Jobs and the Future of Work

Wave goodbye to command culture. Here’s how today’s leaders can influence and make change

The DO

The command culture is over – we can’t pressure and demand people to behave in a certain way, Florian acknowledges. Image: The Do

James Fell
Senior Writer, Formative
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  • Command culture is over, so leaders need to know how to engage, motivate and inspire a changing workforce.
  • As part of the World Economic Forum’s Meet the Leader podcast series, social entrepreneur Florian Hoffmann shares key leadership tips on driving change from within an organization.
  • Here, Hoffmann recommends leading through authentic communication, implementing a “meritocracy of ideas” and more.

As the younger generations increasingly take up leadership positions, it’s becoming clear that Millennials and Gen Z aren’t responsive to traditional “command and control” models.

A qualitative study of 92 Gen Zers found that servant leadership, which emphasizes empowerment and development, was the most effective management style.

Pie chart showcasing the workforce numbers in the US, in percentages.
The demographics of the workplace are changing, with Millennials and Gen Zers moving into leadership roles. Image: John Hopkins University

Florian Hoffmann, German social entrepreneur, investor and founder of The DO, acknowledges that leadership styles have changed.

“The command culture is over – we can’t pressure and demand people to behave in a certain way,” he says.

“It’s about authenticity,” he told the Forum’s Meet The Leader podcast during its Annual Meeting 2024 in Davos, Switzerland. “It’s about inspiration. And that all requires internal communication.”

Listen to Florian Hoffmann speaking to Linda Lacina as part of the World Economic Forum’s Meet the Leader podcast series

Here are some of Hoffmann’s tips on how to influence and make change happen from within an organization.

1. Build a movement based on contribution

Today’s workforce has undoubtedly experienced a lot of change over the past few years. This is mainly the result of workplace and culture shifts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent macroeconomic conditions. Hoffmann advocates that leaders build “centres of energy”, as a way to assuage any resistance to change within an organization.

“I’m very passionate about movement building,” he explains. “Most people want to make a contribution. Leaders need to build a movement where everyone feels like they’re contributing. This is really effective at a time where this is so much apathy.”

Hoffmann notes that this is a tried-and-tested method, and "young, enthusiastic" members of the organization can be great advocates of the approach if leaders can get their buy-in.

“If you support and foster them, they will be very eager to actually drive the implementation of the strategies and ideas you have,” he says.

2. Lead like an influencer

Hoffman endorses a more genuine and straightforward approach to leadership, and that business leaders can take inspiration from the more approachable, candid style of influencers.

“Internal communication was always this set counterpart of the fancy marketing world, but I believe it’s really important and there isn’t much difference between internal and external storytelling.”

To keep the workforce interested and engaged, communication needs to be consistent and encouraging of open dialogue where successes and challenges can be honestly conveyed and circulated.

“You need to show what’s working and what’s not. And then you can say, ‘This is the stuff that we need to figure out how to get done – this is the opportunity that I would love you to get involved with, and I’m eager to hear how you would solve it’.”

3. Implement a meritocracy of ideas

Traditional organizational structures are changing, with job roles becoming more dynamic and integrated – partly due to the rising use of artificial intelligence for basic tasks. Hoffmann recommends that leaders mirror this shift, opting for a blended management approach around ideas and input.

“We’re becoming more agile, and I think it’s all about coming together around problems and bringing in expertise,” he says. “And you need to create an environment that makes people feel safe to speak up. It’s a meritocracy of ideas. The best idea wins, where there’s also the openness.”

To cultivate a collaborative environment, Hoffmann says language is key. He recommends using word clusters and relatable vocabulary. “We need to get a clear idea of joint interests, joint passion, and thereby create a joint sense of what we want to achieve together.”

This is an important route to take, he says, as it promotes teamwork and ownership. “In the end, it’s about co-creation. How do you bring different people together so they can make something happen? You can guide them and there can be quality checks and outside expertise that comes in, but ultimately it’s about their ownership.”

*This dialogue has been lightly edited

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