Buying organisations and New Work

How agile are you already?

Author: Oliver Merckens


In the following essay I will try to give you an overview of New Work and agility as well as possible implications for purchasing organisations.

Managers who still think that New Work = laptop + open-plan office + foosball + free drinks & snacks + remote work have not really dealt with this topic yet. This much in advance: it is clearly more than that and – used correctly – can help an organisation to become more powerful and competitive.


In recent months, the only option for many employees was to work from home. Suddenly, New Work was on everyone’s lips. The term is not that “new”, as it was already brought to life in the 1980s by Frithjof Bergmann.

New Work and agile working have been seen for years as a cure for companies that find themselves in the VUCA world. VUCA (Volatility Uncertainty Complexity Ambiguity) describes a working world with multiple challenges in which nothing is (or “reacts”) the way it used to be. In such an environment, anyone who still tries to manage and control his or her employees by instruction will inevitably fail. In the new world of work – i.e. New Work – creativity, innovation and social interaction are more important.

The key concept is self-organisation. New Work companies place trust in their employees. They believe in the creative will and performance of their people. They therefore give them more tasks, more decisions and thus more leeway to develop solutions for the challenges of today.


Agile organisations have their own DNA. Their success is difficult to attribute to individual measures or methods. Rather, it is based on several pillars:

  • Sense-making (Reason Why?)
  • Customer centricity
  • Leadership in an agile (and thus new) way
  • Agile methods (Scrum, The wheel of agile change, KanBan)
  • Continuous improvement (Inspect and Adapt)
  • Culture and mindset

The key here is certainly an open leadership and communication culture based on trust and the necessary mindset throughout the company. At the latest here it becomes clear that New Work and agile working is more than just laptops, open-plan offices, table football and so on.

Togetherness makes the difference


At the core of agile working are 4 points in a recurring cycle

  • Collaborate
  • Deliver
  • Reflect
  • Improve

What does this mean specifically for the teams’ approach?

  • Small-step approach: The focus here is on early customer benefit
  • Inspect & Adapt: Checking the small steps and their results by regularly asking for customer feedback.
  • Close distance between problem (or task) and problem solver: Continuous involvement of the customer in the development process
  • Focus on learning: The mindset is to always want to get better

The last point aims at the high motivation of the teams. Here we are primarily talking about the intrinsic motivation of the employees, which makes the essential difference. The focus is on sense fulfilment, the desire to become better and self-determination. According to Daniel Pink, these are the 3 cornerstones of intrinsic motivation: Purpose, Mastery, Autonomy.

An agile organisation must provide the appropriate framework for this or implement and live the necessary culture.


  • Lower time-to-market phase (faster turnover realisation)
  • Higher and more customer-oriented quality (increase in customer satisfaction)
  • Increased efficiency through autonomous and cross-functional teams (less “overhead” necessary)

New Work has its origins in IT companies. But these approaches are also relevant for trade organisations. Here, too, time does not stand still and the demands on organisations (e.g. competition, customer needs, employee retention and recruitment, regulations, etc.) are becoming increasingly complex. With conventional management approaches (guidelines, little freedom to make decisions, hierarchical leadership and permanent control), a retail organisation will not be able to meet the challenges in the long run in a target-oriented and thus competitive manner.


If you think of a retailer’s purchasing organisation, you probably think primarily of conditions, margins and protracted supplier negotiations. The issues of consumers or cooperation with suppliers often do not come first. Thus, many purchasing organisations still run entirely within the framework of “old work”.

From today’s point of view, is this still effective? Isn’t this where potential is left untapped? In my view, it is time to do things differently and to proceed disruptively.

An important success factor is a motivated procurement team. The topic of motivation (as already described above) is increasingly gaining a different status and is viewed quite differently, especially by the younger generation. Here, the focus is not only on networked and self-determined work, but also on sense fulfilment.


For many purchasing organisations, an agile way of working certainly means a major cultural modification. Rhe team must be more involved and should be allowed to develop their own solutions. The employees can try out something that doesn’t correspond to the standard without specifications. Trust is the motto.

Moreover, purchasing decisions should not only be driven by conditions, but should increasingly reflect the actual needs of the customers. While one pushes short-term profit, the other enables the attractiveness of the offer. Customer satisfaction and loyalty are increased. Just let your employees try it out. Try & Error.

Conclusion: I hope I have now been able to show you that the advantages of agile organisations and New Work are more than just a buzzword.

To be fair, I have to say that the transformation of a (sub-) organisation from old to new usually involves a longer change process. This should be accompanied externally. As with any change, you need to be aware of the possible consequences of the changes in advance. Not everyone – whether employee or manager – will be a fan. The management must not only want the change, but also exemplify it to all employees on a daily basis. Get involved with your head and heart.