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Digital transformation: a challenge for managers

16.9.2019
Digital transformation: a challenge for managers

The entire automotive sector is undergoing a major evolution, which will lead to new challenges in terms of human resources as well, above all for managers. Here are the main ones.

When a big company such as the Volkswagen Group undergoes a transformation process like the one currently in progress, its management is required to take on new challenges. The processes, skills, rhythms and way of working change, meaning that it is essential for managers to adopt, and if possible reinforce, a managerial style which is able to understand people, help them and inspire them.

In other words, to place employees in the position to do better, to be more responsible and to make progress toward a common goal. “A capable leader can answer questions and at the same time motivate people to work together, recognising and developing individual strengths,” explains Wolfgang Jenewein, Professor of Business Administration at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.

The meaning of modern leadership

The Volkswagen Group is a clear example of this situation. Within it, in the managerial culture, are very well defined strengths, such as professionalism, which must be maintained at all costs. “But leadership is something different. In the past it wasn’t necessary to focus too much on this aspect, but things have changed,” adds Gunnar Kilian, Member of the Board of Management responsible for Human Resources atVolkswagen Group.

While previously the world was more stable and companies were able to work on longer-term plans, now things evolve rapidly and decisions must be taken quickly. The decision-making process must therefore become much faster, in order to adapt to the new circumstances. And, as a natural consequence, managers must be able to count on a close-knit team they can delegate greater responsibility to. There will no longer be time to examine every single situation and give approval from above as the best expert; it will be essential, on the other hand, to have a strongly motivated team with the best possible know-how.

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Wolfgang Jenewein, Professor of Business Administration (left) and Gunnar Kilian, Member of the Board of the Volkswagen Group (right).

The no blaming, no complaining, no excuses approach is an interesting one – only responsibility counts, following the model of the Navy Seals. According to Jenewein “It may sound a bit dramatic, but if you can establish it as a culture, then you have removed many obstacles and can focus on the aspects that you can influence”.

The “digital tornado”

The automotive industry is inside a ‘digital tornado’, and will be for another two or three years and probably for the next five years as well. Other industries such as the music or media industry were hit earlier. Now it is the automotive industry’s turn,” says Wolfgang Jenewein. “The Volkswagen Group is enormous and interconnected with society at all levels. It has started down the right path, but the management cannot do it alone: 660,000 employees worldwide – that’s a lot of people – everyone has to join in”.

Digitalisation can undoubtedly increase efficiency, but will also inevitably modify methods of cooperation. Some aspects of office work will no longer exist, other higher-value activities will change, and other, new ones will undoubtedly come to the fore. The important thing is to draw the right conclusions on future development.

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Employees, a precious resource

Analysing and taking decisions is the task of personnel department and managers, like finding the way to update and retrain the workforce to prepare them for the new activities,” according to Gunnar Kilian. “For me, guiding this transformation means understanding 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”.

From this point of view, it is also important to highlight those skills that people use in their free time and which can often also be useful at work. For this reason the Volkswagen Group is setting up projects like Faculty 73, a training program which aims at cultural, personal and professional growth, to inspire employees and engage them in the transformation process.

SourceVolkswagen AG

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