As Chief Human Resources Officer at automotive supplier Schaeffler, Corinna Schittenhelm is jointly responsible for some 86,600 employees around the world. When it comes to digitalization, her area of the company faces significant challenges. The 49-year-old explains how she tackles them in our interview.
Ms Schittenhelm, electrification and digitalization are trends that are driving radical change in the automotive industry. What implications does this have for Schaeffler?
Both of these developments require our colleagues to be open towards anything new, whether it’s new technologies, products, processes, or working methods. There are lots of changes taking place. In human resources, for example, we are working on new office environments that are both open and spacious enough for creative project work, but at the same time provide others with a space to work in a quiet and focused manner. When it comes to products, we are experiencing a marked trend towards digitally-based service and maintenance – services that we want to offer in addition to our traditional products. In future, there will be a great deal of data that we can use to generate additional digital benefits for our customers.
What demands and expectations does this entail for your employees and job applicants?
In digitalization, we’re mainly looking for web, data, and IT specialists who have previously worked at a start-up and are therefore familiar, for example, with having greater freedoms in their work. They are used to working on several projects at the same time, and will work in agile development teams, for instance following the scrum methodology instead of long development cycles. I believe it is crucial to build bridges between the staff that have been at Schaeffler for several years and have made an incredibly significant contribution to the company’s success and these new employees, who are introducing fresh and valuable ideas. It is important to achieve a balance.
Is that difficult?
Training and professional development are two of the most important factors here. We invest in our staff and get them involved in these new topics. It’s not an option to just leave them behind and only invest in new sectors or areas of business. We have been running our very own Schaeffler Academy for some time, but in this context it has become even more important. It also works very closely with the digitalization team.
Can you be a little bit more specific?
For example, there are different learning methods: we work a lot with web-based training sessions and virtual classrooms. The key, however, is not just to tell people
that we’re going through a process of digitalization, but also why we’re doing it. We demonstrate and explain why it is necessary, and talk about which products can provide specific additional value to our customers.
We don’t just talk about digitalization, but also play an active role in shaping it.
Do you see project strategies like scrum or design thinking as buzzwords, or have you actually had some positive experience with them?
The way we see it, you should always take a close look at what is best for each individual task. For instance, we have central development areas where traditional methods and tools are used, but we also have scrum masters. They check what would work with our traditional development processes, what we can adapt and how, and where new approaches would make sense. With regard to design thinking, we have already held several workshops in heterogeneous teams, i.e. together with the different areas of business and the digitalization team. What we’ve experienced so far has been positive.
Schaeffler wants to create several hundred jobs in digitalization and e-mobility by 2020. What kind of people do you need most and why?
We need traditional data analysts, for example, for the simple reason that our company has enormous volumes of data, both internally and externally. After all, this isn’t just about our own processes, but also those of our customers. Furthermore, we need data architects to provide an overall structure. These will be joined by business managers who, together with the specialist department, will be able to develop new digital models. This is normally the process in relatively large projects and programs where, in turn, we are looking for technically skilled engineers.
Let’s assume I’m the kind of young, talented engineer you’re looking for. How would Schaeffler convince me to join the company?
We would make it clear that we have a very well developed digital agenda where specific projects have been assigned and launched. In the interview phase, we would show you what we’re working on – for example the internal optimization of our supply chain, or putting manufacturing processes in 75 plants around the world on one digital platform. And regarding customers and products, we would also show you what concrete projects we’ve set up, for example the electromechanical active roll control that we have on the market and want to equip with additional digital features. As an applicant, you would see credible examples showing that we don’t just talk about digitalization, but also play an active role in shaping it.
We don’t want to create a two-tier system.
What new approaches are necessary in HR marketing in order to reach young applicants?
We have noticed that young applicants often take a more straightforward route. They communicate with us directly. For example, they will simply write us an email through XING or LinkedIn saying that they have noticed the work our company is doing. That they are interested in working with us, regardless of whether a specific job is being advertised or not. This has become a relatively normal way of making contact. At the same time, there are more specialized recruitment events than there used to be, for instance for women in management positions. There is simply a broader spectrum than before.
Where and how is digitalization set up in the Schaeffler organization?
We made a conscious decision not to launch our digitalization program as a start-up somewhere outside of Schaeffler, but rather to keep it within the organization. We did this to prevent creating a two-tier system. On the other hand, we have digital beachheads in the specialist departments – experts that approach the central digital departments with a specific idea. They ask for support or collaboration in order to successfully develop specialist projects.
How large is the digital team?
If you look at digitalization only, the implementation of which we started last year, then we’ve got around 40 people. At the same time, we are also setting up mirror organizations in China and North America so that these national companies can push forward their own distinct digital topics. In China, for example, rail travel is particularly interesting as the rail network there is undergoing large-scale development. You need to have someone in those countries who can follow and provide support on what people are working on there. Digitalization cannot be managed centrally. It is far too diverse and fast-paced. But after all, that’s exactly what makes it so exciting!
Image credits: istock/Pinkypills, INA