Work 4.0 at Saint-Gobain Mobility – Why digital transformation needs to consider the human

Interview with Arndt Frischkorn, Leader Transformation & Capture Support, Saint-Gobain Mobility, Business Unit Bearings (GE Bearings)

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 transforming GE Bearings’ largest location (Willich, Germany) into an agile organization. Since 2013, the 1000-person business unit has been working with new organizational structures and forms of collaboration. In an interview, Arndt explains why digital transformation does not only require professional development, but also a focus on the overall personality of the individual.

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

Arndt Frischkorn: Digital transformation is primarily discussed against the background of technical issues. In my opinion, this does not go far enough. The more digitized and automated, the more the focus shifts to 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 must try to consider the overall organization, the teams and the individuals equally. We then speak of the levels “I, We and It”.

mgm: What makes transformation necessary 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 the greatest transformation in its history. In order to better counteract 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 an 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 working methods?

Arndt Frischkorn: First of all, we consistently try to think our organization 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.
Empowering our frontline teams (teams that have direct customer contact) has a special role to play 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 identified our common values, called spirits, which form the basis of our cooperation. Almost 80% of all employees in the organization 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 trainings on the necessary leadership competencies in the areas of change management, emotional intelligence, etc., are too short of the mark or 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: First of all, a person is shaped by the sum of all the experiences he has had in his life. In the course of our lives 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 various situations, I have to have access to all solution strategies instead of automatically falling into the patterns I have learned in the past.

To keep a team performing as a leader in a variety of situations, I need to have access to all the 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 demonstrate this with an example?

Arndt Frischkorn: For example, my nature is rather analytical. 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’s also clear that if a decision has to be made quickly, that’s 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 employees in the blue collar sector represent the majority of our employees in terms of numbers. This presents us with challenges, as we do not have the resources to go into depth in the same way for all our employees. 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 step is to reflect: Who am I, where do I come from, what influences my behaviour?

mgm: You are there in an ongoing, permanent process. What is the interim balance: How far along are you on your way?

Arndt Frischkorn: We’ve been on this journey for six years now and feel like we’re right in the middle of it. And that will be the case for a very long time. Actually, this is exactly one of the essential goals of the 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 corporate group was hit by a major cyber attack. Important digital systems have failed. We didn’t know at our location what we had to produce for which customer. We had to access our paper containers in order to obtain information on upcoming production orders. In this exceptional situation, important decisions had to be made quickly. In this case, however, our IT experts and specialists with many years of professional experience took 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.