“It’s Personal Responsibility, Stupid”
Gerald Schlosser, COO of MEGABOARD, one of Austria's leading Out-of-hand advertisers, advocates leadership at eye level and encourages his team to assume responsibility for organizing their tasks. He got the inspiration for this novel type of leadership in the “Pioneers of the 21st Century” Senior Leadership Development Program offered at the WU Executive Academy.
Following the merger of ISPA Werbung and Megaboard, two outdoor advertising service providers that were both subsidiaries of the Austrian Gewista group, which resulted in the establishment of MEGABOARD GmbH, Gerald Schlosser realized that there was a lack of team spirit among the staff: “We were somehow moving in circles,” he remembers. The former deputy CEO of ISPA had become COO of MEGABOARD, sharing his new office with fourteen members of his team from ISPA and six former Megaboard employees. As ISPA and Megaboard had provided similar products and services, the merger had been a logical step, but it also brought together different company cultures.
“While ISPA had acted like a satellite unit within the Gewista group – almost like an independent company, very autonomously –, Megaboard used to be closely tied to Gewista and the group’s corporate culture,” Gerald Schlosser recounts.
“It was not only about merging different computer systems and workflows but becoming a team and defining a common company culture. And we started out from two cultures, two structures, and two idea creation traditions that could hardly have been more different.”
In a first step, MEGABOARD launched a new campaign advertising its services using the slogan “Wir machen’s MEGA” (We’ll make it MEGA). “This slogan constituted a first common denominator with which all staff members could identify,” says Schlosser. Of course, one marketing strategy does not a company culture make, however. The company had no budget for coaching or organizational development measures. Gerald Schlosser thus decided to take charge of the process of developing a new common culture himself.
Already before the merger, I had been looking for new ways of leadership. Although various coaching sessions had helped me to implement new elements time and again and I continuously levelled up my leadership competences, I was still waiting for a leadership breakthrough.
After the merger in 2018, his need for new leadership strategies became even more urgent: “I was convinced that there had to be a way to make my colleagues identify with the company, take decisions autonomously and assume responsibility, become intrinsically motivated, think outside the box, and devise their own career paths. Essentially, this had always been my own approach,” Schlosser shares.
Gerald Schlosser started at the most obvious starting point: with himself. He signed up for the “Pioneers of the 21st Century” Senior Leadership Development Program of the WU Executive Academy, which turned out to be the right stimulus at the right time.
“The Pioneers Program, the new approaches and methods presented there, and the interesting discussions we had helped me to answer many questions. It also encouraged me and gave me the right tools to immediately put the things I learned into practice,” Schlosser says. He started asking his employees questions and soon he realized that every one of them had their individual reasons for not seeing themselves as a cog in the wheel.
Right from the outset, the program taught the participants new leadership approaches, including the 12 Alignments defined by management expert Kathrin Köster for purposeful transformation processes, co-creation methods, and approaches for developing an agile mindset.
Gerald Schlosser came up with the motto of “We stay MEGA” and asked his employees to voluntarily participate in working groups, which meant that “they were themselves responsible for the way in which the project developed. They also received a certain budget that they could spend on coaching sessions with external experts of their choice. The working groups discussed topics like the core of our company, our values, our vision, and our culture. They also pondered questions such as: How do we want to work in the future? Where are we headed?,” Schlosser explains.
How do you encourage your employees to assume more personal responsibility? Everything starts with the right mindset. Gerald Schlosser’s team chose a humorous approach for establishing such a mindset. They took a well-known funny quote from a popular Austrian TV series from the 1970s and replaced the word “beer” with “personal responsibility”: “My personal responsibility is not stupid” was then printed onto beer coasters. Together, they also came up with a new four-word motto, using the letters of the word MEGA as the respective first letters of the motto’s four words. This motto, which can be translated as “Building Great Things Together,” helped the employees to perceive themselves as part of a team and pull together.
Gerald Schlosser continuously perfected his personal style of leadership, moving further and further towards leadership at eye level. “I take strategic decisions together with the two department heads,” he explains. “Every other week, we get together and analyze and discuss strategic developments and other important aspects and take decisions as we take walks together,” he says. So far, they have always succeeded in reaching agreements. “If we don’t agree, we postpone the decision. As the COO, I could put in a veto if necessary, but so far, I’ve never had to use my veto power.”
Gerald Schlosser has also delegated the responsibility for projects to his team. “I have very motivated colleagues who are competent in fields that are not part of my core competencies. They present their project concepts at the beginning of the year, I allocate a certain budget to these projects and then, I don’t interfere with them anymore,” he says. “At the beginning, it was not easy for me to cede control, but the positive results are really convincing.”
The freedom granted to the employees and the trust placed in them make them come up with more creative and innovative projects than Gerald Schlosser would ever have expected. “Our structure- and team-building project yielded more results than I had originally envisioned,” he says. “It helped us to analyze the status quo of MEGABOARD, strengthen our team spirit, and enhance our mutual understanding. Additionally, it has become easier for new colleagues to understand processes, workflows, and the big picture.”
One colleague came up with an unexpectedly creative project: “She suggested to produce bags, backpacks, and toilet bags with our new slogan using our old advertising tarps and nets. This project even had a social impact, as the bags were produced by the Wörkerei, a charitable employment project of Caritas,” Schlosser is proud to share.
Another working group made up of motivated volunteers is currently working on revamping the office space, now referred to as MEGA-OASE (MEGA oasis). “The idea was that everyone should feel comfortable in our MEGA-OASE, which is why we are establishing new communication, retreat, comfort, and fun zones to further boost the team’s spirit,” Schlosser says.
An end of the transformation process is not in sight – and putting an end to it is not the plan anyway. Gerald Schlosser is glad that the further education program he completed has helped him to drive transformation in his company: “The inputs and ideas from the ‘Pioneers of the 21st Century’ Senior Leadership Development Program really helped me to set the ball rolling.”
Get more information about the Senior Leadership Development Program.