top of page

The Daimler Board Had No Hidden Agenda

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do an Interview about Transformation with the leading medium for the manufacturing industry – and its service providers – in Austria – INDUSTRY MAGAZINE. 

INDUSTRY MAGAZINE: Mr. Ködel, In 2016, you enrolled 17,000 Daimler executives of all ages and hierarchical levels around the world to find the 144 most motivated minds to develop a more contemporary leadership culture. Are layman better personnel and organizational developers?

Tobias Ködel: The design of a transformation is a task for experts. When it comes to ideas about how culture, forms of cooperation and leadership should look like in the future, brilliant and creative contributions emerge in a diversified collective. We wanted to change our culture. That’s why we did things differently from the beginning. In today’s organizations, this collective intelligence is often underestimated. Partially deliberately prevented. Here lies the key to a successful transformation. A participation process aimed to reach as many employees as possible creates real concern and solidarity in the team. It tears down silos, disrupts established power and decision-making centers. This creates a new culture that also allows for questions that we currently find it difficult to answer.

INDUSTRY MAGAZINE: For example, how in a nonlinear, increasingly complex world linear build organization should actually be successful.

Ködel: Yes. Realizing that today marks the slowest day of change for the rest of our lives is the first step. We have been masters in counting, calculating and planning for many years. This is how we always achieved results in a linear and complicated world. However, our society, our lives, our world has become complex and non-linear in many areas. In the future, we need to learn to deal with these two extremes situationally and adaptive. There is no black or white.

INDUSTRY MAGAZINE: Today employee performance is still measurable.

Ködel: And it will be in the future. However, it will be more on “how” a performance has come to stand. The “how” is very important for the talents of tomorrow. They strive for personal development, for constructive and direct feedback. Not as an incentive for good performance, but as a natural characteristic of the leader in his/her role as a coach. That’s why we need working environments and leaders who inspire, give room and support when needed.

INDUSTRY MAGAZINE: The 144-strong core team at Daimler networked with each other. And developed ideas for flexible working, co-creation, and empowerment. Without the intervention of the divisional chiefs or the directors?

Ködel: An essential factor of a successful transformation is the conviction and unity of the Management Board. It’s all about the inner attitude. Anyone who empowers authentically has no hidden agenda. The Daimler Board of Management has taken the passenger seat and handed over the steering wheel to 144 colleagues. For all those involved, this was a pattern breaker and a real transformation experience. This resulted in 150 ideas, from which eight particular topics and just as many leadership principles were derived.

INDUSTRY MAGAZINE: The ideas and the transformation became viral.

Ködel: We wanted to scale as fast as possible, spread the word and inspire 290.000 colleagues around the globe. Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn were our role models. We used a virtual collaboration platform and other social channels. Colleagues who were not part of the 144 were given the opportunity to become Ambassadors for Leadership 2020. By the end of 2018, we had created a community of nearly 8,000 people and started a movement that translated the positive spirit of Leadership 2020 into the organization.

INDUSTRY MAGAZINE: A Feedback app became a standard tool for the enterprise. What was the goal?

Ködel: To provide constructive, appreciative and immediate feedback. Giving or receiving feedback is a pain in the ass for a lot of us. It starts in the private sphere. For many people, giving or taking direct feedback feels like a threat. Apps can help you get started. Playfully and positively occupied. This can be a compliment for an outstanding presentation, an innovative idea or just a thank you for a pleasant collaboration during a meeting. Directly typed in the mobile phone and sent. This is the first step to demystify direct personal contact.

INDUSTRY MAGAZINE: In 2009 you had planned to stay five years at Daimler. It ended up being ten. Since the turn of the year, you have launched your own consulting startup called The Beautiful Ugly Truth. Sounds like an act of revenge with Daimler?

Tobias Ködel: That is nonsense! I am incredibly grateful for every day at Daimler. Especially for my time at Leadership 2020. The confidence we got, the momentum that we were able to create, was exceptional. And we have managed to address even uncomfortable topics. For me, the most intense learning experience of my life! I’m an adventurer, a rebel, and I like to stop and challenge my comfort zone when it’s the most beautiful.

And about my company: The brand name is an answer to the fact that in organization development and change management we have to rely even more on the really ugly topics, such as the lack of feedback, failure culture or the misuse of power. Again and again, we close our eyes on these topics. This leads us deeper and deeper into an unhealthy cycle that will not end well for many companies. Culture will become a USP in the future. Transformation is a must. Transformation is terrific. It brings along many positive side effects if done right. But it also hurts. If you want to transform yourself or your company, you can not ignore “the beautiful ugly truth”.


The INDUSTRY MAGAZINE is the leading medium for the manufacturing industry – and its service providers – in Austria. As Digital and print version we deliver service, trends, analyzes and news for technical and commercial management levels of the industry. Impartial. Incorruptible.


bottom of page