The vision and strategy of K+S Kali GmbH

Cultural Transformation in a Traditional Company

Steinbeis experts provide support to a long-term change management initiative at K+S Kali GmbH

What’s the best way to boost the competitiveness of a business division, make it more powerful through redeveloped business processes, and at the same time promote fundamental organizational change, and even a management culture based on taking more leadership? This was the complex question tackled by senior management at K+S KALI GmbH in the summer of 2014, when it embarked on a journey with the support of Human Resources & Organisations, the Steinbeis Transfer Center based in Baunatal. The consultants working with Prof. Dr. Arnd Gottschalk, Prof. Dr. Olaf-Axel Burow, and Prof. Dr. Michael Freiboth adhered closely to the techniques of change management process consulting, with a clear focus throughout the project on the Steinbeis philosophy of transferring visions into business.

April 2015: As the first managers entered the room, there was a look of bewilderment on their faces. The chairs were arranged in semicircles. No tables, and no speaker’s desk. This was not how they’d pictured the Management Dialog event, which senior management had invited all 180 managers at K+S KALI to attend. The change initiative at K+S KALI originally kicked off in late 2014, when around 40 managers embarked on a process with senior management alongside internal and external change consultants to develop a vision that would involve moving away from thinking in silos and strictly defined department borders toward a process-based organization that is more agile and adaptable and lays greater focus on customers. The new organization came into effect on the Kassel site in early 2015.

An intensive round of work on the culture and values of senior management, who are seen as a role model for the overall change process and predefined values of “trust, transparency, and responsibility,” allowed the new format to evolve resulting in a new approach to dialog among managers. One important tool of sustainable change involves the roughly 180 managers at K+S KALI coming together twice a year to take part in an open, participative meeting to look at the strategy, culture, values, and leadership. It also involves “co-worker consulting” and “speed dating” with the head, heart, and hands. The management dialog sessions are planned and moderated by Steinbeis consultants and an internal change team following a detailed sign-off process. To accompany the change process, support was also given to the factories. The factory managers worked with the management teams on clear, common change messages and communication elements for each specific location to share information with workers and allow them to become involved. A poster called the Communication Canvas proved to be an extremely helpful instrument. It was used for communicating on a uniform basis across all sites, outlining communication goals and the specific road ahead for managers.

The vision and strategy of K+S Kali GmbH

Managers on all levels of the company present their key people for each change process. Their job is to become a change agent and they need made-to-measure tools for implementing change in everyday work processes. To facilitate this, the Steinbeis consultants developed a training method for K+S KALI managers called After-Work Training. Training spans seven 3-hour modules to bring managers up to speed with the theory and practical aspects of change management. A number of aspects are covered by training:

  • Support during the initial stages through specific instruments
  • Support for people in operational roles so they can find their bearings during the process
  • Ideas for realigning the culture of leadership
  • Networking between managers; establishment of a common foundation for change

Management workshops and coaching sessions were also offered as part of the After-Work Training to discuss different scenarios and challenging management situations.

Change management has developed into a tool of strategic management that is now part of everyday business for companies. As a result, the Steinbeis experts worked together with senior management and the change team to develop a roadmap for the project. The aim was to use this to plan the optimal strategic and operative measures, which should be implemented and evaluated in terms of their effectiveness as part of an “after-action review.” Given the success of change interventions and a number of requests for long-term support with the company’s change processes, in the spring of 2016 senior management decided to set up two staff departments for organizational development and change management. They also clearly defined their roles: “To act as a system supplier for the (co-)management of change in organizational development and change management.” The role of the departments is to shape, support, and evaluate change processes on an organizational, cultural, and personal level and to advise senior management, factory management, and other managers on change issues. The departments are supported by change multipliers, who have direct contact to managers and workers in each location and are familiar with their processes. The Steinbeis consultants also helped set up the change teams and the multiplier network.

After initial skepticism regarding whether the consultation approach would actually work, senior management, the internal change advisers, and other managers were delighted with the process consulting approach suggested by the three Steinbeis consultants. “Working with the Steinbeis experts was extremely helpful to us. They had an extremely congenial manner and steered us through this difficult change process with the required steadfastness, and ultimately this also enabled us to provide professional in-house support for further planned change processes ourselves. That’s what consulting should be like,” says managing director Alexa Hergenröther. Her conclusion: To get change processes to work in the long term, intervention is required on a number of fronts, such as management dialog, communication processes matched to each target group, management development, cultural development, and a focus on the future, based on innovation and digital transformation in all areas. If the entire initiative is steered by process management and change management “from a single source,” this paves the way for a successful journey based on a future-ready organization and company culture. And while this was all happening, the Steinbeis consultants even achieved what they predicted they would do at the beginning: “We make ourselves superfluous as consultants and empower the organization to manage things off its own steam.”


Prof. Dr. Arnd Gottschalk
Steinbeis Transfer Center Human Resources & Organisations (Baunatal)

Carola Becker
K+S Kali GmbH (Kassel)

Tanja Daume
Tanja Daume Consulting (Kassel)