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Ingo Kallenbach

Reflect in an interview with Jörg Eckstädt

Jörg Eckstädt treats his employees like adults, considers working time controls and other parent-child relationships in organisations to be outdated, discloses any figures of his organisation and has the customer sitting at the table as a rag doll.


Jörg Eckstädt was born in the former GDR in 1971 and graduated from high school in 1989. In 1991 he started his career as an assistant tax consultant. In 2003 he became a tax consultant specialising in business mediation and a specialist consultant for company succession. In 2003 he became a partner in a medium-sized law firm. In 2012 he then founded the law firm - Das Steuerbüro.

Today Jörg Eckstädt is a partner of Das Steuerbüro and also gives lectures in the field of law firm management. He is married, has three children and lives in Braunschweig.



Reflect: After a motorcycle accident you decided that monarchical thinking must give way to a nearly hierarchy-free thinking. Since 2012 you are a partner of the law firm "Das Steuerbüro GbR Ramona Jasko & Jörg Eckstädt, Steuerberater" and employ more than 10 people. It is a very conservative industry. Where did your motivation to want to change something come from?

J. Eckstädt: The drive to change something came from digitalisation. At that time, we were one of the first law firms to practice digital and paperless cooperation with clients. Simple processes became complicated processes and it became apparent that complex, unique processes were emerging that could no longer be managed by a single person in accounting alone. From this arose my urge for a changed form of cooperation, especially for more collaboration and communication, in order to also emphasize the knowledge of the employees, for which I wanted to create framework conditions.

The background: Every client has different systems, upstream programs and therefore individual wishes for cooperation with us. These unique processes are then broken down into document types - very complex. In order to build these processes, it makes little sense to say from above how it should be done. After all, the individual employee has a much better proximity to the client and a better understanding of the process than, for example, the consultant who joins us once in the quarterly meeting. I wanted to change these basic conditions.

Reflect: You wanted to create an ecosystem in your company without power and hierarchy. Today, your employees work completely unbound by place and time of work. Have you succeeded in this? And what are the attributes of your company?

J. Eckstädt: To create the above-mentioned framework conditions, the first thing we did was to abolish working hours. My role is not to monitor the working hours of other adult people; I no longer consider this to be in keeping with the times. What I still often encounter with clients is a parent-child relationship between employees and managers of the organization. Employees make vital decisions outside the organisation. They marry people, get divorced, have children, take out loans, buy houses, enter into permanent debt relationships via rent and leasing, etc. Inside the organisation they wait to see what is delegated from above and what remains to be done. I do not think that is right.

I saw it as a challenge to create the framework conditions for people to develop. The first guardrail that I abolished is the concept of working time. We no longer have that, but customer-oriented cooperation. Whether it takes place at six in the morning or ten in the evening is of no interest to the customer, he just wants his business evaluation at a specific time. When and from which place in the world this is generated is not relevant for him. It is of course fortunate for the industry that the system's guard rails can be set up in such a way that the employees can do their jobs independently.

Reflect: Aren't there also classical customers who want to reach the clerk at 2:30 in the afternoon for further questions?

J. Eckstädt: Of course, digitalization and the big word self-organization help us here. For me, it does not mean that the individual organizes himself, but rather stands for the knowledge of a common responsibility, the awareness of shared responsibility in the organization. This means that I cannot simply leave my place without informing others how and whether I can be reached, representation must be arranged etc. The wonderful experience I have had is that people are and want to be responsible when I release them into responsibility. Especially when I let them share in the result.

Reflect: Transparency is a cornerstone of your approach. You disclose all data such as turnover/profit/salaries/bank accounts and all employees have even signed an internal petition for this.

J. Eckstädt: The holistic view of responsibility naturally only works with transparency. If every figure, result, employee salary, mandate, accounts, my private withdrawal etc. is disclosed, only then can shared responsibility take place. There must be no secrets among people.

Reflect: What problems arise from this transparency? Is there dissatisfaction or envy among the employees?

J. Eckstädt: Let me give you two practical examples. The turnover of a high potential was declining. We sat together in the Monday round and I was met with a wave of indignation from other employees: We cannot give him less pay. He helped me in this program, he represented me in the summer, he never got sick, he helped me in the process, etc... All the soft factors that I can't get hold of in other organizations then come up and the importance of the individual.

The other example is this: We have 12 salaries and a 13th salary as a Christmas bonus We also have a 14th salary. This is based on target figures set at the beginning of the year and then on purely economic results. At the beginning, my professional partner and I released this 14th salary to the employees in terms of amount and they divided it among themselves. For two years now, we have not been doing this either; instead, the employees themselves decide on the amount of the 14th salary and its distribution. Of course, my partner and I have a deadline in mind, but crazy enough, the employees' suggestion was always lower. It is a highly exciting observation, I am always positively surprised when I give my employees this trust.

Reflect: You have developed your own control systems and you think in terms of contribution margin customers and employees. Can you explain this?

J. Eckstädt: We disclose the contribution margins in the Monday round, our jourfix. We have a very strict time recording system for the contribution margins. The employees book their time on the mandate, so to speak. Then we check whether the mandate pays off.

We take the fee rate of the tax consultancy and compare it with the hourly wage of the employee, which is currently 85 Euros net. Let's take the bookkeeping of a small bookstore, which costs about 300 Euros. So the employee has 3-4 hours to do it. If this cannot be done in this time, the first thing I do is question the process of working with the client. Of course, there are differences in our company, whether a client submits sorted digitalized receipts or a "digital shoe box" with receipts. This is also how I see the process and not just the employee's working hours. The employee is of course also interested in keeping the process lean and in achieving a high contribution margin for his 14th salary and his personal freedom, etc.

The contribution margin of the employee comes from the 60s - 70s. An employee should generate three times as much revenue as he himself costs the organisation in terms of gross wages, plus 20% employer's contribution.

Another factor is that I do not hire anybody else myself. The employees do that for their team. If then the new employees do not reach their contribution margins, a strong effect takes place. Those who have hired these employees feel co-responsible and help the employee. How can I support you, do you need more bookkeeping, another year-end closing order... to reach the contribution margin, you need further training, etc.

Reflect: You practice a very collaborative leadership. What challenges do your employees face?

J. Eckstädt: "The price for more freedom is more responsibility", I always tell my employees. Sprenger says: "Find the right people." There are always people who do not want to and/or cannot be responsible, but I cannot grant them these high degrees of freedom, or if in doubt, they are not important to them. That is why we also conduct several interviews and test work to see whether the employee can imagine this.

Reflect: What challenges do you have as a manager?

J. Eckstädt: For example, the new management mandate is to say who is sick is sick. Our sickness rate is exorbitantly low. Here you have to make sure that employees also pay attention to each other.

We owners, for example, don't talk during the Monday rounds. We deliberately want to allow mistakes. I often notice that this is going in the wrong direction. Will it endanger the survival of the organisation? No, so we let it continue so that we can learn from it. Often I am surprised again, because in the end it works out right.

Another point is also to give the group their choice, for example in hiring staff, and to have humility when the employee only comes into the office at 11 o'clock, that's something you have to be able to bear as a manager.

Reflect: Do you think your approach of "not leading" is also transferable to other companies?

J. Eckstädt: The approach is not new. Laloux's teaching in the book Reinventing Organizations looks at large companies. As an example, I mention the Buurtzorg organisation from the Netherlands with 10,000 nurses. Here, self-directed teams of 10-15 people work together, there are links between the teams and an intranet so that knowledge can be shared. It is perhaps not yet well known in the industry, but I think it is transferable to any large organisation if the managers have the courage to summon up the humility to overcome their own ego and say that this group of people will make it without us or only in the role of supporters.

Reflect: Do you also see yourself as a supporter in your organization?

J. Eckstädt: It is a question of role understanding. I often ask myself which role I have and how I can support. In my organisation it is the view from the meta-level.

In the Monday round, for example, there is always a rag doll sitting at the table representing the customer. This often puts us in the role of the customer, because he doesn't care about many things as long as he has his evaluation correct and on a certain date. This requires space and in order to be able to live the complexity to the outside, we need very lean processes to the inside and a high level of trust. People have three brains (belly, heart and brain). We don't listen enough to our belly and heart and I think it is very important that these three are in harmony, then many things will be good.

Reflect: What else do you want to change?

J. Eckstädt: I always say: Responsibility cannot be delegated and trust starts with vulnerability. Dispensing responsibility and not controlling it, that is trust in my employees. I want a conversation to be perceived not as a control discussion, but as an informative discussion, always in the interest of the customer.

Reflect: Dear Mr. Eckstädt, thank you very much for the interview of a non-led organization and all the best for the future.

The interview was conducted by Jutta Merkel, Reflect


Book recommendation on the topic:

Laloux, Frederic (2014) Reinventing Organisations. Franz Vahlen Munich