The Agile State. Transformation of a society. (Idea paper)
from Sabine Walter
I am pursuing two goals with this article. On the one hand, I would like to wake people up to the need to rethink our Germany in order to secure the prosperity and freedom of our society. On the other hand, I would like to invite you to apply entrepreneurial success factors to the organisation and management of a state. Companies are permanently challenged to develop further. Their aspiration is to survive in the changing markets and to keep pace with the changing technological, economic and social conditions, if not to help shape them. In this context, the most successful companies are those that have internalised an agile attitude and live it in their culture, organisation, structures and processes. These agile companies are able to react quickly and purposefully to changes and remain competitive. Germany has missed out on this structural and cultural development for decades. This makes it all the more urgent to carry it out now. Only in this way will we be able to master all the social, ecological and economic challenges that lie ahead of us and also be in a position to help shape global political decisions effectively and for the benefit and continued existence of humanity and this planet.
So what would be done within the framework of such a necessary social transformation?
Establish clarity of purpose
Vision: What does Germany stand for?
In order to develop a vision for Germany that guides the actions of all citizens, but especially of all politicians in this country, three central questions need to be answered:
- What does Germany want to stand for at the end of this century?
- What makes it stand out?
- Which social, ecological and economic problems should be solved with and by our country?
We as a country, and especially all the leaders of this country, must have a clear and, above all, unanimous response to these questions. But this vision is missing. With it, the target picture is missing. And with the target picture, the prerequisite for a successful strategy at all levels, for strategic investments and clear decisions is missing.
An agile state requires clarity of purpose. The clarity of purpose of an agile Germany begins with a compelling vision that inspires as many citizens as possible and motivates them to participate.
Making the status quo transparent
A transparent status quo
In addition to absolute clarity of goals, there must be transparency about the resources available. This means that our country must "take a look at its finances". This analysis of the financial situation must be all-encompassing and also map the future in order to know clearly which expenditures are investments that guarantee a return and which expenditures represent obligations that will last for decades.
Dr Daniel Stelter, former member of the Executive Committee of the strategy consultancy Boston Consulting Group, and founder of the forum "beyond the obvious" recommends in his book "A Dream of a Country - Germany 2040" double-entry bookkeeping to create transparency. In addition to a revenue and expenditure account, the state also prepares "A statement of assets and liabilities that can be compared with the balance sheet of a company and thus provides information on the asset situation and the origin of capital. On the assets side are the assets of the state, on the liabilities side are the liabilities, ..." 1.
In this context, I believe it is also necessary to clarify where the human capital of our country is represented. Expenditure on education, research and development and the promotion of innovation, are investments with a clear return. The future viability of our country depends to a large extent on the know-how of its citizens. Because in view of the increasing need for innovation, expertise is becoming an increasingly decisive asset factor for companies and societies. Therefore, human capital must also be reflected in the balance sheet. Investments in this human capital would therefore have a different status in a balance sheet and would lose the image of "expensive expenditure" and would probably no longer be affected so frequently by budget cuts.
Redefine responsibilities and decision-making levels
Aim of redefined accountability
The goal of a redefinition of responsibilities must be to place central framework conditions that enable a society to develop healthily under one responsibility, namely that of the federal government.
Areas that require creative and diverse solutions must fall under local responsibility. As a result, bureaucracy is reduced and flexibility is gained. The opportunity to tailor solutions to regional problems and thus gain a variety of best practices from which we can learn again and again increases.
What can this look like in concrete terms?
In order to enable agility, i.e. creative and solution-focused thinking and flexible action, stable framework conditions are needed. These, and only these, are to be created by the federal government. The principle is: as little as necessary. I believe that this little includes all areas that ensure that we continue to develop as a society, strengthen our innovative power and guarantee international peace, social peace, humane living conditions and the continued existence of our planet. Therefore, federal responsibility includes:
- Communication and digital infrastructure
- Defence & Homeland Security
- Evaluation Office & International Cooperation
- Economy, Environment & Sustainability
- Human Society
- Justice & Consumer Protection
As you have noticed when reading, I have renamed and sorted some areas of responsibility. Why? Because certain topics, such as the economy and the environment, belong together in terms of content and should therefore also be managed and developed by one ministry.
Country responsibility is obsolete in my view. It increases complexity and creates additional distance. In an agile state, responsibility and decision-making authority belong in the administrative districts and municipalities.
Regional responsibility of districts and municipalities
The objective of municipal administration is to provide services of general interest. That is, the provision of all infrastructure, goods and services necessary for human existence. These currently include: local public transport and the municipal road network, water and energy supply, sewage and waste disposal, fire brigade, educational and care facilities, cemeteries, hospitals, cultural and sports facilities.
The goal of an agile state should be to strengthen the self-efficacy of its citizens and to use it for the further development of society and its own prosperity. Therefore, the power of regional effectiveness must be developed even more. "Fractures" and conflicts of objectives that arise due to different municipal responsibilities. One example of this is different responsibilities for local public transport, which impede regional mobility.
What regional areas of responsibility should there be?
- Economy, Environment & Sustainability (incl. Agriculture)
- Sports & Culture Promotion
- Building & Living
There are only 19 government districts left in Germany. The majority of the federal states have none. Therefore, part of the proposed transformation would be to re-establish Regierungsbezirke. What is important in their definition is that they make sense geographically and bring together conurbations and do not separate them, as is the case, for example, in Mainz and Wiesbaden. Here, the two cities are even located in different federal states.
The redefinition of responsibilities I have outlined helps to decentralise more responsibility. But that alone is not enough to speed up decisions and implement good ideas in a timely manner. For this to succeed, the leadership culture in politics and administration must change.
What is to be done concretely?
Increase leadership effectiveness
In Germany, we do not have a leadership culture in politics worthy of the word.
The political leadership structure on the one hand reflects elements of the small states before 1871, and on the other hand it still corresponds to the Allies' goal of never again allowing Germany to become so strong after 1945 that it abuses its strength for warlike conflicts.
Both are no longer in keeping with the times. On the contrary, these evolved historical structures lead to a political leadership vacuum. The resulting Weakness in leadership and decision-making At a time when complexity is increasing exponentially and speed is more decisive than ever for the success or failure of companies, this costs us valuable time and weakens the quality of decisions made.
In view of the societal, social and environmental challenges, we have a maximum of ten years left to reform Germany from the ground up and make it fit for the future. We have our backs to the wall, and not just since Corona. We are over-indebted, only very occasionally manage to successfully bring new technologies to the market, and have not been able to significantly increase our innovative strength for years.2 and are at best in the middle of the leading industrial nations in terms of education and digital infrastructure.
Therefore, the issue of political leadership structure and culture needs to be rethought from the ground up. So the question to be answered is: How must Germany be led in order to reform itself, to push through the reforms that are due in the next eight years and to gain in decision-making speed and quality?
Leading a state transformation
Transformations require leadership, also in the form of unpopular decisions. Therefore, the question arises whether the democratic process for political decision-making is capable of carrying out a state transformation within 8-10 years - especially since the majority of political decision-makers will lose power and forfeit advantages.
Therefore, I rethink and outline how many companies would lead such a survival-critical transformation process.
Equipping the chancellor with more decision-making power
Most companies would assign such a task to a leader in the role of CEO who is able to make clear and quick decisions and convince all relevant stakeholders of the urgency and importance of these decisions.
Transferred to Germany, this would be the role of the chancellor, but not in the current form.
An agile transformation of our state requires - in addition to the corresponding amendment of the Basic Law - a chancellor endowed with decision-making authority.
In order to be able to decouple this decision-making competence in the content from the election programmes and interests of the parties if necessary, and in order to be able to fill the most trend-setting position in our country with a leader who has also gained sound experience outside politics, the chancellor must be able to be directly elected by the citizens and not necessarily be tied to a party affiliation. The personal and professional suitability for this central leadership role of our country would thus for the first time be decoupled from internal party power and favouritism games. This decoupling is a prerequisite for being able to lead such a profound transformation process.
Limit the term of office of a "transformation chancellor" to 8 years
In order to have the opportunity to re-examine our country's leadership structures after an appropriate period of change and to align them with the requirements that will then exist, the term of office of the "transformation chancellor" - irrespective of the quality of the work done - should be limited to eight years of which five years are for the first term and another three years for a possible second term. The first five years will focus on structural reforms, and the first results of the transformation will be visible in the following three years. The first "fruits" can be harvested.
Chancellor and ministers - a non-party government team
In order for Germany to be led by an effective high-performance team in the phase of transformation, ministerial posts must be filled independently of party affiliation. The chancellor selects his "leadership team" according to criteria of trust and expertise, completely independent of whether the respective ministers belong to a party or which party they belong to.
Change decision-making culture in the country
Not only in an agile state but also already in the context of transformation, it is of central importance to make good quality decisions in a reasonable time. This means that we must become faster in our decision-making processes in politics and administration and that the quality of decisions must improve. At the same time, decisions should allow for direct implementation and uncomplicated readjustment if potential for improvement in the decision is perceived during implementation. How can this be achieved?
A first step on this path is the redefinition of competences described at the beginning. However, this also means that if the federal states are abolished in the course of the redefinition of competences, there will also no longer be a Federal Council in the current sense. As a result, the legislative process will have to be redefined.
- All relevant stakeholders should be involved in decision-making and legislative processes.
- As in the company, it must be divided into decisions of principle and execution. As many people as possible should be heard in the preparation of fundamental decisions that define the central framework conditions for daily life and work in our country. Serious objections should be taken seriously and should be reflected in the decision to be taken. This can be achieved, for example, with the consensus procedure.
Making decisions by consensus
The consensus procedure is a decision-making procedure from sociocracy. It differs significantly from the consensus procedure often practised in the past. While consensus decisions usually reflect the lowest common denominator, it is The aim of the consensus procedure to reach a decision to which none of the persons involved in the decision-making process has any serious objection. A serious objection exists if the decision can lead to concrete (measurable) risks and dangers in relation to the defined goal.
As a rule, decision-making by consensus leads to a faster capacity to act and better decision-making quality.
So that in an agile Germany decisions are made in the consent decision-making process In order to ensure that decisions can be made, not only the decision-making bodies need to be defined, but also the decision-making capacity at different levels needs to be further developed. What is involved?
From the vision of our country, clear and ideally measurable goals are to be derived at various levels; not to be confused with strategies or tasks, i.e. the implementation of the goals. The clearer and more transparent these goals are, the fewer conflicts of goals will occur and the clearer the strategy for implementation and ultimately the implementation itself can be designed. Let me introduce a Example take from the current corona crisis, which is School education.
The respective Ministries of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Laender developed guidelines for school operation based on the requirements of the Federal Government and the Laender governments, compliance with which was to be monitored by the local health authorities. These regulations neither sufficiently took into account the needs of pupils, parents and teachers nor the technical, organisational and financial framework conditions. The schools were performers of constantly changing framework conditions. Since March 2020, sensible schooling has been just as impossible as containing the pandemic.
What would be different in an agile culture? An agile Germany would have set two goals for school education during the Corona crisis, for example:
- The quality of education must remain at the same level
- The risk of infection in schools and via school operations must be kept as low as possible
Even though these two goals were not defined by me in a measurable way, they illustrate the difference. If there had been clarity of purpose and freedom of implementation at the same time, we would have opened up the possibility for schools and education providers to develop creative solutions together in an active exchange of teachers, parents and pupils, local research institutions, universities, health authorities and municipalities, which make both possible: Continuation of high quality teaching while minimising the risk of infection. The results would have been measured in relation to the defined goals, not in relation to compliance with the specified pathways. This would have led very quickly after the start of the pandemic to various solutions whose best practices many would certainly have liked to use.
Delegates" of pupils, teachers and parents would have decided which concrete solution the respective school would choose. The quality of the decision taken would have been evaluated by all concerned in defined periods of time. Proposals for further development of the respective decision would again have gone through a corresponding decision-making process.
Ensure diversity of experience
In order to include as many necessary perspectives and as many valuable experiences as possible in such decision-making processes - regardless of the social sphere in which they take place - it is important to a regular exchange of citizens of different age, gender, cultural background and expertise is needed.
The hackaton initiated by the federal government in the wake of the Corona crisis has shown that many citizens want to get involved with their ideas. For this, we need platforms and the will of administration and politics to implement ideas and solutions pragmatically.
The agile state
Success factors of an agile state
Clarity of purpose at all levels, an appropriate speed of decision-making combined with a high quality of decision-making are the central elements of a state that is able to solve the increasingly complex problems of our society and thus secure the prosperity of its citizens. For this to succeed, various factors must be in place:
- Digital and networked administration
- Transparency in terms of objectives, achievement of objectives and information relevant for decisions
- "Permeability" of the political system and administration for lateral entrants from industry
- Time limits on political office
- Abolition of the civil service
- Self-effective action also in administration
- Strong decision-making competence of the citizens
- High level of political education among citizens
- constructive debate culture
- State promotion of entrepreneurship and citizens' self-efficacy
- strong culture of trust
- Redefining the culture of learning and education
- Creating approaches for a learning society
I will go into some of the aspects mentioned in more detail.
Promote citizens' maturity and political-social effectiveness
The possibilities for citizens to shape and influence opinion-forming and political-social decision-making processes must be expanded in Germany. This also includes giving the instrument of referendums and citizens' decisions significantly more room and making the framework conditions for them uniform throughout Germany. Only when individuals realise that they can achieve something through their commitment that leads to an improvement in their environment and solves existing problems will they become involved constructively and creatively in the long term.
Reanimate constructive debate culture
In order to ensure a constructive exchange around the best solution at all times, the culture of debate in Germany must be brought back to life at all levels, especially at the level of politicians and the media. In my view, several factors are necessary for this to succeed:
- Payment in kind instead of ego
- Benevolent and trusting cooperation between the political leadership level
- A real leadership team in government
- Expansion of skills in the critical thinking
- more education, less IMAGE at all levels of society
- Integration of the culture of debate as a compulsory element in the school curriculum
- Responsible handling of publicly expressed opinions by the press - facts instead of headlines or clicks
And a constructive culture of debate is based on something else: trust. Therefore, this outlined transformation towards an agile state can only be successful if it is accompanied by a cultural change.
From a culture of fear to a culture of trust
Trust is the basis for all togetherness. A trusting cooperation of people around the globe is elementary to master the challenges we have as humanity. If there is a lack of trust or mistrust, it destroys even the most successful relationships, organisations, the most powerful government and the most prosperous economy.
Lack of trust stops development of any kind - including social development. It hinders growth and makes change impossible. Lack of trust makes a constructive culture of debate impossible and thus destroys the search for the best solution. Lack of trust prevents people from freely expressing critical ideas, it makes networked thinking and interdisciplinary work difficult. However, all these are compelling factors for a society with a promising future that solves the challenges of the 21st century for the benefit of people and this planet Earth.
That is why trust plays a key role in rethinking and transforming our society.
- to act without fear
- take others seriously in who they are, what they say and what they do.
- To make the well-being of all a goal and to direct common action towards it
Unreserved trust, in oneself and in others, is a central paradigm on the way to a sustainable society in the 21st century. We currently live in a culture of fear: fear of climate change, fear of other cultures, fear of digitalisation, fear of complexity, fear of speed, fear of no longer being needed, fear of not understanding and mastering technologies...fear of the virus.
This fear paralyses. It obscures the view of the abundance and the opportunities. This fear does not allow us as a society to develop a vision for the future. That is why it is essential that we learn to trust.
How can this succeed?
- Develop and communicate a credible vision: Trust in the vision can be established if the goal picture is clear and understandable for everyone. In addition to this clarity of the "what", it must also be communicated why it is important to achieve this goal. What are the opportunities if we achieve it? What are the risks if we don't achieve it, or worse, don't even set out to achieve this goal?
- Credibility of our country's leadershipTo establish this credibility, it must be visible that all members of this leadership team believe in the vision, stand behind what they say and decide, and pull together.
- Create transparency through facts: In my view, the biggest step towards credibility and trust would be through fact-based communication. Facts would have to be accessible to all citizens. Facts would have to form the basis of decisions.
- Communicate fact-based successes: If relevant metrics have been defined, successes can also be measured and communicated on the basis of facts. This also contributes to credibility.
- Openly admit government mistakes, derive, communicate and implement lessons learnedYou can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, so mistakes are legitimate. It is not legitimate to cover them up and not learn from them. Therefore, it is elementary for a credible government that wants to shape change and lead with trust to openly admit mistakes made, to derive lessons learned from them and to both communicate and implement these lessons learned.
- Make decision-making processes transparent: A fundamental communication error, also in the Corona crisis, was that the "why" underlying the decisions was often not communicated or not communicated convincingly. However, this "why" is crucial for winning people over to decisions.
The Agile State. Transformation of a society.
I am aware that this article is far from complete. Because we look at three different levels:
The first level is the agile state as a "greenfield concept". This needs to be rethought. The second level is transformationwhich must be led in order to lead our grown state with its administration into the future and to transform it into an agile state; and the third level is the balancing act between agility on the one hand and the security that a state must give its citizens and businesses on the other.
The longer I deal with the topic, the more extensive the list of unanswered questions becomes. Below are some of them:
- What is the role of parties in an agile state? How should they be organised to support the implementation of socially defined goals in a productive and value-adding way?
- What does effective monitoring of policy work look like? Do we as a country also produce annual and quarterly reports in relation to goals and strategy? Do we have a platform where citizens can see facts and the degree of goal achievement with a click?
- How do we ensure that data protection does not reduce the quality of the data and its informative value? Where does protection make sense, where does it hinder transparency and thus decision-making processes?
- What does a tax and legal system look like that supports agile action and offers security at the same time?
- Do we as Germany need a new form of emancipation in order to become more effective in global politics when it comes to making the central decisions for a sustainable, peaceful and liveable coexistence on this planet Earth?
I have decided to publish the article despite the many unanswered questions. We should have set the course for an agile state 20 years ago, but we failed to do so. All the more reason for us to take action now. This article is intended to provide food for thought and to invite you to think further about these suggestions and to fill them with life in your area of activity.
As entrepreneurs, we can make a big difference in Germany. Let's take our social responsibility and take the first steps together on this challenging transformation process.
1 Dr Daniel Stelter: "A Dream of a Country - Germany 2040", Campus Verlag Frankfurt / May, 2021
2 See Global Innovation Index 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020