Establishing a digital mindset: the Continental way


Digital transformation requires a rethink of our more deeply-rooted attitudes and expectations. Here Continental explain how, using a GUIDEs network, they have changed the organisational culture and created a digital mindset to succeed in today’s dynamic, agile and challenging world.

It’s an all too familiar scene.  How many times have we all sat in meetings asking our tech experts whether their latest piece of kit can be configured to work just the way we’d like it to – to make the things we do now a little easier to accomplish, a little faster to complete?  “Can you make the new tool fit my old way of working?” we ask. It takes a little courage in most organisations to reply: “No. We need to establish a digital mindset. We need to learn a new way of working to gain the benefits of the digital world!” Yet that is precisely what Harald Schirmer’s response to his colleagues at Continental has been as he leads them on their digital transformation journey with a major O365 rollout along the way.

Harald Schirmer, Manager Digital Transformation and Change at Continental, is an experienced HR change agent, and founder of the GUIDEs concept. Anja Lommatzsch is Change Specialist for New Work Style Transformation and together with their colleagues, including their great GUIDE network, they drive the New Work Style in the organisation. Alison Boothby talked to them and discovered a team who is curious about our world evolving in the digital age and strongly focused on the people and culture that make digital change happen.

Harald Schirmer says: “Organisations are, in my view, systems that protect themselves against change, like an immune system. After all, customers, shareholders and employees get comfortable with the ways things get done and come to rely on the processes and conditions that deliver the outcomes they want. It’s no wonder it is so difficult to introduce new tools, methods and behaviours in a corporate culture.”

In today’s agile, challenging and dynamic world – a VUCA world – we do need to work differently if we are to thrive. If we want digital transformation, we need to see change as routine; it’s much more that an initiative or a program. And that requires a rethink of our more deeply-rooted attitudes and expectations.

Harald Schirmer picks up this thread: “Today’s digital transformation efforts require total participation with curiosity, flexibility and trust being integral to their success. At Continental we have already achieved impressive results, whether it’s about new working conditions, the acceptance of modern communication tools or global cooperation. Since 2012, we have been implementing GUIDE networks and educating a new generation of digital leaders. As a result, we have seen a global network organisation emerge; an organisation that allows people to self-manage their work, an organisation that shares information, ‘works out loud’ and encourages curiosity.”

The GUIDE network

The GUIDEs concept is not new any longer and has been successfully implemented in many organisations now. But back in 2011/2012 Harald Schirmer pioneered the idea when introducing a global, enterprise social network (called ConNext, using IBM Connections) to Continental’s 212,000 employees.  He recruited a network of 800 guides to help the employees across the globe adopt more collaborative ways of working. Rather than emphasise grades, positions, functions, and education, Schirmer asked for volunteers who self-identified with three simple characteristics: curious, self-motivated, and English-speaking.

He tells us: “This was a huge culture change for us at Continental. What is interesting is that during the three-year journey I never once mentioned change management tools, methods or called anyone ‘change agent’!”

GUIDE networks like this work because they can amplify the work done at the centre – even the most experienced and well-resourced digital transformation team will find it hard to reach all parts of a large, global organisation. In part, this is down to sheer scale; but more importantly, it’s about getting the psychology right and involving people in the change, rather than pushing it onto them. It is also respecting their diversity and local cultures.

“Our GUIDEs are not necessarily expected to be trainers for new software, tools and processes. The underlying purpose of a GUIDE network is not to push knowledge on those around them; rather it is their own willingness to try new things, to ‘work out loud’ and to be curious that aims to create in others a desire to pull knowledge.” Their mission is sustainable behaviour change.

Share, Work, Collaborate: a new work style with O365

The introduction of ConNext paved the way to quicker, more direct communication all around the world and created the essential platform to build communities, to share ideas, to ask questions, to discuss, to challenge, to work together and learn together. ConNext is the only platform used to lead the O365 project and all the information can be found in there, including a popular video channel and busy blog.

Anja Lommatzsch tells us: “With ConNext we have a platform where we can share transparently and engage with everyone who follows our Community. We discovered that as time went on more and more people used the chance to actively contribute to the blog and share best practices or insights about their local activities. To get them active it needs a constant open communication and to motivate people directly for sharing their experiences. If some start to share, then more will follow.”

Regarding O365 Harald Schirmer adds “Our global digital transformation project is about preparing our employees for work in the digital age. At one level it’s about the introduction of cloud-based Office 365 including installation and migration done with new methods of communication and change. But it’s also about ensuring we are an organisation that can handle a new way of working in an ‘evergreen’ environment. This demands a new holistic approach to leading change, communication and constant learning; an approach that works for today’s dynamic, agile and challenging world.”

The scale of this project is eye-watering:

  • To migrate 150,000 employees worldwide from Lotus Notes to O365 at more than 500 locations in 60 countries
  • Migration takes five months with c1250 employees migrated per night, every Monday to Thursday, while Fridays were meant for clean-up
  • The New Work Style Community on ConNext has more than 22,361 members
  • The project blog with more than 400 contributions has been clicked on over 400,000 times and is in third place of more than 11,000 public blogs
  • The Social Support Forum has created 15,000 updates with over 500 active contributors and has been viewed more than 103,000 times (in the last 12 months)
  • Our tube42 video channel with already 58 weekly 10 minute episodes has over 600.000 views

Anja Lommatzsch points out: “With our weekly video format we used and lived the New Work Style and gave some easy to follow updates about the project and interesting insights or even provided learning bites. It was fantastic to see that somehow it even created a movement and a lot of other colleagues started to create their own video channels. Since it was very successful, we decided to continue with this format and have now started our 3rd season with the focus on New Work Style.”

To guide or be guided

At the core of the project is Continental’s desire to create new ways of working. The software provides the possibilities but the real changes necessary are in attitude and behaviour. So far, they have recruited and educated 1400 GUIDEs around the world to help with this task, each of whom has received intensive training to equip them for their roles as GUIDEs, creating also a new generation of digital leaders.

Anja Lommatzsch continues: “We have not focused on the tools and how to use them. Instead we have taught them about the cultural skills and attitudes required to develop a digital mindset, like working out loud, and being curious.  We have run 15 regional GUIDE education camps where for five days they come together to learn about networking and sharing, asking good questions, working with resistance, working with others and collaborating, learning to unlearn habits of the past, how to ask for help and showing appreciation. We know that as they model these new attitudes and behaviours in their day to day roles, others will be inspired to discover more for themselves and organically we will see our organisational habits change.”

Since the transformation began, Harald and his team have carried out regular surveys with those who have migrated to O365 to assess success. In the end 71% say they are satisfied or very satisfied with the change, 20% are neutral and only 9% are dissatisfied.

To leverage the advantages of the digital age, individual learning journeys based on curiosity are fundamental for successful behaviour change. Creating this ‘digital mindset’ is an investment, which is made all the easier if there are others around to guide and inspire you: You are not alone!

You can discover much more about organisational change and digital transformation on Harald Schirmer’s blog.