It is extremely difficult to change a previously successful organization that is in crisis. Jürgen Klinsmann and his team faced this problem in 2004. With the third place at the 2006 World Cup, they proved that it can work.

It is particularly difficult to change an organization that used to be successful, but is now in crisis. That is exactly the situation Jurgen Klinsmann found themselves in in 2004. However, by reaching third place at the World Cup in 2006, they proved that it can be done

In 2008, Professor Dr. Wolfgang Jenewein commented on this phenomenon to the Harvard Business Manager. With his team, he is trying to find out how the successful change management was achieved at the DFB in just two years.

Here, we will look at the change management project at the DFB at the macro level.

1. Create a sense of urgency

Jürgen Klinsmann had studied German football since 1954. His conclusion: both the DFB and the German national team were in urgent need of reform. Some examples: hardly any of the active players from the German national team were playing internationally, and there were also deficits in training theory and sports science.

Klinsmann at the time: “While our foreign competitors continue to develop, we have not advanced in many areas. In the German national team, there was always only one coach and an assistant coach, who were responsible for everything. Nobody questioned anything. They always worked with the same structures. Yet,  there is so much money involved, there should be professional coaching for the every aspect of the team.”

2. Establish strong leadership coalitions

One thing was clear: Klinsmann only wanted to work with the “best of the best.” The responsibility should be spread over several shoulders. Nevertheless, he demanded sole decision-making rights for all topics related to sports. Klinsmann told the Harvard Business Manager: “In addition to co-trainers, managers, sports psychiatrists, fitness coaches, scouts and media representatives, my management team should also include a national team office to handle all organizational matters. I wanted to create a highly professional environment with team members whom I could trust blindly. I was uncompromising in these demands and I told the DFB: “If you want me, then go all the way or not at all.” ”

Klinsmann won both Joachim Löw (assistant coach) and Oliver Bierhoff (teammanager). These two staff decisions should be particularly sustainable.

3. Develop and communicate the vision and strategy

The vision was courageous, indeed almost absurd: “We want to win the world championship in our own country in 2006.” The triumvirate added another component to the sporting goal. They wanted to get the German people inspired about football again. Oliver Bierhoff said it best: “Every child in Germany should have the desire to become a national player again.”

This also had an impact on strategy and game philosophy. England was the measure of all things, at least in terms of energy and emotions. Mistakes are better than waiting, space gain better than ball possession.

The players were also involved in the strategy. Conclusion: they had to create an offensive and aggressive game strategy.

4. Let the game flow and give the players more freedom

“All theory is gray – the field’s what matters.” Klinsmann, Löw and Bierhoff also knew this. Finally, the smart ideas had to be implemented.

Klinsmann took over the underestimated role of a facilitator. He had demanded the “best of the best,” so now he let the experts do their jobs. The team followed a strict separation of sporting and organizational tasks.

The athletic record was quite impressive at the start. Quietly, however, it was not a change project. For instance, Klinsmann’s team made some unpopular personnel decisions. The qualitative development of the team was at the forefront. On the other hand, the responsible people took some clear criticism.

5. Achieve visible success and secure it

As a World Cup host, the DFB team did not have to prove themselves. With only friendly games, it was difficult to show short-term success despite the vision, strategy and new processes.

The Confederations Cup took place in Germany approximately one year after Klinsmann took over. The German team got third place after a good tournament performance. In addition, the team managed to implement the planned offensive game culture.

Sports psychologist Hans-Dieter Hermann at the time: “The players have noticed: What Jürgen Klinsmann tells us is true. The tactics, the fitness, the psyche, the environment – everything is going well, and suddenly one has begun to believe in the vision, winning the World Cup. The Cup was certainly the proof of concept.”

6. Anchoring new approaches in everyday life

According to Wolfgang Jenewein, change projects are often focused on one person. The suspicion was also obvious in the case of Jürgen Klinsmann. But it did not go so far. The project was not the “Klinsmann” – but the “DFB project.” This fact became clear even after his resignation in 2006. Löw and Bierhoff seamlessly took over the project and have continued it since then.

Klinsmann at that time: “The solution to the problems did not come from an individual, but from the community – leading means to serve a cause.”

➡️ Continue reading in part 2