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beyond corporate purpose

An interview with Åsa Lautenberg (Part 3)


Christoph Werner
Dr. Markus Röth
November 3, 2021
Agility, self-organization, employee experience, new work and digitization are current trends that are of equal concern to companies and their HR departments. We had the opportunity to talk at length with Åsa Lautenberg about these topics, exchange experiences and also discuss provocative theses.

The large technology companies in the HR environment such as SAP, Cornerstone or Workday have been launching various new apps and tools for data collection as part of their Employee Experience campaigns for some time now. In terms of content, these involve employee surveys, feedback or skills profiles with the aim of obtaining data that provides information about what employees think, want and are able to do. Is this now the central HR strategy of the future: permanent data collection and employee surveys in order to derive data-driven HR concepts?

Of course, it's super important to know the mood in the company and to know where there's trouble. I think a lot of employee surveys. Not so much about standardized surveys that are done once a year with a hundred questions, but a lot about regular, short pulse checks in which a few key KPIs are also asked regularly. But when it comes to finding out who can and wants what, I think you have to be more targeted. At Viessmann, we have developed ViGrow, a tool in which we have recorded all job profiles with the associated skills and competencies. An intelligent algorithm then linked this data to the existing organizational data, e.g., career paths derived from stored, current and historical job placements. The tool was thus able to show employees individual development paths and possible career paths. ViGrow was even able to generate different paths: a classic, linear path, but also more challenging ones with corresponding qualification measures and even a completely out-of-the-box path, which might be unusual, but would be thoroughly conceivable and feasible. The great thing about ViGrow is that the employees themselves worked with it and were able to explore for themselves what development opportunities there are, how they can achieve it, and whether there is perhaps a need for their own skills in a completely different area. I think something like this can be used very well and pointedly, for example, to support re-skilling and upskilling initiatives. The crucial thing is that employees show their willingness to take on responsibility and deal with their own potential and development opportunities by using the tool. After all, who knows the employees best? The employees themselves.

Was it possible to obtain corresponding data from the use of ViGrow itself, for example, which career paths are frequently displayed or which target positions are particularly attractive?

Basically, yes, but technologically we were still at the very beginning of the tool and did not yet have enough users to be able to de-rive such data validly. What we were able to evaluate, however, was the fact that the tool was actually much better accepted and used by employees than by managers. The employees were open to it, worked with it and very quickly got used to it. Unfortunately, this was not the case with the managers, which was very disappointing overall.

That brings us back to the executives. Or was the tool not suitable for managers?

No, it really has to do with the quality of the manager and his understanding of what the management role means. I have already had to introduce so many good and bad tools or accompany them in their application. There are many managers who simply do it well, who find their way to lead well even with a bad tool. And then there are the others. A fool with a tool is still a fool. There is humanity. And if you don't want to see the good in renewal, you won't use it wisely. They are not born leaders, because they do not have the ability to pick up people and motivate them.

Today, it is impossible to imagine the HR environment without technology. SAP even goes so far as to say that we have finally reached a point where technology can offer everything that our people - our people - expect. Is that the case, or where do we stand today in Germany in general with digitization in the HR environment?

I see huge opportunities there and no way around it. The possibilities are endless and very, very exciting. However, in the vast majority of cases, at least the ones I know in Germany, digitization is still about becoming seriously data-driven in the first place. That means using existing data not only for reporting purposes, but also to derive a strategic plan from it. The interesting thing about data and HR is that, unlike in finance or sales, it is always about people and people are not predictable. For example, employee surveys can look one way one month and completely different the next. This does not mean that the figures for one month are wrong, but that there are also human factors involved in the figures. And that's where the challenge lies: to take this seriously and to handle it accordingly. I believe the first step is to create this fundamental understanding of what data-driven HR actually means. Only then comes the second and more exciting part, namely what is meant by people analytics. Looking for linkages, dependencies and being open to what the numbers teach. Until about five years ago, HR people just thought they were so smart and knew best what people needed. Now we're talking to them too, engaging them and wanting to know "What do you really need?" And data-driven HR means learning from the numbers and being open to connections and linkages we may not even be aware of. Then applying the insights to be even more efficient is really exciting. But I don't know of any company in Germany that is already this far along.

Is this perhaps also due to the fact that IT skills and technical understanding are not very well developed in HR departments? We have often found that HR departments are quick to refer technical issues to the internal IT department, and that it is almost frowned upon to deal seriously and in detail with technology within HR.

Yes, I also believe that many HR employees lack an understanding of IT. They are perhaps also a little comfortable. After all, there is an IT department. But to be honest, I think we can no longer afford to wait until they have time for us. And especially for dealing with analytics and data, it is necessary to build up the skills internally in HR. That's why I've al-ways made sure in my recruiting that in the last 2 years I only hire HR people who either have strong IT skills or at least have an affinity for working with IT. In the future, there probably won't be an HR solution that isn't mapped to IT in some form. It may also come a bit late, especially if you look at the training for traditional HR employees in Germany, where the targeted teaching of IT and analytics skills has been lacking to date. So we have to take care of this ourselves and drive up-skilling in the HR department with high speed and priority. I don't know why this has generally received so little attention, even though everyone should have noticed that the future will go in this direction, or is already going in this direction. Perhaps there is also a bit of pride: "We are the people experts and that's exactly what we want to remain. But there are really good IT people who are also good at HR and vice versa. And we need to find them now. In addition, we should train them programmatically in the future. That's what I'm going to take with me and I'm going to work on getting HR training in Germany up to speed and setting some new requirements for it.

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