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Created on 22.10.2020

Unbossing the Organization

“Unbossing” – does it really work or is it just the latest managerial hype? In his guest article, Markus Naegeli, CEO of Canon (Schweiz) AG, answers this question as part of Connecta 2020, and shows how videos can help implement change.

A guest article by Markus Naegeli, CEO of Canon (Schweiz) AG

Blogs and articles often make the connection between “unbossing” and “VUCA”, a “new management style for agile cultures” or new trends such as “the servant leader”. The “Unboss” is the exact opposite of the conventional “Boss” and managers with a traditionally hierarchical management style will certainly struggle with this idea. On the other hand, managers with a participative management style tend to view this approach as one of the next stages in development.

How is “unbossing” viewed by employees though?

We already have colleagues who show leadership, take initiative and lead from the ground. And then there are those who are more reactive in their approach and wait for instruction. Along the lines of “You're the boss, you tell me what to do.” There is certainly potential for conflict, with some employees flourishing in flexible hierarchies and welcome self-organization, while others search for a clear assignment of roles and responsibilities. The trick is to find a balance between the two, whether it be allowing for various management styles or encouraging dynamic change processes within teams. 

Give the “change” enough time

There needs to be a new way of thinking among managers enabling them to assume their new role as a driving force that promotes self-organization and supports change processes. In theory, this sounds like an interesting idea and, for many, a desirable goal. It is not as easy as it sounds, however: how much leeway do I give managers when it comes to “unbossing” within the company? Differences will inevitably arise from team to team. Do I need to dictate everything? Would that then even be “unbossing the organization”? In most companies, we start with a management and corporate culture that has developed over many years. Radical changes will not work here. For me, it makes sense to determine the general direction that will be taken, set out guidelines and actively initiate the change process. In order to allow for a new management culture to develop, individual ability should be fostered and, most importantly, plenty of time allowed for all this “change”. The actual changes that take place will manifest themselves differently from one organization to another and progress at varying speeds.

“Be the director of your life”: a project that aims to bring in new talent

Change processes need “lighthouses” or “best practices” which form a precedent in companies. Projects or initiatives that have been launched by the employees are well suited to this. The “Be the Director of your Life” project serves as a “lighthouse” in our company. The aim here is to convince new talent, in the form of school-leavers, to join our team. In order to present Canon in the best possible light, motivated employees from various units have come together to work on the planning and implementation of this project: The link will open in a new window Canon Graduate ProgramI still remember well how employees, suddenly and on their own initiative, requested a statement from me for their project. The team put a lot of work in and I’m very proud of what they achieved. It was also great fun!

“Unbossing video strategy”: for communication where everyone is on the same level

The medium of video is extremely helpful when it comes to change-related tasks. Employees and managers are revolutionizing communication on equal terms by using authentic and inspirational video messages. By applying a consistently implemented “unbossing video strategy”, a flat hierarchy is created capable of rapid action which can better meet the challenge of digitization. A very good book on this is The link will open in a new window “Video-Storytelling – eine praxisorientierte Anleitung für innovative Unternehmen” (Video storytelling – a practical guide for innovative companies") by Christian Mossner et al.

Storytelling, too, is very often a “bottom-up” process

At Canon, we promote this immediate form of communication in various ways. Employees from across the company have the opportunity to train as a “Video Journalist” (VJ) and learn more about using cameras and their technology. The important stories are also very often told from the “bottom-up”. When interacting with customers or generally campaigning for employees, we make a point of choosing employees and/or team leaders to represent our company – and not necessarily the “top brass”.

With an “unbossing” change process, the medium of video can be used to build bridges both between generations and between internal and external participants. Video stimulates the change process and provides companies with the opportunity to steer corporate culture in the desired direction. I look forward to hearing about your experiences with this subject.

About the author

Markus Nägeli

After studying at the ETH Zurich, Markus Naegeli worked for several years as a business consultant focusing on high-tech and ICT. In 2002, he became BU Director at Canon (Schweiz) AG. In 2005, he headed the service business for Europe in London. At the end of 2007, he became the CEO of Canon (Schweiz) AG. In 2015, he took over the leadership of the Business Imaging Group EMEA when he became EVP in London. At the end of 2018, he returned to his role as CEO of Canon (Schweiz) AG.

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