We would like to start with a quote from you that even includes the name of your brand: »There is no finish line to the better«, you always say. What exactly do you mean by that?
There is no »Finally arrived, now everything stays as it is«. I am firmly convinced that every individual, every company and every system can always get better. »Better« has various dimensions. That is the great force that drives me.
New technologies in ever shorter cycles, higher demands on the individual, extreme uncertainties: Our world is becoming increasingly complex. What does that mean for companies?
You first have to realize that complexity does not automatically mean complicated. On the contrary, it is not complexity that creates complications. If we look at the issues with a certain distance, we gain clarity about processes and dynamics. And we recognize connections, which is the basic prerequisite for almost everything. It is important not to react to problems with nervousness. Because a nervous system cannot see clearly.
What approaches do you take in your work to make complexity understandable and accessible?
We must always ask ourselves whether the challenges lie ON or IN the organization. The resulting changes are what I call »architectural surgery«: we protect what is valuable, reduce what is disruptive - and add only what really makes sense and is still missing.
Why then do so many transformations fail?
I ask myself that too (laughs). But I believe that many factors often come together: lack of courage, contradictory strategies, fear of wanting to bear the consequences, dysfunctional teams. Perhaps it is also part of human nature to be skeptical and cautious about change. This is exactly why we often need an external view, in order to set accents and to be able to adopt new perspectives. In the seven hermetic laws, whose origins lie in ancient Egypt, it says: »As above, so below. As below, so above. As outside, so inside. As inside, so outside.« This can also be applied to organizational systems. Everything flows into each other and conditions each other. This makes it all the more important to »see« and »recognize« in order to shape change in the best possible way.
How do you see your role as a consultant?
I always use the image of a completely knotted ball of wool: When I enter a company or an organization, I unravel this ball into all its components. And then the individual yarns lie neatly next to each other and I create clarity. And I explain what consequences are to be expected. Accordingly, we can define and initiate measures.
Where do general pitfalls lurk in the transformation process? Is there anything that many companies are doing wrong?
I often observe that organizations focus too much on conception and planning. Both are important, but they are not enough. In a transformation, a healthy dose of pragmatism is also important. In addition, many underestimate Meta facilities, so-called tools that have to do with emotions and attitudes. Because whether we pull together as a team, or whether we lack the courage to bear certain consequences, this has a lot to do with our inner attitude and mindset.
Are these exactly the factors for success?
Yes, I believe that meta-skills, attitude and emotional intelligence play a decisive role in consulting and transformation. For the new world of work, which is very much characterized by complexity, it is precisely this skillset that is needed. After all, change starts with us.
As a senior manager of a large corporation, you helped to build up the business in China. The »healthy pragmatism« that you just mentioned is more prevalent there than here, isn't it?
Yes, in China people think in options and work much more pragmatically than in Germany. Of course, you set yourself a goal and work out a plan - just like we do. But when it comes to implementation, the Chinese remain open to the path. You are very present in the here and now and gradually reach the next level of getting better. There is a beautiful image that illustrates the difference very well: to cross a river, in Europe you would draw the perfect blueprint on paper and stick to it, even if something is stuck in practice. In China, you lay stone by stone to get to the other shore. I also see this in management consulting: Many consultants have good slides that sound logical in theory, but the point is that the implementation works. That's why field experience, pragmatism and flexibility is so important. In my work, I combine both: methodology and pragmatism, coupled with a great sensitivity for the process.
What role do people play in the organization?
People matter! People are at the center of everything - they significantly shape culture, which in turn is the heart of an organization. It shows up everywhere, which led the legendary Peter Drucker to that fantastic saying, »Culture eats strategy for breakfast.« A good corporate culture can be more important than a sophisticated strategy.
One last question about your great passion: tea!
Oh yes, I always start my day with a green tea and breakfast poetry to go with it. That is my very own magic in the morning, which accompanies me throughout the day.
Tea is much more than a drink for me. It is a philosophy of life. I find it fascinating that tea leaves can't lie. As soon as their leaf unfolds in the hot water, you can see if the fermentation process was good or not. The green leaves cannot hide their process. In the tea ceremony, there is also a principle that shapes me, »The space between things is as important as the things themselves.« We humans are sometimes so focused on actions, but sometimes there is a lot of impact and insights in the space. There is a time to hurry and a time to do nothing. We act powerfully when we can mindfully do both and when we can also leave some things to their own devices. That then has something to do with trust. Gosh, can we talk more about tea? (laughs)
Hanh Xuan Han is a consultant with a focus on Organizational Change and People & Performance. She speaks four languages (German, English, Vietnamese and Chinese), has a multicultural background and has lived and worked on two continents, in four countries and seven cities. As a passionate life-long learner, she has completed various trainings, including systemic coaching and the Facilitation and Loop Approaches. After graduating in Sinology and Business Administration, she held management positions in international corporations and founded TO THE BETTER. She is MDI Talent Insights accredited and a Professional Coach in the DBVC association.