“We’ve Had Many Discussions to Ensure Everyone Knows What’s Going On”

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According to Britta Liesbrock, Director of Corporate People & Organizational Development at d.velop AG, maintaining transparency and open communication is crucial for successful workforce transformation. In this interview, she shares insights into how the company navigated a recent transformation, emphasizing the role played by the HR department.

At the beginning of 2023, d.velop created new divisions to focus even more strongly on the individual sectors and specialist areas. The responsibilities for the divisions were reassigned. The aim is to create a sustainable structure and speed up communication and decision-making processes. A transformation of this kind never takes place without often causing profound uncertainty among the workforce.

It was thus necessary to dispel concerns, fears and resistance. The greater the degree of change, the greater the uncertainty can be, says Britta Liesbrock. The employees’ strong fears that jobs could be at risk were quite unexpected. It is therefore important to enter into dialogue with managers at an early stage and to do so with adequate advance notice in order to prepare the content for communication appropriately.

“Disagree and Commit!”, “Keep it simple!”, “It’s about the big picture!” – these three principles have accompanied the change process at d.velop AG. Here you can find out what this means in concrete terms, what steps the company has taken in the transformation process, what stumbling blocks there were and what HR should definitely pay attention to.

d.velop AG has “optimised” its organisational structure, according to a company press release. This is intended to strengthen the strategic industry focus. What exactly has been done?

Britta Liesbrock: A few years ago, we at d.velop made the decision to rely on cross-functional teams in order to be able to focus more consistently on the various markets. The cross-functional teams knew the requirements of the respective markets very well and were able to serve them across different functions such as consulting, sales or marketing. However, as the company grew in size, the flat hierarchies led to lengthy decision-making and communication channels, which delayed internal processes and overburdened management.

At the beginning of the year, we therefore merged market teams that belong to the same sector into a business division and reassigned responsibilities accordingly. A Chief Operating Officer, together with his Business Division Board, manages communication both top-down from management to employees and bottom-up from employees to management, which significantly speeds up decision-making processes.

The new divisions can operate even closer to the respective markets – from Private Economy and Public Sector to Healthcare & Welfare and Banking & Finance. These are complemented by the business divisions Partner Management & Platform Economy, Product & Platform Development and Shared Services, in order to provide products and services quickly and with the appropriate quality.

As part of this new division organisation, d.velop has also completely taken over the subsidiaries d.velop digital solutions GmbH, d.velop solutions for documents GmbH and d.velop public sector GmbH and united them under one roof. This allows us to intensify and formalise the cooperation that was already in place so that we can continue to further develop our offering. At the same time, our international partner network is also growing steadily, creating another important basis for the introduction of new products and apps.

A workforce transformation is not an endeavour that a company undertakes just like that. Too many things can go wrong. How did d.velop go about it?

Britta Liesbrock: Our approach can be divided into six planning phases, whereby we successively expanded the group of employees involved in each of these six phases. Firstly, the management, consisting of the Executive Board and the COOs who are now responsible, developed the general business divisions. HR managers were then involved in the organisational development in order to provide feedback on the challenges of the current organisational form. This allowed us to easily identify where internal structures, processes and internal communication still needed to be improved.

The next step consisted of an intensive three-day workshop with external moderation, in which the organisation of the individual divisions was specifically developed. An employee meeting dedicated entirely to the transformation then helped us to create transparency and acceptance. All too often, a workforce transformation fails at precisely this point. It was therefore important for us to get a clear picture together of why it is necessary for us to undergo change, what the next steps are and what results we want to achieve.

To ensure that employees also felt heard and could actively contribute, we involved them in change teams. Thanks to the high participation rate, the change process could be supported at all levels: For example, a cross-functional core team was deployed, which held the threads together by ensuring the necessary transparency and appropriate communication. So-called domain experts also ensured the smooth implementation of processes, while the multiplier team captured the mood and passed it on.

We have now also completed the sixth phase, in which we organised targeted kick-off events in the individual business divisions so that the teams can find each other and coordinate the next steps. The COOs of the divisions also took part in regular check-ins with the core team in order to jointly monitor the progress of the project and communicate transparently.

What was HR’s role in such a complex process? And where were their expertise and initiative particularly in demand?

Britta Liesbrock: Employees from the HR marketing and HR and organisational development teams made up a large proportion of the core team. Their role was particularly important for ensuring that communication was transparent. Acting as an interface between employees and management, they promoted regular dialogue and monitored the general mood, for example through regular surveys. They also helped shape further organisational development with regard to communication processes, collaboration, corporate culture and leadership development programmes.

Which part of the workforce transformation required a particularly large amount of energy and strength?

Britta Liesbrock: The cross-location merger led to uncertainty, concerns and misperceptions among employees, which had to be addressed. The degree of change and therefore uncertainty was particularly high at locations that previously operated as independent subsidiaries and were now assigned to different teams focussing on different markets. We held many discussions to create transparency and reassure employees that the aim was not to abolish jobs or locations. Rather, existing expertise and experience should be utilised optimally for further growth.

What obstacles, expected and unexpected, did HR encounter on the way to the new organisational structure? What did HR do to overcome them?

Britta Liesbrock: The strong fears among employees that their jobs could be at risk were quite unexpected. This is because we clearly communicated right from the start that we wanted to bundle the strengths of teams into focussed business divisions and thus make ourselves even more future-proof. We have therefore established dialogue formats such as change meetings, staff meetings and anonymous mailboxes to repeatedly dispel such fears.

With whom in the company did HR work together in this process, what was the division of labour like?

Britta Liesbrock: As a central player within the transformation process and the core team, HR worked together with the multipliers and domain experts in order to be able to act and communicate effectively with employees with regard to system adjustments and the design of processes. HR also supported the COOs with a dedicated project plan and management for the establishment of the business divisions. On the other hand, HR also liaised directly with top management on the current progress of the project and the next steps. Ensuring transparency and communication in all directions was always the linchpin here too.

You want to enable “self-organised action” within the company. This makes sense with the new organisational structure, but the managers must also want this to happen. And the teams too. Last but not least, this is a question of mindset – and of course the structures. What has changed at d.velop in this respect?

Britta Liesbrock: The change in the organisational structure was accompanied by the establishment of a holistic and completely new management development programme. This was necessary because completely new roles were created in the company and existing employees were selected for these positions as part of an internal application process. In order to equip them for these new tasks, it was necessary to set up a management programme tailored to these roles and thus provide them with the foundations and tools for their work. These programmes are currently running for both the Business Division Boards and the team leads.

When it comes to change processes, it is essential to take the workforce along on the journey. Experience shows that people don’t like change very much. Anxieties play a major role, even among executives. How did you overcome these familiar challenges?

Britta Liesbrock: Firstly, we created a programme of regular meetings. But we also informed executives about significant changes at an early stage by organising separate meetings and asking for feedback. This allowed us to identify potential fears and address them before we even started communicating with the entire workforce.

What should HR definitely pay attention to when introducing such changes in the company? What would be your recommendations?

Britta Liesbrock: It is important to engage in dialogue with managers at an early stage and to do so with adequate lead time so that the content can be prepared appropriately for communication to the entire company.

Mindset was already a topic earlier. Let’s talk about the mindset of HR during a workforce transformation. What should it look like?

Britta Liesbrock: We have been guided by three principles throughout the entire transformation process. Our first is: “Disagree and Commit!”. Even if not everyone can always agree, it is important that once a decision has been made, it is supported by everyone. The impact on the company should always be taken into account rather than pursuing individual goals.

The second principle is: “Keep it simple!”. Due to the size that d.velop has now reached, but also due to the cross-location merger in terms of the transformation, it was important to us to keep any adjustments to structures and processes as simple as possible for each individual in order to be able to take the employees with us. As HR in particular, this is also necessary to avoid getting lost in the details.

And last but not least: “It’s about the big picture!”. The aim of the transformation process was to create a sustainable structure and adequate processes so that d.velop AG and its employees can continue to grow together. For this reason, it was important for us in HR to strive for the best result in a comprehensively organised, cross-functional team and to gradually set aside our own views. This ultimately helped us to create a foundation for the further growth of d.velop AG and for all employees.

The interview was conducted by Helge Weinberg, Editor of HR JOURNAL.

Britta Liesbrock has the position of Director Corporate People & Organisational Development at d.velop AG.

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