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Q&A with Thomas Bertels

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Thomas Bertels, President & Founder of Purpose Works Consulting LLC.



How could you describe your career path in a few words?

 

I started my career with Swedish-Swiss engineering giant ABB as a management trainee. I quickly got involved in a large-scale transformation effort that turned an underperforming business unit into a rockstar. I joined fabled socio-tech consultancy Rath & Strong, a division of AON Consulting, to learn more about process transformation and build the process improvement and design practice. In 2004, myself and six colleagues founded Valeocon, a global boutique consulting firm, and for the next seventeen years I led the US operations. In 2019 we merged with international law firm Bird & Bird. After the successful completion of the merger, I was looking for a new challenge - and decided to focus on fixing work, making it more productive, valuable, meaningful and impactful. That is the mission of Purpose Works Consulting, where we focus on helping leaders (re)design work to meet fundamental human needs for purpose, autonomy, and feedback - and deliver a triple win: improving productivity, engagement, and customer satisfaction. 

 

 

How do you think agile practices have transformed companies over the past two years?

 

I think we are still in the early stages of agile transformation. Yes, many companies are trying to run projects based on some agile principles. But I see few signs of agile practices outside of projects. The Beyond Budgeting movement has been around for decades, offering a clear blueprint for incorporating agile principles into management practices, but adoption has been limited. And even within projects, only a small subset of companies fully embrace the agile manifesto. Many struggle to put individuals and interactions over processes and tools. I was really involved in the Six Sigma, which had a similar model of training people, and I have seen the limitations of that model. For real transformation to occur, agile cannot be limited to a few projects. 

 


What successful cases of agile transformations have you had the opportunity to observe that have particularly stood out to you?


I can think of two: 


In the first case, we worked with a leading global diagnostics company on a program to design and implement a suite of digital tools that would improve the work experience of highly skilled scientists and knowledge workers. What stood out for me was the client’s motivation: this was not an effort to cut costs. The client did not even ask for a business case. “We know that we will save millions - this is really about creating a better work experience and allow scientists to focus on the work that matters.” That mindset was crucial to engage very change resistant users across two continents in the process. 

 

In the second case, we worked with a leading advertising agency to revamp their core processes. We used a design sprint framework to engage those doing the work in reimagining it. Ten design teams delivered a comprehensive set of process changes that were then piloted and released using a structured process to,. The project ended up saving 100K+ hours, but what was even more valuable was the active employee engagement in the process. 



Will agile practices continue to generate interest? What challenges do you see in the context of deploying these practices

 

Yes, I think agile principles are here to stay. Maybe they are not as relevant when implementing a new ERP system, but if you are building something new and innovative, it is hard to argue with an agile approach. 

 

But I also think only a handful of companies will succeed in embedding these practices fully into how they work. There is a natural conflict between agile principles and classical management frameworks for budgeting, planning, and motivating. Without resolving those issues and revamping how the company is run, agile practices will have a marginal impact. 

 

In my mind, the biggest challenge is to adapt agile principles for routine work, to empower employees to take real ownership of the work.

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