Software for the digital revolution
The digital revolution? Is everywhere! Only with well organized change processes can businesses be successful today – and Mannheim start-up PulseShift offers the necessary software for the job: the five former SAP employees Michael Dell, David Hoeffler, Norman Weisenburger, Jascha Quintern and Martin Müller have developed an algorithm that creates valuable real-time analyses from survey data for decision-makers. We met up in the Mafinex technology center to get an insight into how it all works.
Change has always been a part of business — why has the matter of change processes become more relevant at the moment?
PulseShift: Sure, change is a constant issue but the frequency of it is increasing. The issue is becoming more relevant as the impact on employees by constant change processes is growing.
So it’s nothing new?
PulseShift: We feel the quality of the issue has changed. A key issue for most businesses is digitization. Old established companies face the danger that traditional (offline) business models cannot remain competitive. It’s not about merging two departments and streamlining processes, which would be a common change issue. It’s more like: „ok, we’re going to have to turn the complete company upside down and figure out how things can work for us in the digital age!“ The issue has become immensely pressing for those in charge.
PulseShift: One could compare it to the invention of writing. There was a time before and a time after. At the time the impact of the change was not yet clear. And at the moment people seem just as confused. Nobody is sure what to do, and who is going to play which role and what that entails. Many managers can see that the current business model is no longer working — but what steps are to be taken seems anybodies guess.
In a way comparable to how the industrial revolution ushered in major changes in the 19th century?
PulseShift: Yes. The industrial revolution put a lot of craftsman’s establishments out of business as they couldn’t implement machines. Many very successful businesses had to quit as they were not capable to adapt to the new reality. A comparable danger can be seen today: in 1958 a firms average stay in the Fortune 500 was 61 years. By today it’s down to 18. With this rate of change in mind by 2027 we will see three quarters of companies in the Fortune 500 we know nothing about today.
So the ability to change has become essentially important for businesses today.
PulseShift: Exactly. Things can change very rapidly as we have seen with Nokia or Blackberry. From industry leader to irrelevancy in the blink of an eye. But for a business to successfully change the staff must be willing to change as well. The employees must be taken along through the process, or else it’s not going to work. The greatest processes and strategies can’t change that. To avoid losing people on the way one must recognize resistance against the change process early on and react accordingly. Recognizing your employees needs is very important in all of this.
And this is where the PulseShift software comes into play?
PulseShift: Correct. We know that resistance among the workforce is a main reason for the failure of transformation processes. During the industrial revolution this was less the case as low skill levels amongst the workers were common and so they felt replaceable. This has changed. Even established companies that have made their names with efficient processes and production machinery, are noticing that while wages may be a small factor in the balance sheet, employees play a role that should not be underestimated: the most promising new business models will only work if the staff is on board.
So how can you guys help with this?
PulseShift: Everyone knows they have to make a change, but no one really has a masterplan on how to do so. We feel the only way to do this is to see change as one would a start-up, which means trying something new and very quickly figuring out whether it is helping you on or not. If it isn’t: drop it it and try something else! This is the only way to success in these unsure times. One must accept the fact that change processes are evolutionary in nature and take many smaller learning steps to succeed. Also one cant just push a plan from the top down through the business and expect everyone to cooperate. To make this work we offer a tool that allows for an agile change process. This will not only show the key operating indicators and sales numbers, but also how the employees are reacting to the process. One can tell why a new process that is good in principle may be at risk of coming to nothing. One gets a reading on what people think about a new strategy and which unexpected side-effects may arise. This fast feedback allows you to act efficiently as a change manager and tackle potential problems during the change process.
So in a way this is a form of Rapid Prototyping for processes to be directly counter checked. And the prototype are taken from the business in question?
PulseShift: Sure. One can see PulseShift as a form of learning infrastructure. During a change process we provide management with feedback from all areas of the business and to understand what is really happening. PulseShift is a kind of seismometer for the organization – we show where there are commotions caused by the change processes so management has a real chance to make the necessary adjustments.
So I guess your business is directed mainly at large firms?
PulseShift: Yes and no. The utilization of PulseShift makes sense once their is no personal contact between those responsible for managing change processes and the employees affected by these. Once water cooler talk becomes a main source of information things get tricky, as people aren’t relying on empirical data. The more complex the change, the greater the challenge. Another important thing is that one can’t only gather data, but must also react to what the data tells you. Every employee wants to be taken seriously — the companies that respect their employees opinions give their voices a greater weight, thus making them active participants in the change, rather than seeing them as mere obstacles in the process.
How will an employee notice this?
PulseShift: He won’t be asked once the transformation is complete: „hey, how were the last two years? And how do you like our new cloud based company?“ Rather throughout the entire process of change individuals, groups and departments concerns can be addressed. Critical factors such as existential fear, oppositions and the like must become obvious, as they are potential pitfalls in a change process. Employees must understand that the change is necessary for the survival of the company. And they must believe that their participation in the process is crucial – regardless of their position in the food chain.
Opinion polls during change processes are no new thing though?
PulseShift: No. But what we have accomplished is to create an infrastructure that extracts the maximum amount of data for the change manager, with little effort for the individual. The process is also highly scalable through use of automation. Our software decides independently which employee to ask which question and keeps the number of questions as low as possible. This sampling procedure is very cleverly automated to provide us with very high-quality data, without generating unnecessary costs for the administration or staff.
During change processes it is vital to take the staff along step by step, for which one must obtain their feedback. And this process you have optimized for maximum efficiency?
PulseShift: Yes. We allow a very cost efficient way for companies to understand how their staff reacts to any kind change.
Sounds like something one could also use in the world of politics. Maybe we could have averted the AfD …
PulseShift: We’ve also played around with the idea, but more on a local level. The mayor of Mannheim could use PulseShift to find out what are the really pressing issues. Which parts of town are flourishing? Which municipal initiatives are well received amongst the citizens? Or are they possibly not even aware of the initiatives at all?
PulseShift as a tool for a more direct democracy?
PulseShift: Definitely a possibility. Though in this case one would have to react to the feedback gathered. Or else it could lead to even more disenchantment with politics. This again shows the challenge for businesses: gathering feedback comes with responsibility and a mandate for the organization on behalf of the people. Us here at PulseShift feel that it will be those companies that take this mandate seriously, which will achieve sustainable success.
Interview: Paul Heesch
Pictures: Ricardo Wiesinger