesla is, of course, one example where technology is the main driver, they do things out of doing it, and they do that through technology that Tesla is not using and it's wonderful, which we can use at other levels as well. We have implemented systems where we just took two hours per day routine work that people did not like to do, away from them, had that run by a system, and didn't say, 'Well, that means two out of eight hours, we could fire 25% people'. No, we said, 'We are going to make sure that 25% of the working time is now used in a much more efficient way.

"We have implemented systems where we just took two hours per day routine work that people did not like to do, away from them, had that run by a system, and didn't say, 'Well, that means two out of eight hours, we could fire 25% people'. No, we said, 'We are going to make sure that 25% of the working time is now used in a much more efficient way."

The technology we implemented helped with a lot of highly improved accuracy, much more routine work done in the background. We now even have customer satisfaction because nobody had to wait for that routine work because it was automatically taken care of.

And yet we created an atmosphere in which people felt valued again because, by the time that they had to pick up the phone and call a customer, the customer said, 'Oh, well, thank you'.

Before we started the product project, they were just complaining about everything that's wrong, and they were complaining about all the overtime hours that they had and they were complaining about having to work on the weekend. And then they said, 'We have so much work now. I have 200 hours of overtime, which I should take a vacation, but I can never take a vacation.'

People are satisfied that automatically means that people do a great job because they enjoy their work. And technology can help with that. Technology cannot replace it. Technology cannot make everything happen at once, but technology definitely can make it much more interesting. 

Aishwarya 

Absolutely, I think organizations still have the same questions to answer. How to increase my efficiency? How to increase my productivity? How do I increase my bottom line? The questions are the same, but it's the matter and the means that have now changed, and technology can really be an enabler and it can, you know, just fast-forward that process. So why not? Why not? Yeah. 

Johannes 

"We have to be willing to step away from the things we believe should be done in a particular way. What was great 10 years ago is not what the world is waiting for today."

Aishwarya

Absolutely, times have changed and you need to change with time. That makes a lot of sense. Well, you know, I come down to the last question.

If you would like to leave our viewers with any important sound bites.

Johannes

Well, let me put my personal priorities on the plate here. And I said for 2020 my goal, and it's a bit disrupted at the moment by Coronavirus. But my goal is to learn for myself how we can focus much more on inclusion and accessibility to everybody worldwide, and that it's not just about a person with a disability, that is also about the person who simply does not yet have access to technology or a person who has to work so much to just feed the family that they don't have the money to buy the access to that technology.

How can we improve that inclusion? How can we make sure that everybody, everywhere has the opportunity to benefit from all the wonderful technology that we have? 

My second priority and, just as important, is sustainability. We cannot continue like this. That's very clear. So how can we step by step as an individual, as an organization, how can we pick up that responsibility and make those changes and lot happens when we start by ourselves because if you at home make changes to become more sustainable in your personal life, that's the attitude you will bring into the office.

So if you then see waste in the office, you do something about it and you educate other people automatically. You educate people. If five times after leaving the meeting room, someone turns off the light, the sixth time somebody else will do it. 

Small steps have big influences when you do them consistently, and that is my message to everybody. Every single day, all the little good things that you can do will have a lasting impact when you do them consistently and people will start following your lead with the small things. And that's basically my message to everyone.

Aishwarya 

Absolutely. Wonderful message. We're in it together, and we need to be responsible citizens. And we need to start taking care of who we are, who we're with, and how we are interacting each day with every person. Right? How do you just be responsible? Absolutely.

Thank you so much for that wonderful message. I had a pleasure talking to you, Jay Dee. I really, really appreciate your time and sharing your views with us. Personally, it's been an enriching experience for me, I'm sure from viewers as well. So, let’s keep in touch and have a safe and healthy time ahead of you. Thank you so much. 

Johannes

Thank you. Also, and my final word to everybody. Please stay safe. Stay home. Do what you can. Thank you. 

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