Corporate Rebels: “Promoting a Culture of Thinking Differently”

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How corporate rebels awaken companies from their slumber and why this requires courageous managers. Gabriele Fanta, CHRO at the international technology group Körber, on culture and leadership as key instruments for employee recruitment and retention.

The world of work is changing. The growing shortage of skilled workers is driving companies to reposition themselves in the battle for the best talent. It has long taken more than a table football table, fruit basket and home office to convince candidates and retain employees. Rather, it is the company’s lived culture that is decisive; it is the most important currency in the battle for talent and makes the difference when it comes to which employer the employee chooses to be loyal to.

Especially in times of VUCA (acronym for the terms volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), a suitable culture is more important than ever. It is the magnet that attracts and retains innovative and high-performing people.

Corporate culture needs courage and role models

In addition to flexible working conditions, employees expect a modern and appreciative management culture. At the same time, many employers value innovative and entrepreneurial thinking among their employees. Körber therefore focuses on promoting a culture of thinking differently, both when recruiting and developing employees.

The technology group’s 75-year company history has already made this necessary. Throughout his life, founder and entrepreneur Kurt A. Körber has always consciously questioned the status quo, tried out new things and registered over 200 patents based on this mindset.

In order to create a culture that continues this success story, courage is needed above all. Courage for open dialogue, for a constructive error culture and the confidence to tolerate dissent. Managers play a particularly important role here, as they act as role models.

The question of how much non-conformity managers themselves are allowed to display is increasingly being discussed as a success factor. Managers who contribute unconventional ideas and have the courage to break new ground are the driving force behind the company’s future success.

Corporate rebels: non-conformity as a driver of innovation

Körber starts with both managers and teams: The five leadership principles are an important tool. Two of these five are particularly relevant for culture building. The first is the principle “We promote diversity”, which consciously encourages diversity of opinion, the appreciation of heterogeneous impulses and the empowerment and encouragement of employees.

Together with around 13,000 employees, Körber is currently developing additional team guidelines to help shape the corporate culture even further. This, in turn, is intended to appeal to people who are keen to embrace this culture and leadership at eye level, so-called “corporate rebels”.

These are the critical voices, the dissenters in companies whose ideas drive new approaches. People with new ideas, critical suggestions and proposals for change are often branded as troublemakers. Yet it is precisely these people who often make an important contribution to the future viability of the company.

The second important management principle for the culture is “We are entrepreneurs”. Entrepreneurship in itself requires a certain willingness to take risks, a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them in order to create something that is relevant to the customer. This is the only way to create a culture of positive failure that offers opportunities to disruptive talents instead of setting strict frameworks.

Bringing in your own personality

The aim should be for everyone to be able to integrate their individual personality and thus contribute to the innovative strength and success of the company. Once again, managers in particular are called upon here: they must be able to act with confidence, i.e. create a framework that promotes the development of each individual and takes their individual needs into account. If more and more people in the corporate context are able to trust that they can be themselves, then the “one-size-fits-all management” approach will no longer work and opening up to a different way of thinking will be a virtually necessary outcome.

Flexibility instead of established thought patterns

Critical voices are needed in the Group so that real innovation can emerge. Identifying them is not always easy. Looking inwards makes perfect sense. Because once you have found these disruptive talents in the Group, you can use them to drive cultural change in another area of the company, for example where a more traditional cultural image is still being lived. What disruptive talents often bring to the table is an increased degree of flexibility. So why should they only work on a selective basis and not in different areas of the company? Flexibility plays a major role for corporate rebels.

If you want to find disruptive talent externally, you need to pay attention when selecting personnel to how adaptable someone is or is able to lead. Overall, identifying these talents requires a lot of time and resources. However, their potential to move the company forward by challenging established thought patterns and contributing innovative ideas makes the effort worthwhile.

Gabriele Fanta has been Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) for the Körber technology group since 2020. She is responsible for human resources, personnel development and employer branding worldwide. Before joining Körber, she worked at Daimler, McDonalds and most recently as Head of Global Human Resources at Sixt. She is one of the 40 over 40 2022, making her one of Germany's most inspiring female managers of the year. Photo: © Enver Hirsch

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