How to kill a great organisation?:
Co-determination has no place in IT!
Die deutsche Version und die vollständige Podcastfolge finden sie hier.
Let’s create fear-free spaces in which the full potential of change for success can be fulfille.
In the new episode of the „How to kill a great organisation?“ podcast, Markus Petz talks to Alexander Chvojka, Managing Director of ITdesign Software Projects & Consulting GmbH.
After studying economics, Chvojka worked in large international companies, found his way into information technology and has been working for ITdesign for several years, an IT company with 60 employees that combines specialisation and organisational development.
In this interview, Chvojka discusses experiences and challenges in his company’s work, from home office to systemic organisational development and sociocratic approaches.
Technology only becomes truly effective when it meets a prepared organisation
Chvojka firmly believes that the most can be achieved in small organisations and that technology only becomes truly effective when it meets a prepared organisation. Chvojka describes his approach to organisational development in connection with solving IT problems as follows:
„as an IT service provider we are successful. That means we do migrations, we solve technical problems. We accompany the introduction of new features. We have been doing this excellently for 22 years. What we learned a few years ago is that this is not enough. I strongly believe that technology becomes effective when it meets a prepared organisation…. And we say organisational development makes technology use more effective. So before technology, let’s talk about what is the point of it.“
For Chvojka, the question „why are we doing this?“ is at the beginning of every project. It does not make the technology less important, on the contrary.
„It becomes more effective because we know where we want to go and people know what they need to do it, to actually use technology.“
In his view, many projects in the IT sector fail because there is no clear, energising vision of the goal.
Change is always scary – and an essential ingredient for success
Regarding fears associated with change, Chvojka’s key phrase is:
„Change is always scary“: „Change is something that is part of success, that is part of getting better. That said, I think we are privileged in our industry to at least want to accept change.“
Chvojka also stresses the need to create fear-free spaces to think about and implement change without stress. He and his team try to appear as „trusted advisors“ to the client, as trustworthy partners with handshake quality.
Chvojka then talks in detail about his experiences and those of his team with holocracy or sociocracy. No hierarchies, leadership through roles and the credo that decisions are made by those who are most qualified are the focal points of his talk. The process is not always free of friction, but challenges strengthen the „muscle“ and the resilience. An important aspect for him is bringing people together as a whole. One of the values is: „You are allowed to be our whole being“.
How not to kill a great organisation:
- Change only becomes truly effective when it meets a prepared organisation.
- First of all, clarify the question of meaning and find an energising goal as an organisation that everyone can stand behind.
- Do not be paralysed by fear of change: Change always holds the potential for success!
- Turn away from hierarchical organisational forms and give the employees more co-determination. Decisions are made by the most qualified people. Making mistakes is allowed and part of the process.
- Strive for a constant process of reflection and further development! This creates drive and resilience in the company – and strengthens staff loyalty.
- As facilitators of corporate processes, it is your task to show a space in which dreaming is possible.
The full-length interview:
Markus Petz: Welcome to the new episode of our „How to Kill a Great Organisation?“ podcast. We talk to people who are important and crucial to the long-term success of their organisation. My name is Markus Petz. I am one of the founders of MetaShift and today I am talking to Mr. Alexander Woyke. He is one of the founders and also CEO of IT Design. A warm welcome to you!
Alexander Chvojka: That was the Betts. A little correction right away. I came on board late. I wasn’t allowed to be there when the company was founded. But I am a co-owner because one of the founders retired and sold me his shares.
Markus Petz: Wonderful, wonderful. Thank you for setting the record straight. That leads me straight to the request that you perhaps say a few sentences about yourself.
Alexander Chvojka: If you can stand the 30 minutes. The name has already been said, Alexander Chvojka. What am I? I always say that I am an accountant. In fact, I studied economics and also wanted to become a tax consultant. That then led me down other paths. At some point into information technology and after various stops in very large international companies. Then the way back to Austria and the firm conviction that the most can be achieved in a small organisation. And then IT Design was a bit of a companion, because I used to get to know it from the customer’s point of view. I was quite enthusiastic about the way the people there work. And when my predecessor and founder, the managing director, left the company due to retirement, there were discussions. And I thought to myself: Jo, that sounds very much like I would like to help shape the next few years here until I retire. And that’s what ultimately led me to IT Design five years ago, I think, a little more than five years ago. And I haven’t regretted it so far, even though it was exciting and not always, how shall we say, comfortable times.
Markus Petz: Okay, now the topic of IT, at least in my experience, is often one that is very strongly associated with technology. And especially when we think about the title of our podcast „2How to kill a Great Organisation? It is often seen as a burden in the sense that all other concerns are supposedly solved with a technical solution. The idea in education also comes to mind. If all pupils are equipped with a tablet, then digitisation has been achieved, so to speak. What is the situation like in your company?
Alexander Chvojka: You sort of gave me the cue. A favourite phrase from a favourite topic of mine is. The topic is home office productivity. Our marketing colleague, Anita, always says Alexander, you can’t say that. Again, nobody understands what you mean. But what it’s really about is: many of our customers come around the corner with the same saying „We’ve solved home office. The employees now have notebooks“. And that describes quite well the approach that IT still has in many cases today. And I am completely with you. That is one part, exactly the part that always works anyway. That is, I think we can proudly say that we are always successful as an IT service provider. That means we do migrations, we solve technical problems. We accompany the introduction of new features. We have been doing this excellently for 22 years. What we learned a few years ago is that this is not enough. And that may be the answer. I firmly believe that technology is effective when it meets a prepared organisation. And many times, and this was the beginning of the friendship, I put it very carefully, of IT design to the subject of systemic organisational development. The idea that our projects fail because the customer does not go along with the change path. That is, he wants a release change, but has not even asked himself the question „What does that mean?“. And since technology, you will know, is getting further and further into our everyday life and is getting closer and closer to reality. It’s not just a tool in the background that hopefully works. But something that can do much, much more. And when I stop myself from asking „What good is it going to do me?“. Then I depend on the fact that what comes along is actually useful for me. And we turn the tables and say organisational development makes the use of technology more effective. So let’s talk about what the point is before the technology. And yes, I don’t think that’s widespread at all today. And I am rock-solidly convinced that your corporate approach and ultimately the path we are taking here can help to answer this question: Why are we doing this? What do we expect from it? Who all do we have to take with us? That it is asked much more often and allows future projects to start as a matter of course. Not in the sense of: Technology becomes less important, quite the opposite. It becomes more effective because we know where we want to go and people know what they need to be able to use technology.
Markus Petz: Now, of course, the question that moves me is: How do you look for your customers? So in the sense of: If I understood you correctly, it takes a certain maturity on the part of the customers to understand, allow and support this systemic thinking and to approach it in advance in a less traditionally mechanistic way, but with this question: What benefits do I expect? What for? Why am I doing all this? – to deal with. How do you go about finding the right customers?
Alexander Chvojka: Well, I have to answer that with great honesty. We don’t succeed at all. And perhaps one sentence and thus one step back. At the beginning, I always described the business model of IT Design as „problem always finds a solution“, and the „always“ is actually one of the founders and an excellent technician who is technically proficient in many different problem areas and can solve them. In other words, in the past we didn’t really do any marketing, but the customer’s IT administrator knew that there was a specialist in IT design who could help me when I was running out of steam. And you can’t market that, but the fact that in IT or information technology there is always something that doesn’t work, something that changes and something that is always challenging helps you. And that plays into their competences. And in truth, this is still a nucleus that connects Art Design with its clients. That we are trusted, that technical problems are well solved with us. And yes, we have all been snubbing our own colleagues with this issue for four years now. So Immer still can’t believe that Johannes is on board and that systemic organisational development is on our homepage. And Sales, Gernot, was also rather surprised at the beginning by Johannes‘ support. I think he heard words like „Oida, you’re never going to send him to me with the questions he asks the customer. What does he think of?“. So here you really have to give space to reality and I hope the podcast does that. Because that’s exactly what we observe. Many, many projects that fail because this, let’s say, energising target image does not exist. At the same time, there is still a lot of insistence, including in our own organisation, „What do I need the treasure for“ and here we can only – „Constant dripping wears out the pig“ – always and always live the conviction to say: A target image that we have together will contribute to the fact that people who are afraid of change and that many, probably including me, also have an incentive at the same time to say, okay, that’s where my journey is going. And maybe at some point, that’s a key, to then also say „please help me with this“. Because, that’s something that we have to maybe allow in our thinking worlds also socially, to say, „I need help““. And as I said, answer to your question. I think we have always been partners of the customers and we are increasingly pleased to use this reputation to ask „What do you want with him anyway? And that requires a position of trust. We know that. And of course, it also requires the possibility to say: this is not a dispersal, we are not making it more difficult because of that, but we are helping you and us to be successful together in the project, because we can also control and accompany this change that is necessary in your organisation to a certain extent.
Markus Petz: Do you sense an increasing willingness and resonance for this topic? Because I am already aware of the many crises that are currently with us or have been with us in the immediate past, whether it is Covid or the Ukraine issue or the climate crisis, which is becoming more and more noticeable. When people feel fear, their willingness to engage with something new is rather low. To what extent do you perceive that there is this openness, this willingness to allow this new dimension, especially in a technology-heavy environment?
Alexander Chvojka: I think the key phrase is „change is always scary“. And we have, and that is the privilege of computer science, a history of change. Because if we think back over a long period of time, starting in the days of Konrad Zuse and continuing through many, many, many steps up to today, computer science has shown one thing above all: change is something that is part of success, that is part of becoming better. That means, I think, that in our industry we are privileged to at least want to accept change. Anyone who has worked in information technology for a long time naturally has a lot of experience of failure. And I have to take up the cudgels for all the administrators out there who are more afraid of failure because they have experienced over years, not to say decades, what happens when you don’t think something through to the end. Nevertheless, and now comes the answer to your question. Of course, today we have Gernot, our sales manager or, as we say, sales spokesman, saying, „Alexander, at the moment you don’t need to discuss, at the moment there are constraints and they will be implemented. You can’t develop big pictures“. But, and this is the key. I believe that what we can do very well is to create fear-free spaces to think about these changes, which will perhaps come now after the decisive crises, without stress. For me, this is a key phrase in our socialisation. Not only computer scientists, but everyone who has to do with IT. In truth, almost all of us have had our experiences today, and the earlier they started, the worse the experiences were, because there were many things in the past that simply didn’t work. It is this generation of digital natives who do not have this fear of contact. In many cases, this is because they have never known that something doesn’t work. But they will have to learn the hard way, something will always go wrong – even the Murphian law applies to an Apple. What I want to say is: I think it is the task of guides like you and I think also like us to say, this is a space where dreaming is possible. And we are like the scouts who go through this space, which is a lot of things that you don’t even want to imagine today, but are technically possible. To say in the right places, here I pull a little, here I push a little. And at the same time not to forget that Austrian reality always starts 30 years ago. In other words, that which endures. That’s why it’s important not to step on toes or snub people right away. A companion should be able to do this balancing act. We try to be such a trusted advisor. I think that’s a word that people like to use here. We try to be a trustworthy partner with a handshake quality. Nevertheless, the current reality is little conversation and a lot of constraint.
Markus Petz: I would like to take up the keyword that you said, namely „fear-free spaces“. As we know, Google has done a great deal of work on this study of high performance teams. And it came out quite clearly that something like psychological security is needed so that development, learning and evolvement can take place. Now, if you could tell us a little bit about what you do: How do you specifically go about creating and opening a space free of fear?
Alexander Chvojka: A short digression, advertising on our own behalf. IT Design was founded as a limited liability company (GesmbH) and is in fact still a relatively manageable GesmbH with 64 people. Behind it, however, we are what is called a holacracy, i.e. a static form of organisation that tries to do without hierarchies as far as possible. And leadership, so hierarchy-free, but not leadershipless, as I like to say. And leadership is therefore implemented in the organisation as much as possible through roles. That means people taking responsibility. And that is the whole answer. Namely, hierarchies concentrate responsibility right at the top and thus generate Theory Y and Theory X by McGregor, good to read up on. Very old. Still applies. And thus tend to create cultures of non-decision-making. We take a completely different approach and say that the credo in IT design is that the most qualified person should decide. And that means we tend to be decentralised with our decisions. And the key is: making mistakes is allowed.
Alexander Chvojka: And it’s very, very, very important, because every organisation that makes pro forma decisions in a decentralised way, but comes up with the big central stick and says mercy God, you’re making a mistake. We come across that very, very, very often. That means our credo is: whoever is the most competent should also make the decision or at least prepare it in such a way that it – we also have central steering committees – can be confirmed there accordingly. That works quite well. To answer your question: What do we have to do to make it work? A good, good technician will always be someone who knows what is not working. And he will be tormented by that burden. And that’s literally where we struggle every day. That is addressed to your audience. A socioethical network organisation or a holacracy like that is thoughtful because we actually struggle every day with the characteristics of that form of organisation. It’s like a muscle, it makes us resilient. But yes, we fail just as often because the fear of decision is really part of the game. And the only thing we can repeat over and over again is: dear people, who would be more suitable? And the bottom line is to give space and then ask the question, learned from John, „And what do you need to make a decision?“. And suppressing any other reflex in the sense of „I’ll do it for you!“. So it’s a groping. I think we are far, far from being a role model. But what I can say is. Where it works it can’t be done better, because then we also make decisions that people can stand behind 100%. That is much more difficult with typical hierarchical decisions, where you usually don’t know the background of the decision. That is different with us.
Markus Petz: But before I am interested in a further insight into this crazy organisation, I would like to ask a question about the staff side. We have already spoken. On the one hand, you need clients who also have a corresponding mindset, an understanding of systemic attitudes. And at the same time, it is also necessary on the staff side. And I don’t mean the often-used shortage of skilled workers, which probably affects you just as much in the sense that it is difficult to find good people in sufficient numbers, but I mean how well do you succeed in finding people with this attitude to work with you?
Alexander Chvojka: After a few terrible failures – I have to be honest – it got a bit better when we started looking not only for professional competence and the right fit in this sociotope of colleagues and co-owners, i.e. what you have grown historically when you develop from 17 to 64. For a long time we concentrated on using professional and collegial criteria as the central criteria in the search. With the result that we found a number of people who were overwhelmed by our organisational idea and exactly what they say and feel into it must also be declared. So at the first moment, it is this urleiwand when you enter a company. And the boss says, „There’s no hierarchy here. At first no one believes it and then no one understands it and you think: „Hey, that’s great! No, all of them, even the ones who invented it, have days when they say „For God’s sake, what a load of rubbish I’ve come up with“. Because exactly this: I am responsible for my decision. I make this decision, with which I hope to be successful today and make the customer happy. It’s one thing to say that IT Design is a limited company and wants and needs to be economically successful. We don’t want to be a philanthropic association, which means we are caught up in the same legal formal constraints as we are in a market.
Alexander Chvojka: And that was also quite mixed. It was Corona-related, with great and terrible characteristics. That’s the way it is. So in this mixed situation it wasn’t enough to say okay, we only have one good technician who fits into the team anyway. Because we need someone who brings so much character with him. And now I’m going to say something that my colleagues don’t like to hear, but someone who has so much social competence that he or she can also play a creative role in a sociocracy. Because that is the double-edged sword of all swords, and it is bloody bloody. Everyone who starts with us is literally allowed to make this company better from day one. Now they will say: Yes, you all have that written on the entrance board anyway. It’s true, there are these „you already know“ stories. We live in a set of values that we take very seriously. And it’s like that. But now imagine that you come from a hierarchical context, and I’m sorry, in Austria there are only hierarchical contexts. It starts with the family and continues with school. Anyone who was in the army knows the same thing. And traditionally there are more companies that are hierarchically structured, i.e. sociocracies. So, people with a hierarchical bent come and receive an invitation to participate in a sociocracy. Wow, you need a lot of backbone, a lot of self-motivation. I quote Florian: „When I’m at home in my home office hobby, I don’t have anyone to entertain me. When I’m in the office. Then it’s the noise of my colleagues and they implicitly throw me the challenges I need when I’m in a slump. And that’s exactly how you have to imagine our organisation. But if I’m polarised that I have a boss who tells me what I have to do today and when I’m done where I’m going to take that result and pick up my next piece of work. And that is not meant to be a reproach to all those who would like to work like that. When I’m polarised like that, and we’ve had to experience that, it’s a brief joy. Most of the time it’s half a year before we all come to the conclusion that, wow, this is not going to work. And that’s the whole, long answer to your short question. So we have to and are looking for people who have a seasoned willingness to engage in such an additional adventure alongside their actual work. And yes, we do that from the very first recruiting and today I was in a secondary school in Hollabrunn and tried to bring our company and ultimately our approach to the teachers. We do, we give, we give, we give. As they say, teaching practice places. And we tell people exactly that. That is, an interview with us doesn’t just start with: What can you do? But: What are you getting into?
Markus Petz: Well, thank you, that sounds very exciting and thank you for this insight and for your openness, because of course I know that there is often a lot of expectation in the sense of: There is infinite freedom, but freedom is always paired with responsibility. And if we now perhaps take another look at the organisation. I read on your website that you have 18 founders and the majority of the company is owned by the employees. Could you perhaps tell us a little more? What is everyday life like in your company, so that the listeners get a bit of a feeling, because I am also deeply convinced that there are still a lot of traditionally hierarchically organised companies in our country. And therefore, of course, it is always a bit exciting to hear: Yes, what is it really like?
Alexander Chvojka: Well, on the one hand we are very proud that we have completely absorbed the GesmbH law into the organisational form of this holacracy. That means that our organisational form actually meets everything that is formally necessary. And this continues to happen every day. We have an internal weekly in which we develop our rules in a democratic process. I don’t want to go into too much detail. I think the key answer is: in the organisation. In the organisation you will always meet people who have the courage to do something more than their own work. Like this. And. The associates you mention. And if I would wish it, I would say I would rather have almost 100 % employees = owners. But a GesmbH share has become relatively expensive in recent times, because we have not been completely unsuccessful. So that is a bit of a limitation. But being part of something does something to people, whether they want it or not. And what we try to do. And I think we are quite good at it, that even those who are not partners, nevertheless, just, I embellished it before, nevertheless experience this invitation. Yes, we would like to get better with you. And essentially it always works best when the shareholder – and this will probably surprise you – does not come to light at all in everyday life. That doesn’t always work.
Alexander Chvojka: But. In truth, if I were to observe, it is most likely with the young people we have recently found, who also have this willingness to get involved with this organisation, who have this curiosity and a strong interest in becoming a shareholder and where I then also have a typical investor conversation. And then you say Matthias, but be careful, that is – if you only want to have a safe interest experience, which is not possible in Austria now anyway. But historically you take a Bawag capital savings book and everything is fine. If you invest in IT design, then you take on a bit more responsibility. So, for the future shareholders, this is extremely exciting to observe and it changes people. I can’t say that the existing shareholders are saying that we have a two-class society. And perhaps I can reveal a secret to your listeners – because I have also fallen prey to this erroneous assumption that just because someone is a shareholder, a founder, a senior consultant in what they do, it does not mean that they are an entrepreneur. And in all honesty, we have to leave the church in the village. So many who like to be in IT design have this Simon Sinek would say, this WHY, this story of why they are there. And being part of this organisation and being able to help shape it is a strong retention argument for some. And for others, a less strong one. And so you can meet a founder and co-owner who you don’t even notice in everyday life. And you can meet a young IT designer who acts as if he were the owner in his behaviour and his loyalty and his enthusiasm for this place.
Alexander Chvojka: And quite authentically. And both are dear to me. And in the end you can say: We also treat everyone the same. We have a deferred financial year, it always ends on 31.3. That means the last one has just ended and we distribute 40 % of our result to the employees every year because we say: Dear people, you were also the ones who were part of this result. And I am very happy that in the future the legislator will give us the opportunity to make this a bit more tax-efficient than before. And that is certainly something that contributes to the fact that this two-class society does not exist. And that the shareholder in everyday life is rather the technician, the specialist and the one who is enthusiastic about something. And if I now, when I tell this, have Werner in front of my eyes all the time, then everyone would immediately know what Werner is enthusiastic about. And at some point they would even have it. And he is also a shareholder. I think that’s the answer to your question.
Markus Petz: Thank you very much. What is still going through my mind now is. Let’s assume that someone who is listening to us now finds it very inspiring what I have just said about the organisation. And they come up with the idea and say. Ah, I’m going to take a look at how IT Design is organised and I’ll try to copy it so that I can also develop in this direction. What do you say to someone like that?
Alexander Chvojka: Well, let him bring bananas and strawberries and exotic fruits and hold them up to the bars. If he studies our social science experiment, then his colleagues will be happy to come and take some. So little joke on the side, but actually yes, we have some university and college professors who have already looked at this organisation of ours. We are also represented here and there in the literature in the meantime and it really is a bit like being in a monkey cage. But all joking aside. Like any, like any good idea, it should be dressed up with great thought and with the very clear question „What would be the added value that I am aiming for?“. So I believe and I am firmly convinced that the future. This more co-determination, this more bringing people in as a whole. One of our values is: You are allowed to be our whole being. And in the beginning I thought to myself, „Oida what does he mean?“. Why is it like that? – And then when they see the people with us, they will notice_ Yes, they are really there as a whole. There is no pretence, no masking, which is so common in large structures, but the person is there. On the one hand, this makes it quite challenging, because not only are there the light sides, but also the dark sides. But studies have shown that large organisations have access to between 20 and 30 % of their people’s assets. 20 to 30 % and then only if the individual superiors are really good people. And that already gives you the answer. I think whoever wants to say I want the people as a whole. Or at least larger parts of them to help shape my company’s success. They are more likely to be successful with such a form of organisation than someone who says: I want to go along with a hype and give myself this coat of paint, which could just as easily be green tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, I don’t know. Another flag in the wind. I think there are enough buzzwords.
Markus Petz: No. So if I have understood you correctly, then one can also say in summary, get inspiration, so to speak. It’s certainly possible for me to gain insights myself. But the classic thing that we all know, this copy and paste. I simply take what works elsewhere and copy it. I would have my doubts about that. How do you see it?
Alexander Chvojka: I underline that 100%. I said it before and I would like to repeat it here. We literally rewrite our organisation every day and following our conversation we have our 14-day steering committee and we have some, let me say, really organisationally challenging issues on the agenda today – where we really scramble, where we really scramble to find our common understanding, „How should it be?2 . And to have that courage to constantly put our own organisation to the test. And ultimately, as my predecessor used to say Alexander, that is also expensive. When people discuss and don’t hack anything. He was not such a great friend of democratic organisations, that’s for sure. That means, I think, that we need a contribution here. That is, „Do I get something out of it?“. Do I have the people who want it? Because many, many, many conversations that we have naturally also tell us about the burden that people experience when they also have to take care of organisational issues. And you can’t underestimate that at all, because if I, I said I’m a trained accountant and probably my life would be much, much more relaxed if I only had to take care of the finances of IT design.
Alexander Chvojka: And it’s similar for the colleagues who are primarily concerned with their technical issues, when on Thursday evenings they have to get torn out and get involved in organisational issues that are perhaps far beyond their horizon. So here, you have to see the light and the dark sides. And you have to like an organisation that deals with itself intensively. And above all, and this is perhaps one of the reasons why we continue to put so much emphasis on this, in fast-changing times and especially in times of crisis. The way you put it before, it’s something that can’t be done better. I did not perceive Corona in IT design at all. We were able to act at all times. On the contrary, self-organisation has blossomed. And I know of many, many conversations I have had and many companies where the deficits of the organisation with Corona have come to light incredibly. So. So there are strong arguments for it. But if you ask my colleagues, there are also very strong arguments against it.
Markus Petz: Yes, thank you very much. I would sum it up for me like you said: Conscious organisational development is really hard, strenuous work. And it doesn’t go by in passing, but also needs a lot of attention and energy. Yes, at this point, dear Mr. Chvojka, I would like to thank you very much for the very interesting and, for me, very inspiring talk. And yes, addressed to the listeners, I still say thank you for listening. If you enjoyed the episode, we would of course be very happy if you subscribe to us via your favourite podcast app. And we’d be even happier if you gave us a five-star rating. Or even if you recommend us to a colleague or someone in your circle of friends and family who might also be interested in this episode. Because that helps us continue to attract exciting guests and explore new topics around transformation, change and transformation for them. Until the next episode. Best regards, your MetaShift team.