"Transformation hurts!" Interview with Sophia Rödiger, Lead Global Transformation at Daimler Mobility

October 27, 2020 - We have often read and heard it: The automotive industry is in the midst of change. In a transformation. However, what is actually behind this buzzword? In an interview with Sophia Rödiger, business psychologist and transformation expert as well as Lead Global Transformation at Daimler Mobility, we talk about the goals of transformation and how important unconventional thinkers are.

Sophia, what does transformation mean in general?

Transformation is a fundamental change of the existing norm on four different levels:

1. the level of values, culture and strategy

2. the level of leadership, attitude and learning

3. the level of behavior, working methods, etc.

4. the level of structures, projects and processes

When radical shifts occur in all these dimensions, we speak of transformation and no longer just of "change".

What does that mean for Daimler Mobility?

For Daimler Mobility it means the transformation of the entire business model and our organizational structure. This goes hand in hand with new roles, new decision-making processes, increased efficiency, and above all with new technology, new approaches and opportunities.

So, transformation is not only about mindset?

Definitely not. Sure, you can write any new mindset or attitude on a PowerPoint slide. However, if the framework conditions in the organization are not the right ones, transformation will fail. If problems or resistances occur more than once in a similar way, this is an indicator that the organizational system has weaknesses. In addition, cognitive processes of attitude change are usually very lengthy. To create the right conditions for transformation, it is more effective to start with the organizational things that we as managers or employees have in our hands. However, I am not saying that attitude is not important for successful transformation. It can serve as a valuable catalyst, and I would always advise anyone who wants to implement radical change to involve especially the intrinsically motivated people, the lateral thinkers and change lovers who voluntarily participate and thus possibly motivate others.

What are your goals when it comes to transformation?

Daimler Mobility has an entire network that is confront and mandate with various transformation challenges. It is only through this network structure that we can ensure the holistic approach to transformation, which I described in the introduction with the four levels. In my team, the focus is on global transformation. We evaluate business-critical projects, programs and strategic initiatives based on criteria, and then proactively design transformation consulting and support for and with all participants, such as executives and project managers. In the end, we aim to achieve the strategic business goals faster and more effectively with everything, we do in the context of internal transformation consulting and support. To this end, we are redesigning and redesigning the conditions in our organization in such a way that all of us - managers and employees alike - adopt behavior that will make our culture, our leadership, our processes and ultimately our products even better.

What role do employees play?

First, it is important that we consistently involve our employees. Only if there is transparency about where the transformation is leading to, everyone can think about it: What does this mean for my tasks, what does it mean for me and do I want to be part of these changes? For this, it is important that managers - I include myself - act as role models who live and repeat the messages of the transformation - honest, authentic messages. It sounds so banal, however, it is always noticeable that often the classic communication channels such as "waterfall communication" do not work consistently with us.

And how can employees contribute?

As a person affected by the transformation, it is important not to adopt a wait-and-see attitude and wait for a request or instruction from leaders. Our corporate values have always encouraged autonomous, self-organized and diverse people. This is precisely the role that we need in the current transformation. I would like to have employees and leaders who think like entrepreneurs and question themselves repeatedly:

  • How do I always become self-effective with what I do?
  • How do I make my contribution to the big picture?
  • How do I always generate added customer value in the end?

This also includes independently advancing (re)learning, networking in a targeted manner and making one's own work visible - and since this year increasingly in virtual space.

In your opinion, which skills or competencies gain in importance in the course of the transformation?

Definitely, skills associated with an affinity for technology. Especially now in virtual space we realize how important it is to be able to set up and accompany virtual work sessions, to understand how we communicate in virtual space and not to let the physical distance become a social distance. This can happen synchronously at the same time or asynchronously in targeted work or chat groups. Furthermore, it is increasingly important that we learn to use technology in a sustainable way. More and more companies are talking about "calm technology & mindful technology" and an entire area of research has been established specifically for this purpose. Recently, Sadya Nadella, CEO of Mircosoft, announced that they have integrated the mindfulness tool "Headspace" into MS teams. We have to learn and train how to lead people, other technology and ourselves attentively. Especially when transformation increase the pressure for efficiency, speed but also uncertainty.

At the end of a transformation, did everyone in the organization benefit?

Unfortunately, transformation is not a "benefit" for everyone. In most cases, real, effective transformation hurts and there are likely to be people gaining and losing. So certainly not everyone will benefit from the current transformation at Daimler Mobility, and for many, it represents a huge challenge and a radical change. Nevertheless, effective transformation support is not about "taking everyone along". We can teach and guide our children, but employees expect clarity and transparency in order to decide for themselves what the transformation means to them. In the end, it is important to discuss also unpleasant things and to find new solutions. To give a concrete example: Technology will lead to the fact that certain roles in our company will no longer exist, that is no secret. We must therefore think about measures such as retraining and upskilling. Our HR teams have already designed a lot in this area.

How do the insights gained from the COVID-19 pandemic influence the transformation?

The pandemic shows, conditions always have to change first for us humans to radically change our behavior. In this case we all had to work together virtually from one day to the other. All of a sudden, the introduction of applications became faster and new ways of working were established within the teams. Before that, we had spent many years trying to make digital collaboration and networking more acceptable, but the pandemic forced us to do so.

How does your team work? Do you have any recommended work rituals at the end of the interview?

Currently 100% virtual. We have established two valuable practices in our team:

1. A very simple "check-in" at the beginning of each meeting. Each answers 1-2 questions briefly, e.g. How am I here today? What did I leave behind? Alternatively, what have I learned this week? This helps to free us from distractions and focus on the current topic. Everyone has said something briefly and is an active part of the meeting. Valuable side effect: we get to know how the virtual counterpart is doing.

2. We consistently use virtual whiteboard solutions for all our work sessions. Here you can fix smart ideas on large whiteboards interactively with other people, develop creatively and create virtual workshop rooms. Everyone sees the results visualized at the same time and can get involved. This creates additional closeness and trust, even though we have all been sitting far away from each other for months.

About Sophia Rödiger

Sophia Rödiger is a business psychologist and systemic organisational consultant and is responsible for Global Transformation at Daimler Mobility. In this role she combines theory with practice and has been designing innovation and change processes as well as leadership relationships in the digital context for many years.

As a licensed Working Out Loud Coach, Design Thinking Coach and Yoga Trainer (AYI, Ashtanga), Sophia brings a wealth of experience in workshop design and implementation: Especially when it comes to creativity and potential development. With her focus on "mindfulness in the work context", she increases the presence and effectiveness of leaders and makes a sustainable approach to digitalisation tangible.

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