May 13, 2020
The RH way to HR

2 years ago Mark Klein took the top job at one of the problem children of the German telco behemoth Deutsche Telekom - T-Mobile Netherlands. For years the company had haemorrhaged customers and revenues. Profits had caved. Even a fire-sale was in the cards. Klein had to deal with angry customers and frustrated employees.

Chances are he could have winged his tenure with old-school management tricks, some new strategy papers and drastic cost cutting measures. Surprisingly, the former McKinsey Consultant decided to throw the old playbook away and opted for a radical re-organisation. The corporate mothership in gave Klein permission for his highly unorthodox experiment, and even financed its launch. It might have been change born out of pain, but it didn’t lack a clear blueprint.

Klein’s idea: he would shift psychological ownerships of the 3,7 million Customers to his 1500 employees. Work would no longer be organised and supervised by managers, but a piece of software. It’s a reset. A reboot, which no enterprise of this size and complexity had attempted before.

For one year, a core team of 30 employees of all functions and levels, including engineers and worker’s council members, invested extra time to plan the revolution. They began deconstructing the omni-present hierarchy and laid the foundation for a network organisation. A network in which all colleagues would self-organise themselves  around their customers. The software would replaced ordered work with peer-commitments. It would also visualise these commitments, giving transparency to everybody about responsibilities and roles.

The end of Hierarchy

On the 26th of May 2016, T-Mobile dared the “Digital Big Bang”, as Klein calls it. After properly introducing the principles behind a network organisation for the past 12 months, he turned the system on. From now on everybody would work without hierarchies and departmental structures or silos. Everything would become a project. Teams would form and dissolve organically with every new contribution. Bureaucracy went out the window, radical transparency moved in. The software system to support the network approach was running on everybody's desktop, smartphone and tablets. It showed the value creation from an individual contribution, to the team’s, all the way to the actual, paying customer.

Once it went live, the platform visualises the organisation like a living organism. Contributions and employees are depicted like neural pathways and electricity firing in a hard-thinking brain. Who works with whom on what. Progress and the status of the work visualised in realtime like a video-game. Every contribution has a definition-of-done, a detailed description of the successful end state of the team’s work from the customer’s perspective, gently nudging everybody to re-think any work started, from the customer’s perspective. The software also shows who is responsible for which tasks and who might be in trouble or needs help.

Heiko Fischer, CEO of Resourceful Humans, and his team invented the software and supports the Telekom-Unit in its transformation. “Our technology replaces control with clarity, and focuses everybody on making a meaningful contribution for the customer”, says Fischer.

Checking in on his network, one T-Mobile employee noticed a pattern - technicians would regularly conduct expensive and dangerous maintenance work by climbing up and checking up on the 36-meter tall antennas that make the country-wide 4G infrastructure. He proposed a contribution in the work network to replace the perilous work with drones. A team formed to build a prototype, test the idea and proved it would significantly save costs, increase turn-around, prevent accidents and could even be sold as a service for profit to competitors.

The foundation to winning  and keeping customers in the telco market is a tight web of reliable 4G antennas delivering seamless coverage and high-speed data anywhere. In the new networked organisational model inside T-Mobile, a team of expert engineers tested the new technology with customers directly, without need for approvals, having to fight red tape or compromises for infighting corporate silos. Not only does this kind of work motivate employees, it also translates into a direct competitive advantage.

Autonomous teams take end-to-end responsibility for their products can make decisions independently. They align with their peers, but they don’t have to wait for anybody’s seal of approval to go ahead. Each team works like a small startup. Even working with corporate clients, T-Mobile achieved “drastic reduction of employee turnover compared to before the change”, confirms the head of communications Frederike van Urk.


Even after only a couple of weeks, the team around Mark Klein began to notice significant positive changes by virtue of the virtual self-organisation. “We became faster, more agile in the true sense of the word. We not only react quicker, we even anticipate customer problems and reach out pro-actively, listen and offer solutions. This really stuns customers. It’s a sea-change in their experience with us. And our teams suddenly enjoy their work, because they are empowered to take action without having to constantly ask and wait for endless approvals. They suddenly become creative, finding new and better ways to do things, because they own the outcome. They suddenly feel relevant. Their actions feel meaningful.

Other than organising work, the software also reflects how well teams complete their contribution relative to each other. The artificial intelligence inside the software notices patterns and the chemistry between the contributors. If someone does not contribute or freeloads to the detriment of their colleagues, will naturally be excluded from the system - people will not choose to work with them in the future. Further, the teams can send positive feedback, coupled to a limited currency of stars at any time to recognise great work. This way everybody has visibility who has made significant contributions above and beyond the call of duty.

Having successfully implemented the network organisational model, Klein has decided it is time to move on. Beginning of September, the 45-year old begins his new role as Chief Digital Officer on the board of insurance giant ERGO. There, the board is looking to him to drive the transformation of 30.000 employees and 16.000 sales people.

Heiko Fischer welcomes Klein’s moving on. He considers it the knighthood of his company’s network software. “In the most advanced network organisations like T-Mobile Netherlands, you don’t need one leader. Because everybody leads.”

Here you find the original article in german: https://www.capital.de/wirtschaft-politik/die-traumfabriken-der-neuen-arbeitswelt/3

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