A Farewell to Alibis, Substitutes and Alternatives: IAI publishes a memorandum about leadership and learning culture

Published: 04/28/15

What do managers have to do to play again a precious leadership role in improvement processes? An industry-wide study conducted by the Institute for Applied Innovation Research (IAI) in Bochum shows: first of all, say farewell to alibis, substitutes and alternatives in the management and, second of all, realise that work improvements are based on the organisation of learning process of the staff. As many managers have problems in doing so, Prof. Dr. Friedrich Kerka, director of the study, suggests higher investments in the competence development of executives and reforms in the management education.

When managers are criticised, it is often done due to their short-sighted aim of maximizing profit.

It appears as not coherent that the leadership problems observed in numerous companies nowadays can be traced back to know-how deficits. Never before has a manager generation been as skilled and professional as the present one. However, a study funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) about production improvements and employee motivation shows what can already be seen in branches of profit and non-profit organisations: in spite of tools and clues as to how one could increase productivity and continuously improve processes, this knowledge is still in great demand and yet rare among managers. Terms such as “Kaizen”, “Continuous Improvement” or “KVP” are widely known. Yet, most managers did not learn how to motivate employees to question daily routines and how to put improvements into practice.

“Productivity gains” can often only be achieved in crisis situations by methods such as “Cost Cutting” and overtime work for the remaining staff. Genuine management functions are more difficult to fulfill than one might expect, as the results from a business-wide study conducted by the Institute for Applied Innovation Research (IAI) in Bochum show. This means saying farewell to alibis, substitutes and alternatives, because scarce resources are used in that way and are no longer available for other initiatives in terms of low-waste work. However, this also requires the admission that the challenging and the promoting of productivity improvements are closely linked with the organisation of the staff’s learning processes. As a high number of managers seem to find this approach problematic, according to the study, more investments should rather be made in the competence development of managers than in management systems. In well-led companies, all executives and skilled workers know the typical waste factors, which are not of interest to the customers and for which they are not willing to pay. Waste of time, money and other scarce resource through overproduction, accumulations of material and information, unnecessary transports, wait and idle times reducing efficiency, rework and double work or process over fulfilment – in companies that apply productivity enhancement through employee activation, these recurrent fields of unproductive work are often the first to be re-examined in order to improve processes. Yet, the mere awareness of the problems does not lead to convincing solutions, but can only, if at all, cure the symptoms. Executives and skilled workers are thus trained to explore the reasons and consequences of a wasteful way of operating in KVP-meetings and to improve the status quo on the basis of reliable methods (simplifying instead of complicating products and processes, pull-production instead of push-production etc.). Who, as an executive, does not possess knowledge of how to organise learning processes (based on mistakes) or who himself is known for wasteful handling with resources, because he asks costly consultants for advice (concerning unsolvable questions), cannot be a driving force for improvement processes. “Working with less waste both in core processes and in supporting and management processes could contribute to an increase in productivity of companies without further condensing the work and be a rewarding alternative to the usual way of compensating unproductive work through overtime work. Yet, as a glance at other industries proves, continuous improvement processes are not sure-fire successes, which can be managed en passant – when one finds the daily laborious innovating process too unattractive – or which can be delegated to third parties without consequences. All attempts at trivialisation do not justice to the real problems of challenging and fostering continuous improving processes” summarises Prof. Dr. Friedrich Kerka, the Project Manager of the study. Hence, managers and, of course, all professionals that want to contribute to their personal competence development are, according to the study, the ones who have to learn something new. The Bochum-based innovation researcher underlines the need for change in the way we think of leadership and learning cultures and reminds us of the importance of the credo “creating values without unnecessary waste”, which has to become one of the cornerstones in the training of managers.

Are you interested to learn more about the possible forms of challenging and enhancing learning and improvement processes? If so, do not hesitate to consult our project website and order the latest publication in our online store.

Kerka, Friedrich (2015): Abschied von Alibi-, Ersatz- und Ausweichhandlungen – Wie Manager wieder wertvolle Führungsfunktionen in Verbesserungsprozessen erfüllen, No. 261, Bochum.

Prof. Dr. Friedrich Kerka would be more than delighted to be at your disposal for interviews.

Please, also consider our press release.

iAi Bochum Institute for Applied Innovation Research e.V. · Chairman Prof. Dr. Bernd Kriegesmann
Buscheyplatz 13 · D-44801 Bochum · Tel +49 (0)234 97117-0 · Phone +49 (0)234 97117-20 · Email

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Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Ruhr Universität Bochum