Interview with Arndt Frischkorn: Work 4.0 - Why digital transformation needs the whole human being

For a manufacturing company like automotive supplier Saint-Gobain Mobility, Bearings business unit (GE Bearings), digitization brings its own unique challenges. As Leader Transformation & Capture Support, Arndt Frischkorn is responsible for the transformation of GE Bearings' largest location (Willich, Germany) into an agile organization. Since 2013, the business unit with 1000 employees has been working with new organisational structures and forms of cooperation. In an interview, Arndt explains why digital transformation does not only require further professional development, but also a focus on the overall personality of the human being.

mgm: Arndt, you will be speaking at on 11 September about the fact that digitisation is strongly aimed at personal development. Why is that?

Arndt Frischkorn: Digital transformation is primarily discussed against the background of technical issues. In my opinion, this is not going far enough. The more digitized and automated, the more focus is placed on the part of the work that cannot be digitized or automated. In addition to all joint creative processes, this also includes the way in which we lead our employees and ultimately ourselves. I think a company has to try to consider the whole organisation, the teams and the individuals equally. We then speak of the levels "I, We and It".

mgm: What is the reason for the necessity of transformation at all?

Arndt Frischkorn: The automotive industry is probably facing the greatest transformation in its history, autonomous driving, electrification, micro-mobility, etc. The automotive industry is also facing a number of challenges. In order to better respond to this change with increasing complexity and to be able to react more effectively to our customers' needs (keyword VUCA), we embarked on the journey of agile transformation almost six years ago. In addition, we have the philanthropic ambition to create a meaningful work environment in which we try to give every employee the opportunity to grow and develop their potential.

mgm: What have you changed in your organizational form and your working methods?

Arndt Frischkorn: First of all, we consistently try to think our organisation from the customer's point of view and continuously adapt our structures to our customers' processes. We are in the process of dissolving rigid departments and transforming them into smaller cross-functional teams with a clear customer focus.
The empowerment of our frontline teams (teams that have direct customer contact) plays a special role here. For us, empowering means enabling our teams more and more to make all relevant decisions in day-to-day business directly within their team, without the detour of long decision-making processes. Last but not least, we have worked out our common values, called spirits, which form the basis for our cooperation. Almost 80 % of all employees of the organisation were involved.

mgm: What kind of leadership is needed in the digital age?

Arndt Frischkorn: Flat hierarchies, frontline empowerment, self-organized teams, etc. are all excellent concepts, but they affect the people who are confronted with them in their innermost being and question their self-image.

In order to successfully shape such a transformation and not lose our employees, we need managers who are not only convinced of the common path, but who are also emotionally able to go along with and help shape such a change.

We are of the opinion that classical training courses on the necessary leadership competencies in the areas of change management, emotional intelligence, etc. are too short of the mark or are only suitable to a limited extent when dealing with such serious changes. This is why we have so far taken 10% of our workforce (managers, key influencers and talents) on a very intensive journey. More will follow.

mgm: And how do you do it?

Arndt Frischkorn: A person is first and foremost shaped by the sum of all the experiences he has had in his life. In the course of life we have learned that we can overcome problems and conflicts with certain solution strategies. Proven strategies result in patterns of behaviour, which we always fall back on. We particularly enjoy falling into these behavioural patterns when we come under pressure or stress, for example in change situations. At the same time, we exclude parts of our personality that we once decided were bad or undesirable or because they did not lead to the desired success.

In order to keep a team performing as a leader in a variety of situations, I need to have access to all solution strategies instead of automatically falling into the patterns I have learned in the past.

However, new solution strategies only open up when I intensively deal with myself and understand where these behavior patterns come from and why I behave the way I behave (keyword Limiting Beliefs). This is where our Leadership Program comes in. At some point this will open up whole new scope for action. As a manager, you can react more flexibly and prudently and lead employees accordingly.

mgm: Can you give us an example of this?

Arndt Frischkorn: For example, I have a rather analytical character. When I am confronted with a problem, my first impulse is to take a step back and collect information. I want to understand everything before I feel comfortable making a decision. But it is also clear: If a decision has to be made quickly, then this is not the optimal solution strategy. If I understand why I prefer to fall into this automatism, I can react differently and more flexibly to such situations and choose a more suitable solution strategy.

mgm: But you can't do these intensive processes with all 1000 employees ... What happens on the shop floor level?

Arndt Frischkorn: We are a manufacturing company and our blue collar employees represent the majority of our workforce. This presents us with challenges, as we do not have the resources to go into depth with all employees in the same way. Nevertheless, we have developed various concepts and modules that we can offer our employees on a broad basis, e.g. in the form of various day workshops. Here, too, the first thing is to reflect: Who am I, where do I come from, what influences my behaviour?

mgm: You are there in an ongoing, also in a permanent process. How far along are you on your way?

Arndt Frischkorn: We have been on this journey for six years now and feel right in the middle of it. And it's gonna be like that for a long time. Actually, this is precisely one of the essential goals of transformation: adaptation and change are simply part of everyday life and no longer perceived as something extraordinary. One tries out, learns, changes, tries out again, and so on. Similar to a living organism.

mgm: Was there a situation in which you noticed particularly clearly that you were already on the right track?

Arndt Frischkorn: About two years ago, our group of companies was hit by a major cyber attack. Important digital systems have failed. At our location, we partly did not know what we had to produce for which customer. We had to access our paper containers in order to get information about upcoming production orders. In this exceptional situation, important decisions had to be taken quickly. In this case, however, our IT experts and specialists with many years of professional experience have taken over. Our managers "let go" and had the confidence that the experts would get the situation under control again. That worked well and we emerged from this situation almost unscathed. It was nice to see how our organizational structure flexibly adapted to this extreme situation.