First we need to wake up
by Raymond Hofmann

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Hosted by the Swiss Management Association (SMG), a audience of roughly 100 senior executives met in Zurich for the first Swiss Drucker Forum launch event.

The evening’s theme was “rediscovering entrepreneurial management”.

Peter Drucker observed: “We know that theories, values, and all the artefacts of human minds and human hands do age and rigidify, becoming obsolete, becoming ‘afflictions’”.
This is also true for management. Traditional management is becoming an “affliction” for many organisations. It buries their innate “entrepreneurial competence” (Drucker) under layers of bureaucracy.

The interactive panel, moderated by Lukas Michel, Associate Drucker Society Europe, discussed the changes needed if established organisations are to become more entrepreneurial again. Panel members were Tammy Erickson, Executive Fellow at London Business School, Vlatka Hlupic, Professor of Management at University of Westminster, Hermann Arnold, co-founder of Haufe-umantis AG, a Swiss software company and pioneer of democratic, self-organising organisations, and Hans Martin Graf, a senior executive at Credit Suisse.

Five themes for more entrepreneurial organisations were discussed.

Five themes for more entrepreneurial organisations

Remove barriers

Hermann’s initial proposition was that we’d be surprised by how much entrepreneurship already exists – if only we let people be more entrepreneurial.

Hans Martin noted that being entrepreneurial requires taking personal risks. Organisations therefore have to create an environment where people feel safe to take those risks.

This is essential today, as Tammy added, because “you need people to do their best but most often can’t exactly tell them what to do.”

Peter Drucker would certainly agree. He was the first to observe that knowledge workers are most productive when they choose their own work, their own contributions.

Review the contribution of leadership

What is a leader’s contribution? First, it’s important for leaders to ask themselves that question. An organisation which democratically elects its leaders, like Haufe-umantis AG, might help aspiring leaders humbly reflect on this before they are in the role.

Successful leaders will see themselves as architects of their companies, not as being in charge and calling the shots day to day. For Tammy this means a leader must do four things.

  1. Create capacity for collaboration. Not force people to collaborate but create organisations where it is easy to do.
  2. Constantly “disrupt” the organisation. Ensure it is exposed to a continuous flow of new ideas.
  3. Ask great questions. Questions that trigger thoughts, ideas, learning.
  4. Lead with meaning. Ensure an organisation’s purpose is crystal clear and kept in focus.

Ask questions

From Tammy’s four points, asking questions is what many of us struggle most with. First, education systems prepare us for the exact opposite: giving answers. Second, it takes courage and humility to ask questions to which you don’t have the answer.

However, asking great questions is something all of us can learn, if we choose.

Build 21st century organisations and share leadership

Building on the theme, Tammy shared her idea of the best leader: “one that’s focused on the most important question the organisation is facing”.

The industrial age had its own set of questions for leaders, centred around “how can we make a lot of stuff, cheaply and with unskilled labour?”. The answers helped shape traditional management, still widely practised today.

Now organisations face a different set of questions, centred around “how can we get people to come up with good ideas?”. Organisations and management need to be built on a different logic.

One element of this logic is shared leadership. Hermann noted that so much is being asked of leaders, that we’d better think about how we can share leadership in teams.

That’s at the heart of what Vlatka calls the “management shift”, which aims to achieve much higher participation, and collaboration. In such organisations, decision making becomes widely distributed and even strategy development a collaborative task.

Champion discipline and meaning

Letting people choose their work (or even their leaders) may sound like a great recipe for chaos.

Yet process and discipline are still needed. The question is: what process to solve which problems? Even self-organising systems need rules by which they operate. Self-organising systems also need control. But it’s more likely to be personal control than a form of top-down control.

A key ingredient for functioning self-control is a strong purpose. It serves as a compass to help navigate the myriad of decisions that are needed to move us towards our goals.

Are we even trying?

For those of us already involved in shaping the future of work, these are not revelations. Yet if these ideas are widely accepted, why don’t we see more of that in practice?

One explanation is that this kind of change is hard and takes time. True, but perhaps an even bigger challenge may be ahead of us.

What if we are not even trying?

Zeno Staub, SMG board member and CEO of Bank Vontobel, in a Druckerian remark during his welcome message, observed that for the two most important social functions, parenting and management, there is no formal training. And many even question the need for management training in the first place.

So how likely is it that someone who does not believe management can or should be learned will buy into the need for changing management?

Ok, but other managers will understand, so this should be easy for them to buy into, surely?

Not so, if audience questions and comments are any guide. Many were appreciative and thoughtful, but many also revealed that the magnitude of change required is not fully understood, that we’re mainly talking cosmetics.

Not seeing the need is a major barrier to change. Maybe also an excuse, because who can invest in long term change when you’re under pressure to deliver next quarter’s numbers?

So perhaps we’re not trying on a large enough scale.

It’s not just business leaders. This includes consultants and academics who speak and write about the need for change. If we don’t reach the hearts and minds of more business leaders and can’t help them overcome the barriers, then we fail them.

In her closing remarks, Angelica Kohlman, Chair of the Global Peter Drucker Forum Advisory Board, said: “25 years ago Europe had recovered from WW II and seemed to be on its way to greater success. At that time my car was German, my watch was Swiss and my mobile phone was Finnish. Today, all my kids want is a mobile from Silicon Valley, a watch from Silicon Valley and a car from Silicon Valley! What happened?”

It seems we’ve been sleeping in Europe.

If we want a prosperous future for ourselves, our children and our societies, we first need to wake up.


About the author:

Raymond Hofmann ( is an independent advisor and management designer. He is also an Associate of the Peter Drucker Society Europe and co-organiser of the Swiss launch event.


  1. I’ve read a lot of Mr. Drucker’s work, my favorite being “Managing in a Time of Great Change” from the 90’s. I’m happy to say I’ve incorporated many things I’ve learned from his books, including the idea of removing barriers and promoting entrepreneurship. My company wasn’t doing poorly, but our growth pattern in our local region has stalled out, until I hired a younger worker who had some ideas. I allowed him to focus where he wanted and he went straight to the Internet to work on our website. It’s had a tremendous impact for us, so in my opinion, Mr. Drucker’s words are gold.

    1. Thank you, Mike, for your comment and the story about hiring a younger worker and letting him be entrepreneurial. Very much in the spirit of Drucker’s removing barriers to performance. Or has Steve Jobs has put it: “It does not make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell US what to do.”

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