Global leadership at Heilbronn

Many years ago, I had the excellent experience of being the corporate supervisor of Sabrina Dick’s Master thesis on HR shared service. Sabrina has since developed into a very successful HR manager at SAP, now leading HR in Eastern Europe.  I caught up with her a couple of months ago, and she mentioned that she had been doing some guest lecturing at her alma mater, in Heilbronn, and for the past few years she has run a series of lectures on global leadership.

Universities of Applied Science have a strong tradition of tight collaboration with industry.  I’ve always thought that the relationships between the Universities of Applied Science and Industry are a key element in German competitiveness.  The new campus in Heilbronn is really impressive, with generous support from the Dieter Schwarz Foundation, the founder of Lidl.

With Sabrina spending more time in Prague and other cities, she was looking for someone to take over the undergrad lecture on global leadership. I met Prof Erner, who leads the department, we agreed that I would run the course for the spring semester.  The course runs over two weekends, with a long evening lecture on Friday, continuing through most of Saturday. Then in June, the students will present their assignments back to me and the class.   You can see more about the broader programme here.

The role of the external lecturer is to augment the core teaching program, and it is expected that you combine your own practical experience with the appropriate theory.  The cool thing for me was that Sabrina had already established a successful program structure, so I didn’t need to build the curriculum from scratch.

Over the course of the first two days, we mixed discussion, theory overview, case studies, I shared rambling examples of my own leadership successes and especially blunders.  I’d spent some time reviewing the text books, especially Northouse, Schein, Gundling, etc.  Given my South African background, I made sure we touched on the work of Adrian Furnham on management and leadership and I also introduced the students to Ubuntu, as I found most of the leadership textbooks to be rather US centric.  Sabrina had put together some excellent materials on how SAP develops leaders and managers, so that brought an additional practical element to the party.

Reviewing academic and practitioner materials on leadership was interesting, if sometimes a little frustrating.  There are no simple answers, and models are riddled with caveats.  There is still a lot that we don’t understand about how the human mind actually works, especially at work.

I have always admired Google’s approach to HR, at least from afar, in that they attempt to apply analytical rigour to what they do, by measuring and testing a lot.  I’m also pleased that Google like to share what they discover.  I was wondering why they share their findings so readily, given the competitive need to attract and retain, in what is a hyper-competitive employment market.  I suppose it is a form of virtue signalling, in that it enables them to communicate about their organization practices and values to prospective applicants, and more broadly to their stakeholders  (more on that another day).

A recent google study noted the importance of  psychological safety as a factor for team performance and it is one that I will more consciously aim to encourage in my own work environment.  See here for more of psychological safety.  I really need to figure out what Laslo’s new venture is all about too.

Back to the course. I enjoyed first weekend, and I hope the students did too. Now the students will work in teams, and are going to prepare  presentations on the following topics.

  1. Are people born as leaders or shaped?
  2. Traditional leadership theories in the context of global leadership.
  3. the role of trust in the context of global leadership
  4. Growing global talent pools
  5. Case studies of global leadership
  6. The challenge of intercultural teams. how best to manage them
  7. Diversity in the context of global leadership
  8. Learning from the google research into psychological safety.

I’m really looking forward to see what they will come up with.I’ll blog more after the presentations.

 

 

 

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Weak ties and breakfast

I was in Hamburg this week, with my family.  My Dad and I were able to go to the the New year’s eve daytime concert at the Elbphilharmonie. That experience will be the subject of another blog post, I’m still processing the majestic marvel that is the Elbphilharmonie. And I’m really impressed by Hamburg.

Just before heading up to Hamburg, I pinged Paul Jozefak to see if he could meet up for a coffee.  We met up for breakfast, and I’m very glad I did.  He is wise beyond his years, and generous with his advice and ideas.  We both enjoy cycling and as relatively eingedeutsched  ex-pat/immigrants we had similar views on living and working in Germany. Both of us have been here for the best part of 20 years, without really planning to be. 

Paul’s insight into the state of digitalization and the opportunities that it opens up in German economy is profound, and I have not met many people who understand the big company world, venture capital, and start ups as well as he does.  He has an excellent, long running, blog.  

It was Jeff Nolan who introduced us many years ago, and we stayed in touch via social media. I think this was the first time we had managed to do face to face since then.

It reminded me of the Dunbar number and Granovetter’s research on weak ties that I first learnt about from reading JP Rangaswami and Andrew McAfee, if my memory still works correctly.  

While social media can be time sink, at times it offers up a connection and relationship that makes me realise that it has real utility.

That reminds me, it is high time that I meet JP in person too. But rather than breakfast, I hope it is at tea, at the Oval, or Lords, perhaps.

 

Of Cobblestones, Solomon, Paula, Gunter, Joseph and the GDPR.

I’ve been reading a fair bit of software vendor marketing and press from around the world about the GDPR. It seems to me that a lot of it misses the point. GDPR is seen as a compliance burden, an unwelcome dose of EU bureaucracy or at best a useful opportunity sell security software.  It is perhaps useful to reflect on why the GDPR and its predecessors in data protection legislation came into being.

I was walking to the train station in the rain this morning, and I paused for a moment by the pair of  Stolpersteine (tripping stones) on the corner of the street where we live. I’m not sure why I took the picture today,  perhaps they glistened from the drizzle.  I  wondered what Salomon and Paula were like, what were their hobbies and their foibles, did they watch football or play tennis together, what jobs did they do, was she left handed, who were their friends, what colour was his favourite tie,  did he make puns that made her smile, did she play Chopin on piano so that the notes drifted down the street on the breeze, did they hold hands as they walked beside the Neckar on that summer’s evening for the last time?

stolperstein image. two next to each other. Deutsch family.

Gunter Demnig began this art project in 1992. The first stone was laid in Salzburg, Austria, and now there are over 27,000  plaques across  22 countries, and growing.  Think of it as a distributed  museum.   They all follow the same format, size and font.  In situ, on the doorsteps of houses, for me they are more powerful and poignant than any centralised memorial or museum. They bring an uncomfortable intimacy and they force me to think about  how easily such an evil could come into being.  (check out more about the stones  here).

The GDPR exists to protect our data (and our person)  from abuse.

This Regulation protects fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons and in particular their right to the protection of personal data. (Article 1 (2) GPDR) 

Software has the potential for enabling goodness, yet it can also empower evil. Software can encourage democracy, but it can undermine it too. Software can level the playing field, or it can entrench privilege.   The power of software to find, sort and group people is both awesome and awful.  It is a mighty thing that we wield.

As an industry we need to see people’s data as something to treat with care and respect. The GPDR is a long overdue firm nudge for us to remember that.

One of the pioneers of artificial intelligence,  Joseph Weizenbaum, fled Berlin for the US as a child in the 1930’s.  I suspect there is a stoplerstein for his family on a street in Berlin. His book, Computer Power and Human Reason, should be required reading for all those building software.

““The computer programmer is a creator of universes for which he alone is the lawgiver. No playwright, no stage director, no emperor, however powerful, has ever exercised such absolute authority to arrange a stage or field of battle and to command such unswervingly dutiful actors or troops.”

We proclaim gleefully that software is eating the world, and data is more valuable than oil, so it is high time the software industry took its human rights responsibilities more seriously.

I, for one, welcome the GDPR.

Customers, colleagues, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and my writing day.

I have been spending the last few months deep in accessibility law, testing, standards, universal design, GDPR, the early history of business computing and of course my old friend, Sarbanes Oxley. I am an expert on Heidelberg and Sandton coffee shops, and I have spent far too long debating the value of one font over the other, and merits of footnote or in-text citations.  This week I have finally felt the adrenaline kick that comes from writing several competent pages and seeing a couple of pieces start to fit together. Long way to go though.

By the way, if you do any kind of research work, get hold of the tool called Mendeley. It is genius.

While I’m no longer in hurly burly of product management at SuccessFactors – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn keep me abreast of what’s up back at the farm.

It was cool to read that Employee Central had hit the 2000 customer mark. Whenever I see those milestones I think back to the early customers without whom EC would not have 100 customers, never mind 2000.  Earlier this week, Liezl’s Facebook gave me a detailed account of  her visit with a South African customer to Timken, one of those early adopters.

But what prompted me to write this was a new connection today on LinkedIn.  Tim Gregory, the Director of HR Ops at Corning sent me a connection invite. While I had been involved in the early stages of the Corning project, I’d not actually met Tim.  We had a nice online chat, and he was cool with me quoting him about their go live.

I’m the Director of HR Operations here at Corning Inc – we went live with SF in July (23 countries, 12 languages, 70 integrations, all modules – except learning).

Not to over state it… but yet we’re pretty euphoric over here.

While 2000 is a cool number. Corning as happy campers is even better. Thanks Tim, you made my day.  I’m going to be following up with you on the blockchain thing.

Now, time to get back to this pile.

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What is Germany getting right?

(cross posted from my Gartner blog)
Andrew McAfee recently posted on the dire state of graduate employment in the US. His work on the impact of technology on employment is well worth a read, I reviewed his book here.

Here in little old Germany, the graduate job market is rather different.

Unemployment among graduates in Germany one year after leaving their institution is at 4% and below, compared with a seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate of 5.9%, according to a survey by HIS-HF, a higher education statistics agency.

So what is Germany doing right? Despite Euro doom and gloom talk, the German economic fundamentals are in relatively good shape. Exports are up again, and domestic spending is less anemic than before. But the answer isn’t just in the short term economy.

There is a broader HR and societal issue at play too. As a foreigner living in Germany, I have been stuck by the strength of the apprentence culture here, and not just in the traditional trades. It seems to me that the universities and industry work more closely together than in many other countries to produce the sort of graduates that the labour market requires, while still giving space for studying those things that make you a better human being. It is as if there is some sort of social contract between corporations, academia and society. Most organizations have strong graduate recruitment and development programmes. Interns are paid a reasonable cost of living sum, and intern work is aligned with university study. When I worked for that large German software company I co-supervised a masters student, who worked part-time in my department. We then hired her, and she is now a very successful consultant. This model is common throughout German industry, with an especially strong tradition in manufacturing. Have a look at Porsche, for instance.

Building a sustainable workforce requires corporations to focus on the long term development of the workforce, and not merely short termist hiring. German companies often have someone with the job title HR Marketing, and their role is to build a long term employment brand to attract candidates early. Check out the work of Armin Trost for more about this.

It also requires universities to develop programmes that align with the longer term needs of business and society. While US universities dominate the rankings, I’m not sure that they have everything right, if the recent reports from Florida are anything to go by.

Deck chairs and competitive advantage?

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photo via the cc flickrstream of xingray  thanks

 

Via Yahoo! news.

German tourists can now reserve their poolside recliners before they have even left home.

The German arm of Thomas Cook, Europe’s second largest travel company, has been deluged with inquiries since announcing that holidaymakers at nine hotels in Turkey, Egypt and the Canary Islands can book recliners in advance for a fee.

Germans are famous around Europe for rising early to reserve recliners near the pool with their towels, and then going back to bed or eating a lengthy breakfast.

This often annoys tourists from other nations, but they will be unable to take advantage of the new service — it is valid only for holidaymakers booking their trips from Germany, Mathias Brandes, head of communications at Thomas Cook in Germany, said.

I’m not sure this would be particularly good for international poolside relations.

I should write some clever link to global HR systems, and the problems of trying to please everyone all of the time, but I won’t.

Ada Lovelace Day- Bertha Benz

Sometime ago Suw kicked this off .

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

Well. Here we go. For this I have decided to go local and historical.  Ladenburg, where I live, is one of the cradles of the automotive industry. It is where the Benz family lived.  My Ada figure is Bertha Benz.

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Bertha Benz (née Ringer) (born 3 May 1849 in Pforzheim, Germany, married inventor Karl Benz on 20 July 1872, and died 5 May 1944 in Ladenburg), was the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance.

On 5 August 1888 and without her husband’s knowledge, she drove her sons, Richard and Eugen, fourteen and fifteen years old, in one of Benz’s newly-constructed Patent Motorwagen automobiles—from Mannheim to Pforzheim—becoming the first person to drive an automobile over more than a very short distance. The distance was more than 106 km (more than sixty miles). Distances traveled before this historic trip were short, and merely trials with mechanical assistants. (From Wikipedia.)

Other interesting information about that trip. She repaired a fuel line blockage with a hairpin, and fixed the ignition with a garter.

Without this expedition, it is quite unlikely that Karl Benz would have had the successes that followed.  She took on the conventions of the time and proved to the world that this newfangled thing had a purpose.  Not only was this brave, but I reckon it was one of the greatest advertising and marketing moves in history. With this one trip, she turned the Patent Motorwagen 3 from perpetual beta into the real thing. Just think what impact this would have had on the male ego of 1888.

It seems to me that this was a family business, and Bertha deserves just as much credit as Karl got.

There is now a sign posted route following that first drive.

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This is goodness, but next time you see a  Mercedes-Benz, pause, and think about Bertha.

As the automotive industry now faces its biggest crisis, it would do well to look to Bertha Benz’s legacy for inspiration.   Thanks Bertha for taking that drive.