"What we at Zühlke want above all is an open, courageous and entrepreneurial way of tackling opportunities and searching for solutions."<p>Leadership is not a question of rank or position. Not at Zühlke, at any rate. It's much more a question of mindset and behaviour. "All employees, regardless of their role, should take the initiative with courage and determination," says Reto Schmid, Head of Learning & Development. We talked with him about the opportunities for personal development at Zühlke.</p>
Reto, how would you describe Learning & Development's mission in the company?
I see Learning & Development as organisational and cultural development. At Zühlke we cultivate a culture where work and project assignments are stretching in a way they offer our employees opportunities to constantly grow and fully exploit their potential – in line with the company needs.
This can relate to both technical expertise as well as to the development of interpersonal skills, such as leadership. Our developmental activities are strongly aligned to our strategic goals and are cohesive across the entire Zühlke Group.
How do you determine which provisions for continuing education and training you want to offer in the company?
As a company we follow clear strategic goals and priorities. Our business focus is constantly realigned to meet and anticipate the changing needs and demands of the market, and we are therefore always on the move. We mould our personnel and organisational development in a correspondingly agile and focused manner. At Zühlke we enhance and broaden the particular skills and competencies that are critical to our success and help us to successfully achieve our strategic goals.
So, we have to regularly evaluate what competencies we see being success-critical for us and how proficient we demonstrate these at work. How, for example, do developments in the market influence the subject of leadership? Or how can we support our customers even better as partners? In the past few months, we have systematically analysed this in individual interviews, workshops and cross-functional employee dialogues. This has shown that there is a large consensus regarding those areas where we are already very good and those where, as a company, we still have room for improvement. It is now a matter of creating the right development opportunities at work and driving learning interventions that help us strengthen those competencies where we have the biggest need.
What does that mean specifically? Are you now developing new training measures?
There are two levels of action: on the one hand, and with regard to our organisational strengths and weaknesses, we want to raise awareness of these within the company even further, and at the same time identify areas for action. We want to encourage every individual at Zühlke to reflect on themselves and to understand the behavioural changes they can personally initiate to make themselves and us as an organisation stronger. For this purpose, we carry out various activities such as team reflection dialogues, panel discussions or interdisciplinary workshops.
On the other hand, we are also putting together a new training curriculum. A strong focus here is on the aspects of leadership, communication, consultative mindset and customer experience. Among other things, we want to pay special attention to the needs of younger managers as well as leading experts and consultants in customer projects. At the same time, we offer diverse development formats to our Senior Leaders which support them in acting as agile, inspirational change agents, empathic development coaches as well as strategic, courageous culture shapers.
Why is employee development so important to Zühlke?
Our corporate culture and thus the mindset and the behaviour of our employees in everyday project work and customer interaction are essential levers for Zühlke's success. Acting at the forefront of digital innovation is exciting and comes with the opportunity to stay tuned, curious and adaptive as well as open to constantly learn. We therefore promote a learning culture that gives our colleagues room and flexibility to build up specialist knowledge and strengthen the competencies they need to perform their tasks in the best possible way. In addition, at Zühlke we share our knowledge and experiences as an integral part of our daily work, for example in focus groups, mentoring relationships and other interactive learning formats that are based on personal exchange.
To what extent can colleagues make specific improvements in their everyday work?
Learning and personal development on the job are strongly encouraged at Zühlke. Zühlke is an agile project organisation. For each project, we put together a new team that is optimally configured for the task at hand. This means that our colleagues are always working together in new, interdisciplinary team configurations, within and across national borders. This requires a high degree of agility, adaptability and social skills. Reflecting within the team and providing constructive, open feedback in terms of retrospectives are strongly internalised behaviours and an integral part of our working culture.
In addition, staffing and project assignments at Zühlke are always an opportunity to develop on the job. Colleagues are deployed very purposeful to ensure they can apply their knowledge and expertise and learn new things at the same time. Other formats such as targeted training offerings from our internal Learning & Development Curriculum complement learning on the job in a sensible and worthwhile way.
Do colleagues have to pitch their desire for a particular further training measure to their line managers?
Our Learning & Development programs and activities are designed to support our strategic goals. It is therefore important to align an individual's development focus on the needs of the organisation. Our line managers act as career coaches who run regular development conversations with their employees – with the purpose to jointly explore powerful, individual growth opportunities and specific development actions.
Leadership is an important topic in the context of Learning & Development. But what does leading actually mean at Zühlke?
What we at Zühlke want above all is an open, courageous and entrepreneurial way of tackling opportunities and searching for solutions. We want employees to think along with us, take responsibility and work proactively. Everyone at Zühlke and in particular senior leaders carrying influential positions should exemplify this behaviour and mindset. That is why we need adaptable and emotionally intelligent leaders who act courageous and forward-looking, take and own bold decisions. Further, it is important that they support their employees in their development, approach changes positively, and act authentic and inspiring.
Our leaders should be able to give good and constructive criticism, address unpleasant issues, and create an environment that invites people to act controversial, speak up, and ‘be different’.Cognitive diversity and multiple perspectives are absolutely crucial prerequisites for creativity and entrepreneurship and as such, essential culture pillars for us to successfully shape the future through digital innovation.
When can employees start leading at Zühlke?
For us, leadership is first and foremost a mindset, a competency and a style of behaviour that should be lived by all employees, regardless of their position. This means, for example, that even our young employees can make important decisions and implement demanding mandates on their own initiative. In addition to their technical consulting tasks, our senior experts also take on important informal leadership responsibilities in customer projects. They coach and guide less experienced colleagues both professionally and in respect to interpersonal competencies and behaviour. And they mediate in conflicts. Basically, we expect employees at every stage of their career to lead and take ownership.
How important are culture and learning to applicants and employees at Zühlke?
We tend to attract talents who value corporate culture and personal development. These are people who want to be part of a family and at the same time want to act very independently. And the fact that employees can grow and continuously build up their professional and personal competencies, makes Zühlke an attractive employer who they are happy to stay with for a long time.
Reto is working as Learning & Development Lead at Zühlke. Together with our employees he designs innovative solutions for a strategically oriented HR, leadership and organizational development. Reto has a Master's degree in Psychology from the University of Zurich.