Mr Jenewein, what does a modern manager have to do today who wants to shape the transformation processes within a company?
Wolfgang Jenewein: A manager has always had to understand people and inspire them. Currently it’s just that the manager doesn’t know the way as well as they used to. So it is increasingly more about empowering people, enabling them to go their own way, and making progress in the interest of the common goal. A competent leader, together with the people surrounding them, can answer the “purpose” question and at the same time motivate people to work together. He or she can coach and recognize and develop individual strengths.
Gunnar Kilian: This can be seen very clearly in the example of Volkswagen. We have distinctive strengths in our management culture, such as professionalism, and we must ensure that we maintain this strength. However, I believe that in the past we focused too little on actual leadership. That wasn’t necessary either; the world was more stable, as Wolfgang Jenewein says. We were able to work on longer-term plans.
What does this mean for the future?
Gunnar Kilian: In a world in which decisions are being made increasingly quickly, we will inevitably discover that we have to adapt decision making processes at a faster pace also, to adapt to new circumstances. It will be important for managers to be able to take their team with them while at the same time placing more trust in them. It will no longer be possible for the person at the top to re-examine every situation and to top it off with their seal of approval as the best expert. Instead, they must get the best possible know-how and motivation out of their team. Only then can we be successful in the transformation.
Mr Jenewein, you focus on the concept of ownership – how to you interpret that in the context of leadership?
Wolfgang Jenewein: Ownership is important because existing structures and processes have less and less permanence and therefore responsibility is expected and must be assumed at all levels. This is important in order to get answers and solutions from all levels in a period where long-term plans no longer work.
...is a business economist and professor at the University of St. Gallen. He also works as a coach and consultant for companies and additionally to that is also an author and speaker.
What does that mean in concrete terms?
Wolfgang Jenewein: For me this means: no blaming, no complaining, no excuses. We are following the concept of the Navy SEALS: no blaming, no complaints, no excuses, only responsibility counts. That is a bit dramatic, but if you can establish it as a culture, as a DNA at Volkswagen, then you have removed many obstacles and can focus on the aspects that you can influence.
All sectors are affected by the rapid change. Are there nevertheless specific characteristics of the automotive industry?
Wolfgang Jenewein: I always use the image of the digital tornado, and Volkswagen has been right in the middle of it, for two, three years now and probably for the next five years as well. Other industries such as the music, or media industry have been hit earlier. At the moment it’s the car where everything is changing. And since Volkswagen is the largest automobile group and affects so many people, society as a whole should hope and support that this group will continue to prosper and create transformation. At the moment Volkswagen has recognized the signs and is moving the right levers, but 660,000 employees worldwide — that’s a lot of people, everyone has to join in. The Board of Management will not make it alone, as many people as possible will have to join in.
How can executives react appropriately to digitization and even use it for themselves and the company?
Gunnar Kilian: We, the industry, are not the first in the digitization process. Banks and insurers have long gone down this path. First of all, there is a classic management task: Where do we invest sensibly in digitization because we can use it to increase efficiency? The other side of the coin is how digitization will change cooperation. In many areas of our industry it may not be as disruptive as initially feared. Nevertheless, many things will change: We will see that employment is shifting, that in indirect areas and above all clerical tasks are being eliminated, but other, even higher-value tasks are also changing. It is now important to draw the right conclusions from discernible developments in good time.
How is Volkswagen preparing for this change?
Gunnar Kilian: It is the task of the personnel department, but also of the management, to analyze and decide: How can we make the team we have on board today so fit through qualification that we can successfully bring our workforce into new activities? For me, this is the core expectation of our management. For me, transformation is not about reducing staff on the one hand and hiring new staff on the other. For me, transformation means that we as management answer the question of what kind of job a 40-year-old today — whose current task will likely no longer be required — will be able to perform in the future and in such a way that they can fully contribute their strengths.
Aren’t the required professional qualifications changing rapidly?
Gunnar Kilian: Yes, but I’m not just talking about formal qualifications. Often our employees also have strengths that I only find out as a superior when I ask my employees: What do you actually do in your free time? There will be colleagues who are politically active, who for example have experience in councils, in administrative matters, in the organization of associations, in the planning and implementation of projects, others can program, so that we can qualify them as software developers. We are already doing this very successfully with the Faculty 73, where some participants also build on the know-how they have acquired in their free time. To live up to this responsibility, to lead employees, to identify their abilities, to inspire them and to win them for change — for me this counts as one of the best parts of management in the transformation process.
Wolfgang Jenewein: A great deal of work has already been done at Volkswagen, you can be proud of that. The next step is to arouse curiosity and interest in these changes. I think the people at Volkswagen are ready, you just have to activate them and inspire them for the upcoming changes, and that goes beyond the emotion of curiosity. If there is a lot of curiosity, then the change is not perceived so dramatically, then the change is also accepted and shaped. So focus on curiosity, that would be my tip.