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Is Germany Finally Ready to go Agile?

Agility has been the talk of the town in the HR community in Germany for several years now – with many companies struggling to implement an ‘agile strategy’ into their businesses. It is safe to assume there is a lot of uncertainty around it, and this is partly due to the different connotations around the term agile. COVID-19 has accelerated the move towards working flexibly, one of the pillars of agile, but it will be interesting to see how many companies can embed a holistic agile approach into their DNA.

René Rosso, Senior Director at ChapmanCG and leads the DACH practice, has talked to Brigitte Ehmann, Owner and Managing Director of people@work, about the state of agile in Germany. Brigitte has been SVP HR Process Coordination & Communication at ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG before founding her own company. In Germany, she provides a consultation service to companies and corporations on how to implement an agile working environment. She has also written a book on the topic: “Agile Methoden für Personaler”, published at SpringerGabler.

Brigitte, since the start of 2020 we have been experiencing a pandemic which has had massive affects in the way companies and corporations work. How do you see the future of work organisation in that light?

I see a lot of opportunities to redefine the way we work. Until the Coronavirus crisis hit us, a lot of companies were reluctant to implement flexible and working from home policies. Now that they have been forced into it they can see that it works actually quite well. I predict that most of the companies will not completely roll these policies back after the pandemic has ended. Employees who have greater flexibility are usually more motivated and generate more profit.

I also perceive a challenge in the rise of individual responsibilities. For managers, this means they would need to loosen up a bit more and transfer more responsibilities onto their teams. The teams, on the other hand, need to be empowered to take over those responsibilities. In Germany, I see a lot of companies that still need to implement a culture of feedback and accept mistakes happen and that they are also a way for finding improving. Now is the time to adapt internal culture for this to be prepared for the future.

Never since its creation did an agile way of working make as much sense as it does now. In my opinion we now have a historic opportunity to implement new methods because we are already out of our comfort zones.

What influence does the organisational structure have on the company culture and vice versa?

A company culture is the sum of its values, norms, behaviour and attitude that shape the way its people act and think. The culture typically gets defined by the way its leaders act.

If an organisation is hierarchical it usually follows a strict set of rules, guidelines and requirements. Often this leads to a culture of conformity and rule-abiding employees. Such an organisation will have a hard time in accepting a culture of trial and error as we see that we see so successfully in agile organisations.

In Germany, we still see a lot of classic organisation structure, where the boss creates a strategy and the team has to implement it via operational tasks.

What does agile mean for the Ulrich model?

HR is enabler, developer, facilitator and business all at the same time. It has more possibilities to shape the form of an organisation than any other function. It is not important if HR is centralised or decentralised. It is a vital business function. There are HR divisions that are already agile without having really thought about it, just by adapting workflows from their coworkers in IT.

Do you see agile as a trend or a long-lasting shift in the way organisations will work?

On the one hand in our VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) world, there is a great need for a shift toward a new way of collaboration. On the other hand, not all companies are ready for that shift. The accelerating and more complex markets are making adapting to new circumstances a must. Therefore, I see shifting organisation forms towards agile working methods as without an alternative.

To close let us touch again on the COVID-19 pandemic: are you seeing trends that have been implemented out of necessity that will last? What positive aspects can we see as a result of the crisis?

First of all, by now everyone has probably understood that digitisation is extremely important for our daily work. Nobody wants to go back to paper files and bookkeeping.

During the crisis a lot of companies have actually acted in an exemplary way by communicating with their employees, giving orientation and showing that they cared. This solidarity has spread among the employees and often led to an increase of engagement and subsequently good performance, even in hard times. Companies that were able to keep their people engaged will benefit from this long-term.

There will likely be a new understanding of leadership as well. A lot of managers only realised through the crisis that they dealt with too many tasks at the same time and saw the need to shift responsibilities onto their teams. The role of managers will be redefined as enabler, innovator, and people developer. The future will be for the wise manager who sees creating purpose as the real privilege of their job.

Thank you, Brigitte.

When we come through the crisis, we may find many organisations have evolved, reshaped and remodelled ways of working. There will likely be more flexibility to agile working which will be beneficial from both a cost and productivity perspective. The HR function clearly has a key role to play in shaping this future. HR leaders will need to ensure that future ways of working are shaping the right culture and behaviours and ultimately making the business more successful.  Whether this is adopting a purely agile/ flexible model or degrees of this will need to be adapted to suit and it’s HR’s role to help the business plot a path forward on this front.


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