An interview with Mikael Trolle, CEO of Dreams and Details Academy and co-author of 'Dreams & Details'
Human beings need acknowledgement, recognition, and even love, to perform at their best, according to Mikael Trolle, former CEO of Volleyball Denmark and head coach for the Danish men's national volleyball team:
"My leadership roles and experience from the world of international top sports led me to ponder what exactly made my leadership work the best - what could I pass on?" Trolle explains, pinpointing his meeting with Jim Hagemann Snabe, long-time executive with German software giant SAP, as a key moment for answering those questions on leadership that had been preoccupying both of them:
"When we first met to co-lecture on high performance leadership at the Copenhagen Business School, a lot of things fell into place. Although we came from different worlds, we soon realised that we had arrived at similar answers to key leadership questions such as: What does it take to stay relevant when conditions change? How do you lead people and organisations to a new level of performance? And, most importantly, how do you reinvent your business and your leadership from a position of strength?" Trolle relates the beginning of what turned into a mutual quest to develop a new leadership model based on identifying a new dream for the company that will be both inspirational and direction-giving.
Yesterday's performance management
According to Trolle, performance management systems would use KPI's as result indicators instead of indicators measuring the actual performance:
"We would tend to plan our future goals by setting up result indicators closely linked to strategy plans, executing and controlling the plan. That may have been possible in the industrial age, when things tended to develop in a more linear manner, but in the digital era, things look a lot different," he explains.
Asked what has changed, Trolle skilfully dribbles past oft-quoted examples of industrial giants failing to reinvent themselves in time to meet changing demands, and turns to metaphysics instead:
"If we take a step back to talk about what it means to be a human in the modern world, then we'll be here for around 80-90 years if we're lucky – future generations maybe a bit longer. But an hour will still be an hour, we cannot change that. Time is a constant, the biological age of a human is nearly a constant compared to the old times, but the world is changing with a speed and to an extent where the development is not linear anymore, it's exponential. This means that while the world is completely different, time and the human being remain the same," Trolle muses, highlighting the challenge for tomorrow's leaders to make the two dimensions come together:
"The challenge is to find a system in which, with the same amount of time, the same biological approach to the human being, you'll be able to challenge the exponential development of the world by reinventing human beings several times during their biological life as well the way they conduct their business. In the 1st Digital Age, you cannot approach that the way you could in the industrial era," Trolle points out.
Make it a habit to look out for seasonal change
Seasonal change is a central notion in Trolle and Snabe's leadership model, and in their book, they turn to the world of racing to illustrate the dynamics. In Formula 1, the rules tend to change radically from season to season. This means that you may optimise your cars during a season to increase the chances of winning the next race. But between seasons, the changing rules force participants to experiment with new technologies, design new cars and engines, rebuild the teams, and above all, find innovative ways of working. Basically, they must reinvent themselves in between every season to stay relevant:
"It's extremely difficult – and that is the dilemma Clayton Christensen refers to in 'The innovators dilemma' – that many large companies have difficulties reinventing themselves or introducing new seasons. We must make it part of our natural behaviour when conducting our business to ask ourselves regularly, not least if our performance curve starts declining: are we at the inflection point where a new season should be considered? We need to make this exercise a habit, which means that we'll be reinventing ourselves on the fly, so to speak. To do so we need to experiment and scale new products, to find out if it's relevant for our future, and implement it through new seasons in the current business," says Trolle.
The need to change season has led to Trolle and Snabe's 'Dreams & Details' model to challenge the world as we know it. Direction-giving is a key component:
"It's not a new thing, but the ability to be able to communicate how we can stay relevant in the future is absolutely crucial. To know how to prevent optimising ourselves into irrelevancy. When you have a clear picture of that, you'll will be able to determine the future relevant business areas in which you want to be competitive. These areas will be determined by your direction and ambition. You won't know your exact destination, so you need to be able to communicate your idea of it. If it's strong and clear, it will fulfil the third element of the dream: inspiration. With a compelling dream, you can change the mindset," Trolle explains before turning to an example from the book:
"For instance, when Jim Hagemann Snabe was Co-CEO at SAP, their dream was to 'Make the world run better'. It impacted their mindset, and the intention to be able to reach 1 billion people with their software products completely changed the details, leading to a change in the way they produced their software which again led to a shift to cloud-based systems and reduced time to market. The role of the company, the organisation and the skills and competencies you needed to be able reach that ambition had to be completely different," Trolle points out, noting some obvious parallels to the world of sports.
In his mind, motivating people to go onto the next stage and the ones beyond, is vital and calls for a new kind of leadership where the ability to inspire and remove obstacles is key:
"For the employees, it would be really motivating, because they would be offered to be part of the journey, unfolding and unleashing their potential on the way. They would be inspired by the dream, have a sense of direction, and they would know the mindset and the crucial details to be developed within a given framework. This would provide them with the autonomy to develop into their expected role and, through cooperation with others, feel the meaningful integrated motivation of being appreciated and recognised as an important travelling partner reaching for a common dream. A modern human being will be very committed by that approach instead of being taught: you've got to get this and that result, we're going to measure you on the run, checking up on whether or not you stick to the plan," Trolle stresses.
Being in the right situation at the right time
Asked what advice he would give a business leader wondering what and when to change, Trolle replies promptly:
"I think acknowledgement and being loved for who you are will be central motivating factors for a human being – or maybe just a recognition of what you do. It's essential for any human being," says Trolle, pointing to Ryan and Deci's self-determination theory.
"The way to be a well-being human being in the modern world is to feel that your competencies match your tasks at this certain point of your life journey, your self-esteem and how people look upon you. This applies to the world of business too. If the world is changing dramatically, we need to put people on a journey to explore it and find their way, to be the right person at the right time in the right situation and be recognised for just that. That's the absolutely best way to unleash human potential," Trolle concludes.