Interview with Member of the Siemens Managing Board, Janina Kugel
BY SANDY STRASSER
Companies seeking to be both sustainable and globally successful must uncompromisingly face the challenges of continuous digitisation. For these high-reaching and specialised transitions a leader who operates according to the right philosophy is an absolute prerequisite. Janina Kugel is exactly that person. She has opened us the doors to one of the most important technology companies in the world and tells how Siemens tackles it all.
Mrs Kugel, being on the Siemens Managing Board you hold a key position. As a Labour Director, you are responsible for over 340,000 employees throughout the world. How quickly were you able to find your feet in your new role? What are the challenges?
Janina Kugel: The challenges are complex. Technological changes, securing our global competitiveness, the associated human resources adjustments in some areas, but also establishing capacities in others, or changing the leadership culture within the corporation. On top of all these, we are a globally-active enterprise. Across the globe, we have subsidiaries, offices and employees of virtually every cultural background; in Germany alone, we have staff from more than 120 countries. This diversity is a huge advantage, although it does require a tremendous amount of work to install and enshrine a joint strategy and shared values. But this is nonetheless an appealing task.
Traditionally, employee representatives in companies like yours are very powerful and would like to exert influence when it comes to certain matters. How do you strike a balance between strictness and accommodation?
J. K.: Firstly, I would like to say that employee co-determination and the dialogue between equal partners has proven itself to be successful in Germany. Here, the rationale is that all parties involved have an interest in the company doing well – in our case Siemens. Admittedly, we are not always in agreement when it comes to the ‘how’, but that is just in the nature of things. Digitalisation, securing our global competitiveness and the changing demands on our employees associated with this are challenges, and not just for us. To achieve these, we have to embark on new paths and find new solutions. But we have always been successful at jointly finding solutions.
Siemens is a player in an increasingly complex and fast-changing competitive environment. The quality of the working environment is of decisive importance to be able to take on the challenges with regards to speed, adaptability and innovative capacity. How do you cater to the demands of your employees for motivation and creativity?
J. K.: Our professional environment and the desire for flexible working is indeed gaining importance, and not just with Generation Y. This is the only way that a company can remain attractive to smart people both now and in the future. Here, we already offer plenty, starting with home office working all the way through to flexitime, part-time models and even sabbaticals. In parallel, we are adapting our IT infrastructure, with the aim of further simplifying mobile and flexible working. And, last but not least, a lot depends on the management. It has to provide its employees with the requisite scope to develop ideas. This demands open communication. The challenge is the fact that many generations with differing concepts of the perfect workplace are employed in a company like ours. And to reconcile all of these ideas is not always easy.
What does diversity mean to you? What is the philosophy behind it?
J. K.: That’s very simple: diversity is a success factor. We live in an increasingly networked and global world, projects are carried out across national borders and teams are made up of members of the most diverse cultures and backgrounds, not to mention our customers themselves. This requires us to be open-minded and flexible. We simply cannot afford to do without the talents of women or newly arrived skilled workers, for example. I am convinced that our competitiveness increases when we actively bring together different people and cultures. Opportunities are identified and better exploited.
Within this context, what strategic areas do you focus on within the company?
J. K.: I do not see diversity limited to a single area. It already starts with supporting new blood in schools – for example, to awaken interest in technical professions among girls. This commitment seamlessly continues in our training programmes, internal development offerings and in our recruitment of new employees. But the significance of diversity is very local. Each country has its own set of challenges that they must take on.
Concretely, what does the work-life balance look like at Siemens?
J. K.: We want to offer our employees a suitable environment for making their work as flexible as possible. Over the past few years, we have achieved a great deal in this respect. Here, such instruments as flexible working hours, sabbaticals, in-house childcare offerings or financial support for external child supervision are worthy of mention. We know from our employees that these offerings are well received, which is why we are continuing to expand this commitment.
What further steps are you pursuing with regards to creating a modern working environment?
J. K.: The trend towards greater flexibility will continue. This is, for example, expressed in architectural terms by our new headquarters in Munich. The future group head office embodies our view of ourselves as a cosmopolitan, innovative and transparent enterprise. The new building is open and large parts of the ground floor are freely accessible to the public. And we are creating a flexible, inspiring working environment for our employees. Throughout the world, we are spearheading this topic under the ‘Siemens Office’ moniker. I recently visited our new offices in Doha and Cairo, where we also focus on a flexible choice of workplace and the deployment of state-of-the-art IT, among other things.
‘Horizontal leadership in a digital world’: What does this mean and what benefits does this aspect of company management harbour? What tasks does this entail for you?
J. K.: Management is becoming more horizontal; in other words, less hierarchical and more team-oriented. Today, it no longer suffices to tell your employees what to do, you have to integrate and convince them, coach them and provide them with leeway. To this end, the Siemens assessment of managers not only includes whether they achieve their targets, for example, it also focuses on how they achieve them. Managing in a horizontal manner means using open communication as well as the know-how of all our employees, beyond departmental boundaries and all levels of the hierarchy. I, for instance, use social media in my day-to-day work. Through our in-house social network or by e-mail, everybody within the company can contact me and will also receive a response from me. Frequently, I hear the complaint that this is too time-consuming. And, indeed, direct communication with employees takes up a great deal of my time. But this is the only way in which it is possible to link and exploit the various competencies and approaches that a company requires for the necessary change. And that, too, is management.
Which of these approaches are detectable in European industrial enterprises? What comparisons do you draw to America?
J. K.: I prefer to compare our situation to that in Asia. Here, employees traditionally have a greater affinity for using electronic tools and solutions. Messenger services, telephone conferences and teleworking jobs are far more widespread there. I believe that the willingness to engage beyond levels of the hierarchy is more a question of the management culture of individual managers than a comparison of countries. However, I am seeing an increasing number of managers and companies open to managing differently – and being successful.
In your opinion, why are women, above all, benefiting from digital change?
J. K.: Women generally have an open and communicative management style, frequently relying more on networks than on hierarchies. This is undoubtedly an advantage with regards to the changing demands on companies and their organisation in the digital age. Equally, I am observing that young women, above all, are just as comfortable with digital technologies as their male counterparts. Here, it is clearly tangible that old stereotypes no longer apply. So-called digital natives are not a gender-specific phenomenon. But is this sufficient to conclude that women benefit from this? That is also dependent on many other factors.
How can you motivate them to accept digital change? How do you prepare them for change?
J. K.: I do not regard digital change as a specifically female challenge. Young women are just as familiar with computers and smartphones as men of the same age. For us, it is in fact decisive that we train, and further develop, our staff as a whole with regards to the requirements of the digital economy. Digital change, for example, is accelerating the trend towards lifelong learning. Today, everybody must be far more willing to continually develop their skills than in the past. And we are addressing this. Last year alone, Siemens invested more than half a billion euros in training and further developing its employees. We are firmly convinced that this money has been well invested.
Is your office completely digital, or do you still resort to pen and paper?
J. K.: I freely admit that I cannot entirely dispense with paper. Meanwhile, the majority of processes within a company like ours is however ‘digital in structure’, and this also applies to my day-to-day work. And like everybody who is on the road a lot, I conduct much of my work on a smartphone, tablet and notebook, which I actually find simplifies matters and perceive less as a disadvantage.
What benefits do you see to having more female managers in top management?
J. K.: There are just as many women as men on the planet. Should it therefore not be normal that this is also reflected in top management? Fundamentally, I believe that it is hugely beneficial for managements to have different views represented in their decision-making processes. Needless to say, I am not blind and can clearly see that this has so far not been achieved anywhere in the world. But I firmly believe that the world will continue to change in this regard. And I am supporting this to the best of my abilities. But one thing is also clear: if, like me, you are not just a manager, but also a mother, you very quickly learn to be highly efficient. After all, I also want to have enough time for my family.
How must a woman ‘tick’ to get to this point, to retain her position and to be taken seriously?
J. K.: The demands on women in top management are the same as those on men. At Siemens, people are appointed to positions based on their personal qualifications and performance. This applies both to me and all others. Fundamentally, women should have the courage to take on new challenges throughout their careers and also be self-confident. Male colleagues are frequently less reserved when it comes to taking on challenges. In contrast, women question their qualifications and abilities for taking on challenging tasks more often. Wrongfully so. But management is not always simple, something that you must also cope with.
In your view, what do you think politicians can do support digital change in business?
J. K.: There are numerous things, starting with expanding the network infrastructure through to establishing a forward-looking education and research policy. What interests me, as an HR director, is the question of how labour law can be updated to correspond to the requirements of digitalisation. Or, put differently: how do we strike a balance between the necessary rest time, on the one hand, and the desire for greater flexibility, on the other?
Your advice to all those who want to successfully manage a globally-active enterprise?
J. K.: Engage with the people and their views. Within a global organisation, there are numerous options that enable us to choose a promising path.
Janina Kugel has been responsible for Human Resources on the Managing Board of Siemens AG since 2015. She is Labour Director and Chief Diversity Officer and hence globally responsible for People & Leadership, encompassing the areas of HR Strategy, Talent Acquisition, Learning and Education, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Diversity. She began her career at Siemens AG in 2001 as Director Group Strategy in Communications.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue Q2 2016. Picture credit © http://www.siemens.com/presse