Oliver M. Triebel is “Head of Organizational Learning,” Mindsets & Capabilities Practice, McKinsey & Company, Germany – Berlin Office
Oliver started his career with McKinsey back in 1993 after having completed his Master in Public Administration at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and before that a master degree in natural sciences (cell and molecular biology). Oliver left McKinsey after 6 years as a consulting generalist at the end of 1999 to take up an offer from Bertelsmann AG, one of the 5 largest global media companies. As Vice President Corporate Management Development he was in charge of recruiting and professional development of Bertelsmann’s current and future leaders.
Oliver re-joined McKinsey’s German Office in Summer 2004. He is the leader of the German Mindsets & Capabilities Practice and a member of the German Organization Practice Leadership Group as well as the European Organizational Behavior Leadership Group of McKinsey.
Oliver brings his expertise in capability building, management development, coaching, and other HR processes as well as in knowledge management and employee communications from a line responsibility back to consulting. Oliver is a certified coach, a skilled facilitator and experienced faculty member in various kinds of training programs. He has several additional qualifications, among them certifications to administer the MBTI, the Emotional Quotient inventory, and the Reiss Motivational Profile. He has studied with Ken Wilber and learned Spiral Dynamics with Don Beck.
In his role as Head of Organizational Learning, Oliver helps McKinsey clients to design and deliver innovative capability building and professional development programs as well as approaches supporting change management and performance transformation initiatives. Additionally, he works on various knowledge initiatives of McKinsey’s Organization Practice, for example on leadership, adult learning, and the future of human resources management. In addition to his consulting role, Oliver currently holds a part-time lecturer position at the University of Cologne where he teaches “Leadership” to MBA students.
Russ: Oliver, you’re a McKinsey consultant and probably have a fancier title than that, but when I first met you, you were at an Integral Leadership workshop with the Integral Institute near Boulder in Colorado. We got a chance to talk then, and some of your comments appear in Integral Leadership Review. At the time, you were in transition from working with a major international corporation and moving back into McKinsey & Company. Can you tell us about that?
Oliver: Yes, I started my professional career as a McKinsey consultant as a eneralist. I stayed with McKinsey for six years and then left at the beginning of 2000 to join Bertelsmann, a large media company where I was heading up their management development function. At the time I had global responsibility for their executive and high-potential recruiting, as well as for all of the professional development for executives and high-potentials.
There were a couple of changes at Bertelsmann plus I was living in Berlin and the Bertelsmann headquarters were in a provincial town 3 hours away, so I decided to move back to Berlin at the end of 2003. Not being sure what I really wanted to do, I took a year off and in that sabbatical year I came across Spiral Dynamics and the work of Ken Wilber and decided to attend the Integral Leadership Workshop in Boulder. There were several options to continue my career, and at that point I identified going back to McKinsey as a “second-tier” challenge for me. I wanted to bring a different kind of consulting to life within McKinsey, so the role I took was to take over a small group of trainers that delivered capability building programs for our clients. From that I’ve now built a group that’s called the “Mindsets & Capabilities Practice”. We are doing organizational behavior work, so when our analytical generalist colleagues determine what needs to change, we come into play when it’s about how to change people’s behavior.
We do capability building—both the design and delivery of programs. We are trainers and we do leadership development and here again not only the management or leadership development processes, but also leadership “journeys”. I work a lot with top leadership teams—it’s about top team alignment and top team effectiveness. We do all types of change management and interventions It is really organizational behavior work with a set of interventions that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from McKinsey, like different types of appreciative inquiry workshops, large-group interventions, world café approaches—very different types of interventions and workshop formats. We also do a range of client projects in the human resources area, something McKinsey wasn’t particularly focused on.
The group I’ve started to build in Germany has by now nearly 20 people, so we’ve grown and we’re quite successful. We have a high client utilization and, internationally, the group of organizational behavior practitioners within McKinsey is also growing. We’re part of McKinsey’s Organization Practice and it has become a well-established service line. We do work a lot with the integral approach, so the four quadrants are very present in our work.
Russ: As you indicated, one of the areas that you became interested in during your sabbatical was Spiral Dynamics. Can you say a little bit about how spiral dynamics has shaped your thinking about the work you’re doing?
Oliver: I came to realize that as a consultant, we very often do not diagnose and really understand the underlying reasons for resistance to change in an organization. Consultants and traditional management and leadership approaches in companies tend to think that our rational understanding and interpretation of the world is right and that we just need to explain it better to people. We tend to jump to conclusions, like, “Let’s communicate the value added of this strategy or project”. Then people actually wonder why that doesn’t lead to any real and sustainable behavioral change.
Spiral Dynamics has helped me to understand why groups of people in an organization just don’t speak the same language and why in certain situations either individuals or groups of people need a very different kind of communication approach to understand what’s going on. This understanding as we know from adult learning principles is really the step towards learning. People need to recognize that they don’t know certain things so that there is a need for behavioral change. Spiral Dynamics can help us shape the language.
In terms of my own interpretation of consulting, Spiral Dynamics together with the integral approach helped me to understand that it’s not an “either/or” world. I was often confronted with what I would call the “feel-good consultants,” the ones that do wonderful coaching and deep, personal interventions and great workshops, but they don’t understand the business side.
Then there are the business people who are on the right side of the integral model. They think all that cultural and mindset stuff is nice to have, but it’s peripheral to the process; they set up parallel processes. We are trying to combine that and also try to increase the understanding of different worldviews. I see this as a second-tier challenge: trying to change McKinsey’s approach to consulting from within through good client work.
Russ: I can relate to what you’re saying. When I was an organization development consultant and the subject of resistance to change would arise, I’d try and have clients envision resistance more as an attachment to things or values that people held that they didn’t want to let go of. It was a struggle for them to let go.
Oliver:When you ask me about the real application of Spiral Dynamics, it remains a big challenge. I’ve probably used it conceptually and in my own internal analytical work, but I’ve really only worked with Spiral Dynamics explicitly in client situations 5 or 6 times. The limiting factor is sufficient time. I’ve used it in workshops with top teams when there was a willingness to go there, but you need about five hours to go deeper into it. When I’ve done it, was always well received. The trick of totally opening people’s eyes requires that you not just go through the concept, but really try to get people involved and have them interpret what has happened in the past, and then bring that to every day leadership challenges going forward. That takes time.
Russ: Can you give an example of when you have used that as an intervention?
Oliver: One example is that we do an event that is a 3-day workshop with young leaders. They are already board members and we invite them to attend. We’ll have 10-12 young leaders from different companies—“young” means about 40, but in their first board-level leadership position. With this group we’ve introduced Spiral Dynamics. For them it is about their own development as leaders and what type of leader they want to be. How do they construct meaning? Why do they have conflicts with other leaders and/or colleagues? Why don’t people within the organization understand them? That has been a big eye opener. For example, using Spiral Dynamics they identify human resources personnel as very “green” see how they do not understand the very “blue” and “orange” world views that business leadership holds.
What I’ve found is that there is a lot of “yellow” thinking, but the participants are deeply rooted in orange. I bring about 100 different books and I stage them on a table. I’ll introduce the different levels of consciousness just by showing photos—no conceptual charts—to illustrate what’s happening. I take them on a journey with music so that they can feel the different memes. Then I ask them to identify books that belong to that particular meme. It’s a great exercise. They are surprised to find books that coincide with that meme—if they are looking for purple they find a book about astrology and Chinese horoscopes, etc. Conceptually that works really well.
Certain books resonate with them and they start talking about the books they are actually reading. I find quite a bit of Buddhist/Eastern wisdom-type literature is of interest. You’d be surprised at how many board members are suddenly confessing to having read Aurobindo or Buddha and even Wilber. That was a surprise for me. People hadn’t been resonating with that, and suddenly it all made sense to them.
This “orange” crisis of being aware that there must be more to life than just money or power—they immediately identified with that. The other phenomenon is that people are very smart, and they immediately get the concept, so it’s more than just glimpses of second-tier thinking there. They recognize the different memes. On the other hand, because they’re so deeply rooted in orange, they’d love to be second-tier. They’d love to be better. They love the hierarchy of it, which is also fantastic to see. There are some smiles in the room when they self-identify; they all think they’re pretty much second-tier and obviously, they’re not.
It’s a rewarding type of exchange. It’s powerful for them and eye opening. There are two board members with whom I’ve had more interactions and they had asked me to bring that concept to their board. We’ve discussed it and for them it’s guiding their communication more or less. It’s less relevant in every day strategy work, but when they communicate now, they’re trying to address the dominant memes in their organization. They’ll have a message for every meme level.
Another example is from the chemical industry. People there are typically self-selected, very “blue”, because otherwise they’ll literally explode. They need compliance and they are obsessed with safety, which is important and necessary. Today, these chemical companies need more accountability, more risk-taking, more entrepreneurial leadership and inspiration, so a concept like helping your customer to find better solutions is totally alien to someone deeply rooted in “blue”. It’s a “blue” to “orange” challenge they’re facing. Just understanding why that’s so difficult for an organization that is historically rooted in blue to suddenly come up, accept and internalize it and work with deeply orange concepts is a big eye-opener and it shaped the approach to leadership in that organization. It made the leaders more patient with their own people.
Russ: Because you’re finding those different centers of gravity in different functions and roles within the company.
Russ: How interesting. Do you find that industries can generally be characterized in the way you just did the chemical industry in terms of center of gravity?
Oliver: I’m not so sure about boxing in groups of people; we know they are more differentiated and multi-faceted, but I would generally say yes, there are some characteristics. Look at the financial services industry that now becomes the public sector. It’s quite obvious that you have a self-selected group of people deeply rooted in orange and that orange just came to an unhealthy expression of greed. It’s pretty obvious.
Russ: Yes. I think so. Well, if Spiral Dynamics has had this kind of impact on your work, how is the integral perspective shaped that beyond adult development perspectives?
Oliver: I’m using the integral perspective every day, as are lots of my colleagues. By now, the integral model is really part of McKinsey’s approach to change management. There are different ways of explaining the integral model to clients, but we really use the model as a diagnostic framework and for intervention design. We look at the four quadrants. I have fantastic discussions with clients as I introduce the model and help them to identify themselves in the lower right quadrant—that’s strategy, structure, processes and systems—and we need to move out. They’ve done the first step towards building capabilities, but they also need to have people who understand and have insight as to why they need to change, to address the social aspects, to include all the cultural aspects of the “we” and the role modeling as one of the important levers. There’s an immediate and intuitive understanding. People always say, “Yes, this is it.” Often people say that it’s the first time they really understand an approach to change. It resonates with all of their business experience. We use it to ask where we stand today—this is the diagnosis—and where do we want to go. We work with a “from-to” logic. We define where to go, and then use it as a design tool based on the diagnostic. What measures can be applied to do a comprehensive or holistic change program? It’s more than just a strategy.
Russ: May I ask about the measures part? I had a graduate student ask me recently why there is so much resistance to Wilber’s work in academia. I gave him a number of reasons including the notion that one of Wilber’s arguments is for the inclusion of non-observable data in our analyses. In other words, you cannot directly measure it, so that takes us away from behaviorism, takes us away from scientific reductionism in order to enrich the picture we’re creating. It sounds like you’re saying that you are able to introduce that non-direct measurable dimension in a way that clients get it. I’m both delighted and surprised to hear that.
Oliver: I don’t even go into that space and say that there is stuff that you can’t measure. By definition, if you want to understand what’s going on in the two left quadrants, there is subjectivity involved. What we’re saying is that there is something to measure. We have a survey that we created called a “values survey” where people determine the current values in their organization, what is important to them, what values do they want to see more of, which do they want to lessen—it’s very powerful. It’s an indirect way of getting a feel for this. We also do “deep structure interviews” where we go open-mindedly into a 2-3 hour conversation and really build trust. We ask why certain things are happening and keep breaking it down to identify the root causes.
After we’ve talked to 10-15 people, we have a good feeling for what’s going on. We even train our clients on how to do these interviews because there is a lot of subjective judgment involved in interpreting what’s been heard. We need to interpret the outcomes in the right way. It’s analytical work, but of a different type. We’ll come up with our interpretation, but the interesting thing is that what we play back to the client in “mirror”-workshops is not our interpretation. Yes, we have group themes identified like “lack of trust” or “undefined roles”, and we usually find 5-7 of those major themes that are real issues within an organization. We extract 10-15 of the most representative quotes and put them on a poster. Then we have the group engage in a gallery walk; it’s very powerful for them to see that. They see their own quotes and they can’t say, “That’s just McKinsey’s interpretation of what’s happening.” After that, you trigger the conversation about the elephants in the room.
Russ: So do you use the four quadrant model as a way of organizing the quotes?
Oliver: Partly, yes. We definitely use it to organize the interviews, so I immediately know in which quadrant someone is talking. It’s a fantastic way to structure an interview guide. I explain the influence model to people in a very interactive way and I’ve refined the method somewhat, because it works so well.
We ask them about their best learning experience. I introduce change as learning. You have to “un-learn” an old behavior and learn a new one. Change is all about behavioral change—it’s what you can measure bottom line. They share their best learning stories in an appreciative inquiry-type of setting. Based on their personal learning success stories, they then derive success factors for learning. That gives them a list that has everything that research tells us about the adult learning principles. We review the list, and I encourage everyone to come back to the list in their minds as we orchestrate the behavioral change. I acknowledge to the group that it’s not very comfortable to work with that list, so I encourage them to sort the learning success factors. That’s when people come up with four buckets, which are in fact the four quadrants: rational learning—experience/action/knowledge; emotional learning—insight/ understanding/ motivation/out of my comfort zone; social learning—the cultural aspect/the “we”/the role modeling/peers and colleagues need to change their behavior; and finally learning that is supported through systems, structures and processes. Then I have the four quadrants, and I don’t even always mention Wilber. I’ll just say it’s public domain—look up Ken Wilber—and that’s it. And that it is not a 2 by 2 matrix invented by consultants but a philosophical model of the world which has a place for every idea.
Russ: In a way, by talking about the material in the four quadrants, it suggests the notion of lines, which of course is part of Wilber’s model. I wonder if in your work with clients you work around the notion of lines of development either in a very simple model or getting into emotional intelligence or the multiple intelligences approaches.
Oliver: I usually don’t go there explicitly. I do an implicit or simplified version of the lines of development by just telling people to look at where they are and the group of people they’re dealing with in the different quadrants. Then let’s define where to go and we’ll derive measures and actions. One measure in the upper-left quadrant can be working on emotional intelligence and using the EQi, the Emotional Quotient inventory, in a workshop or coaching setting to help people grow. That can be an action you come up with and we’ve done that, but I don’t explicitly go into lines of development.
I’m leaving out a lot of stuff and I’m continuously trying to include more about the integral approach in my work, but so far it’s really just the four quadrants and a little bit of Spiral Dynamics.
Russ: From my point of view, it’s perfectly appropriate to think about this in terms of how it shaped your thinking as well as how you actually use it. For example, when we’re talking about lines, one of the questions that seem to have evolved is, “Where is spirituality in here?” You’ve alluded to this with the young board members and their interest in Buddhism and spiritual literature. I’m wondering if either as a line, where we were originally thinking about it, or as a stage of development, spirit and spirituality becomes implicit in influencing you as well as potentially being explicit in working with clients.
Oliver: Spirituality sometimes becomes explicit. It’s mentioned and there are questions around it. People naturally go to the upper left quadrant and identify spirituality as growth in that quadrant. So my observation of spiritual questions is people have located them there. I don’t question that—I let them do that. Then you can point to literature or to spiritual practices like meditation. We’ve used a workshop setting where we explicitly introduce a guided meditation as a means of self-reflection and stress-management. It’s a tool for growing. We call it “dynamic mind practice” and it’s a content- and ideology-free approach to meditation that just works with the breath. We have trained facilitators for that. It’s very well received, and we do this with our clients.
Russ: Well in a way then, it sounds as though when you’re working with individuals that you are at least probing for and helping them develop a more integral life practice.
Oliver: Yes, we’re trying to do that. If I have the opportunity to design events, workshops, change journeys, I try to do that in an integral way. I’ll include physical aspects like exercise and meditation as a spiritual dimension and then obviously we have a lot of cognitive stuff there. The “we” is present, so yes, we’re trying to design learning programs, leadership development programs, change journeys, along the four quadrants.
Russ: And Spiral Dynamics I’m assuming is the stage model? What about the whole notion of states? Do you find that that comes into play at all? In other words, the temporary states of awareness, consciousness, intention, that sort of thing?
Oliver: My observation is that it comes only into play when we talk about Spiral Dynamics explicitly. Then, I introduce the difference between stages and states and people develop examples of having had a glimpse of a higher level of consciousness, but then go on back to their dominant stage. Other than that, I have not. No.
Russ: But it does seem to be something that does help people get in touch with their experience as you’ve just described.
Oliver: Absolutely. It’s such an intuitive concept and it helps people to understand that they’ve been “up there” and gone back to something. They’ve had glimpses of it. Even the notion of how different memes interpret a higher level of consciousness differently through the lens of the filter of their meme resonates with people.
Russ: Well then that leaves us with types, which is another key element in the AQAL model. Historically we’ve dealt with that in terms of looking at gender differences and diversity, things like MBTI and other personality models, learning styles, inventories and the like. Does the notion of “type” have any significance in the work that you do?
Oliver: No, I’m going to say no, because it’s just too complicated. What has an implication though, and I’ve used this explicitly, is the notion of the shadow. It’s very easily transferable to organizations. Even organizations don’t deal with their shadows. The shadow will haunt an organization. In change management, there is a notion also of leadership development. If you look at change leadership through a different lens and with different language, with the technical challenge and then the adaptive challenge (the Heifetz concept), or you sometimes say there’s a technical improvement—that’s easy to achieve. The problem is it’s like with New Year’s resolutions—you’re back to your old behavior by the end of January—it’s not sustainable. So the health, the long-term sustainability of the change is important, and here, it’s like with the shadow, if you don’t address the root causes of resistance in an organization, or to speak with Kegan about the counter-commitments and so on, it will always haunt you. You have to go there.
Russ: Can you give us an example of how that has played out for any of your clients?
Oliver: I think it’s the question of how much and how deeply to invest. We’ve just recently collaborated with an American client in the process industry to embark on a huge global-change journey to introduce a new production system in a couple hundred sites worldwide. There are many important questions to tackle: Do you do a deep mindset and cultural diagnostics at every site? After we’ve done 2-3 sites, we generally know what’s going on. So do we invest in “Personal Insight Workshops” or “Leadership coaching dialogues”? These are 2-day workshops that go deep and have a spiritual dimension. They introduce meditation and so on…Do we do that for the top leaders at every site, or is it enough to do it with a regional leadership team in Europe, Asia, North America, etc.?
After having this discussion in the global leadership team, and bringing them to a point where they understand that things are not sustainable if you don’t do that, we came to the conclusion that it’s well worth the investment to have a diagnosis at every site, so every leadership level has the directly experienced insight based on their concrete environment and not from an outsider. So this company has invested in addressing the organizational shadows long-term, and it’s a very successful change program that has saved a lot of money. People wrote emails to the Global Leadership saying that the only way they’ve been able to lead their companies and staff through massive layoffs due to the current economic crisis and downturn is based on their experience of dealing with the “shadow”. They really understand their convictions, their behaviors and counter-commitments. That’s wonderful feedback to get; it’s very rewarding. It also confirms on a practical level what we’ve just talked about.
Russ: As you’re aware, there has been a long history of conversation about the distinctions between leaders and managers. Usually, the distinction is drawn around the scope of change or transformational change versus transactional change. The distinction I’ve made is that “leader” is a role; leading is what people do when they step into that role. The role is based on expectations of stakeholders. Leadership is about the whole system you’ve been describing. When I think of leader development programs, very often we are building on an historical heroic notion of leadership. Do you see anything shifting—especially in the face of the global financial crisis—in the way that people are beginning to hold this notion of their role as a leader from being something that is an individual heroic phenomenon versus a larger system dynamic?
Oliver: There is an observable shift there. When I engage leaders in a discussion about leadership, I ask the question, “What is leadership?” There are very few people who have this intrapersonal view of leadership that is just about the leader. They immediately dwell on the interaction of leaders and followers. They quickly understand that it’s a triangle when you include organizational factors. You can say that leadership is an emerging phenomenon, because you have varying leadership challenges. The interaction between leaders, followers and the organization around certain leadership challenges can be big ones, such as are you in a turn-around situation? Are you in a growth situation? A merger? That notion of leadership immediately resonates with people now.
The other way that I’ve indirectly introduced spiral dynamics is I’ve said that there are five types of leaders, and those five types are easily mapped onto the red to “second-tier” or “yellow/turquoise” memes. The first type is the “red” heroic captain—the Jack Welch’s of the world. “Blue” is the technocratic leader—learn your management tools and you’re a good leader. Then you have orange: a pragmatic all-rounder—this is typically a consultants’ view of leadership that rationally understands that emotional intelligence is important—the naturally emotionally intelligent leaders, the adaptive resonant leader, the “green” type of leadership. Finally there is the post-heroic leader who is able to understand that there are different types of leaders and leadership requirements. Individuals can act in all of them. That’s your “second-tier” leader.
Without introducing Spiral Dynamics and without saying one level is better than the other, people recognize that from red to second-tier, it’s moving from transactional and towards more transformational leadership. That is a powerful discussion that lets people really understand that they have to vary their leadership style. I call that “Leadership Literacy”—look at the books about leadership that people buy and read, and how much they struggle with what type of leader they want to become. Suddenly, they understand that each leadership type is valuable in different circumstances. Just that as a model helps people to understand where they’re coming from and where other leaders are. Also, the meta-model—the triangular relationship between leaders, followers, and the organizational attributes—helps to identify what the current challenge is, and how to understand and interpret leadership in a way that is relevant to their own development.
Russ: Isn’t that a wonderfully integral way of looking at it? It integrates the range of transactional/ transformational/situational/trait notions of leadership and puts it in context. That’s fantastic. How is the level of reception to this within the business world?
Oliver: It is very integral. A lot of leaders feel the limits of linear leadership concepts. They’ve experienced it, so they know they need to be more flexible, more differentiated in different situations. Different settings call for different requirements and this model helps them to understand that.
Russ: You’ve mentioned a number of books and authors regarding leadership. Do you see anyone out there who is writing about leadership that seems to get this concept?
Oliver: I’m not sure…don’t quote me on that! There is a German author, Professor Dr. Brigitte Witzer, who wrote a fantastic book that has not yet been translated into English. It’s called “Post-Heroic Leadership” and for me it’s all about integral, second-tier leadership. The book says that the age of the heroes is over. She quotes a few European CEO’s that are heroic leaders, and she makes the case that there’s a new generation of leaders coming into power that is much more integrally acting and informed, and that is much more post-heroic. There is less ego involved and so on. I spoke with her, and she didn’t know about Ken Wilber and Spiral Dynamics when she wrote the book, and yet it’s fully in-line with what we’ve just talked about.
Russ:Aren’t you doing some teaching currently?
Oliver: I teach leadership at the University of Cologne and teach strategy implementation at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. Both are reputable institutions. I love the teaching. It allows me to try out new interventions with my students that I then do with my clients—that’s a nice way of learning for me as well. Clients want to learn more about the integral model and how we use it in change management. I know what exists out there in terms of the AQAL model and business and leadership, and it’s not there. I’m thinking about writing something of my own. I look at Fred Kofman and others that work in this space and have written books and they do not quite resonate with my client experience here in Europe. I currently have two clients in the Middle East, and the integral model works fantastically well with them. We don’t talk directly about Wilber; we just talk about the four quadrants and do leadership development and change management work with them. These clients immediately understand and accept it.
Russ: One thing you might not know is that we’ve started publishing hard copy books as Integral Publishing, and we’ve just published Peter Merry’s Evolutionary Leadership. You might want to take a look at that. If you ever do any writing in this area, I would be delighted to play a role in that.
Oliver: Thank you. I will need you for that. I might start working on the book after McKinsey. I need to do the writing to do justice to the wonderful journey we’re on with our clients who immediately “get it” and don’t see anything esoteric about our work. It just fills a need that’s out there.
Russ: Yes it does. Thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to talking to you soon.
Oliver: Thank you for your great questions!