»Leadership requires courage«
The implementation of the newly defined leadership essential guidelines is a top priority for Schaeffler’s management. Chief Executive Officer Klaus Rosenfeld and Corinna Schittenhelm, Chief Human Resources Officer, discussed the topic of what characterizes good leadership.
“Leading into the Future” is the guiding theme of Schaeffler AG’s annual report for 2017. What do you mean by that?
Klaus Rosenfeld (KR): As is the case with many other companies, the rapidly changing market conditions and competitive environment we are currently experiencing require that we realign the Schaeffler Group for the future. Our strategy concept “Mobility for tomorrow” and the excellence program “Agenda 4 plus One” with its 20 initiatives serve as the basis for this further development. Any major transformation requires the involvement of a suitable leadership model. Having laid the necessary foundations for that internally in 2017, it was time to communicate the leadership issue to the outside world. This is why we chose “Leading into the Future” as the motto for our annual report.
“Leadership & Corporate Values” is one of the central initiatives within our “Agenda 4 plus One” and you, Ms. Schittenhelm, are responsible for it. What’s it all about?
Corinna Schittenhelm (CS): The “Leadership & Corporate Values” initiative launched at the beginning of 2017 is a central component of our transformation program. In order to have our employees successfully accompany us in the upcoming change process, we provide a framework for our executives that shows them what we understand good leadership to be and how this should be reflected in day-to-day management behavior. Our six Leadership Essentials, and the behavioral examples embodied therein, describe what constitutes excellent leadership at Schaeffler. What do we expect from our executives? How do we want them to behave and how do we lead our employees into the future? By holding workshops in all regions of the Schaeffler world and involving executives from all levels, we jointly examined where we are already excelling at the present time and where we need to improve. Based on the results of this interactive and global collaboration, six Leadership Essentials have been defined, including the associated behavioral descriptions.
As a manager, it is important for me to encourage my employees, position them according to their strengths, and support them.
In addition to the six Leadership Essentials, the Schaeffler Group’s leadership model also includes three superordinate Leadership Principles. How does that fit together?
KR: When I was appointed Chief Executive Officer, a sign was needed that things were going to change. I was mainly concerned with trustful interaction, fewer silos, increased transparency, and more teamwork. On this basis, we created the triad of “transparency, trust, and teamwork.” This was the starting signal, so to speak, for the cultural change we initiated in 2014. Since this triad has lost none of its relevance even today, we have included it in our leadership model as so-called Leadership Principles. In this way, these principles complement our new Leadership Essentials.
Without any doubt, leadership is also a cultural issue. This cannot be achieved without a foundation of values. What values does the Schaeffler Group stand for?
KR: Schaeffler is a family business that is shaped by its founders’ and shareholders’ way of working and thinking. We want to preserve and cultivate this foundation of values. When developing our strategy concept “Mobility for tomorrow,” we therefore agreed on four key corporate values: “Sustainable,” “Innovative,” “Excellent,” and “Passionate.” These four values form the eighth pillar of our strategy. They are also the basis for the “Leadership & Corporate Values” initiative.
For me, being a role model, showing respect, and having courage are the three fundamental elements of good leadership. These same elements are equally important when facing major transformations.
Back to business: The Schaeffler Group now has more than 90,000 employees. What are you doing to ensure that the six Leadership Essentials are indeed brought to life at Schaeffler worldwide?
CS: Human Resources supports the worldwide implementation of the new leadership concept. The Leadership Essentials will be reflected in all HR processes and tools. For example, they play a crucial role in the selection and development of executives. And we gear all management training courses toward the defined essentials. In addition, we are currently testing the introduction of what is known as upward feedback. During the course of a moderated workshop, employees provide feedback to their own superiors about how they experienced their behavior over the past year, measured by the Leadership Essentials. Furthermore, workshops are currently being held to make the Leadership Essentials and the associated leadership behavior tangible at all management levels. And of course, the picture would not be complete without appropriate consequences. In our annual Global Talent Reviews, we will now be discussing and evaluating leaders according to the desired behavior – so now how they achieve their results is also important. This is how we align our HR processes and tools to the newly defined Leadership Essentials. But this is still no guarantee for a change in management culture that is a living and breathing entity! Whether all this will be successful ultimately depends on each individual leader and on as many good role models as possible.
It will take time to sustainably anchor the new Leadership Essentials in the company. How much time are you allowing for that and when should the process be completed?
CS: The implementation of our “Leadership & Corporate Values” initiative is planned for 2020. But of course, clearly the implementation of a new leadership culture will not end on a particular date. It’s an ongoing process. Our executives are expected to constantly measure their leadership behavior against the defined essentials and align it accordingly. In 2017, our focus was on defining and developing the Leadership Essentials; from now on, we will turn our attention to communicating and implementing this new understanding of leadership. This will include the described adjustment of HR processes and tools. Additionally, we must also enable our executives to embrace and display the new, desired leadership behavior – on a permanent basis.
If you want to make a lasting change, you must have thought about the prerequisites too. What are you doing to make your initiative a success?
CS: The key lever for me is that every individual executive considers the question of what the Leadership Essentials in his or her own area of responsibility mean for him or herself. To what extent do I myself live up to this claim, and where can and do I want to change my behavior? We have initiated two measures to kick off this process of self-reflection: One is a workshop involving executives and their direct employees. These workshops, which incidentally first started at board level, reflect on how good the respective team already is in implementing the essentials. The second measure is the so-called “Leadership Roadshow,” in which members of the Executive Board exchange views on the implementation of the Leadership Essentials with executives at all levels in the regions and divisions. As the Executive Board, we make it absolutely clear how important this issue is to us and that this is not a short-term course of action. And we learn from other executives about their perception and ideas on leadership – and what we can improve together.
What role does communication play in this context?
KR: Communication plays a vital, if not decisive, role. Those who don’t like to communicate have a hard time leading people well. Leadership communication should always be direct, clear, and provided with minimal delay. And it should be consistent. Among other things, we regularly send out notifications from the CEO to all employees. The contents are agreed upon beforehand by the Executive Board. What counts for us here is: “One Schaeffler – One Team – One Voice.”
But leadership always has a personal element. How would you describe your own leadership style?
CS: As a manager, it is important for me to encourage my employees, position them according to their strengths, and support them. I communicate my expectations very clearly – but I rarely tell them how to proceed. In my opinion, employees can develop only if they are given the scope to do so. A recent upward feedback confirmed this leadership behavior, reflecting that I am authentic and approachable and that I allow my employees a lot of freedom in handling their tasks.
In times of major changes, a CEO has a special leadership responsibility. How do you deal with that? What is your concept of good leadership?
KR: According to my understanding, leadership must always center on people. This can only be done with a certain amount of empathy. In addition, the person bearing leadership responsibility should be a good role model. Great respect for those who want or have to be led is a vital part of leadership. This is not always easy, especially in day-to-day business. But it is an inseparable prerequisite for successful leadership. Leadership also requires courage. The courage to take on responsibility and make decisions. Especially uncomfortable decisions. For me, being a role model, showing respect, and having courage are the three fundamental elements of good leadership. These same elements are equally important when facing major transformations.