"Modern leadership culture has a performance-enhancing effect"

A working climate that promotes innovation, diversity, and the courage to tell uncomfortable truths is more central than ever to a company's success today. In an interview, Gabriele Fanta, Head of Group Human Resources, explains how the new leadership principles at Körber specifically strengthen fruitful collaboration in everyday working life.

Ms Fanta, Körber is driving forward a modern corporate culture with five ambitious leadership principles. What is behind them?

Gabriele Fanta: The five guiding principles are a kind of leadership mantra for Körber. With them, we try to make managers aware of the relevance and diversity of their tasks – and to do so as clearly and captivatingly as possible. Behind this is a clear idea of what constitutes a contemporary leadership culture at Körber.

  • Firstly: We are entrepreneurs – we act in a market- and customer-centered way, sustainable globally and as part of an innovative team.
  • Secondly: We achieve results – we act autonomously, agilely, courageously, and in a result-oriented way.
  • Thirdly: We demonstrate trust – we work together empathically, transparently, and trustingly and live an open feedback and error culture.
  • Fourthly: We enable and empower – as thought leaders, we value and develop our colleagues and care deeply about their safety and wellbeing.
  • And finally: We celebrate diverse perspectives – we know the full breadth of our group-wide skills and competences and use them with confidence.

The five leadership principles at Körber

Why are modern leadership principles like these so important for companies like Körber, particularly today?

Primarily for two reasons: The labour market has changed dramatically in recent years. As a result of demographics and digitization, many employees today have disproportionately more options for attractive employment relationships. Many companies are competing for the same talent which, in turn, places a higher demand on the leadership culture of these companies. At the same time, leadership principles are nothing new for Körber. We have been developing them for decades and know from our own experience that a modern leadership culture is important. And that is the second reason: it has a strong performance-enhancing effect.

How have the demands of younger talent changed in terms of leadership culture?

The younger generation today is less concerned with job security and income, but more with flexible processes and clear corporate values. What are my development opportunities? How flat are the hierarchies? How diverse is the field of work? And, last but not least – how sustainable is the company? How meaningful is it to work there?

What particular strengths does Körber have as an employer?

First of all, we benefit from our ownership structure. Our sole shareholder is the non-profit Körber Foundation. Therefore as a company, we can position ourselves strategically for the long term and do not have to rush from quarterly report to quarterly report and chase short-term profits. In terms of governance, we are in a sense "sustainable by nature". In addition, as a "home for entrepreneurs", we have a clear purpose: We stand for entrepreneurial action to make our customers successful – constantly questioning the status quo, whether in the development department, in controlling or in payroll accounting. And finally, we offer a great diversity in job profiles and development opportunities in a wide range of areas, from IT to engineering, software and data science, artificial intelligence and much more. Digital talent will find plenty of concrete industrial use cases with visible results.

It can be a long way from guiding principle to real life. What is Körber doing to ensure the implementation of its leadership principles?

We are implementing the leadership principles in our existing training and processes. For example, in our global Talent Management Process, which focuses on the development potential of employees. We are systematically strengthening work-life integration – for example through flexible home-office models. And we have created new formats in which we explain and discuss our leadership principles. For example, our Clubhouse Session where managers meet virtually once a month to discuss current challenges, be it dialogue in times of a pandemic or help with recruiting.

And how do you manage to communicate this modern leadership culture to the outside world?

Last year we tried something very special: The 24-hour Körber Career Day. Around 200 colleagues from across the group spent 24 hours in 40 virtual sessions providing information about career opportunities, answering questions, and giving insights into their everyday working lives and the leadership culture at Körber. The guerrilla format had been spontaneously created during a coffee break and the response was enormously positive. It increased both, the feeling of cohesion in the workforce and a sense of identification with the Körber brand. The number of applications increased by about 40 percent after the event.

Speaking of talent, to what extent have you also adapted your recruiting and employer branding strategy to attract the best managers of tomorrow to Körber today?

We have established our own active sourcing team within Human Resources that scouts suitable talent for open positions and approaches them directly. Our salespeople in recruiting, so to speak. At the same time, we outsource fewer recruiting tasks to external partner agencies. We have found that our own people are simply best at presenting Körber. Their enthusiasm for Körber as an employer and for our open culture across all hierarchical levels, has a high level of credibility for potential applicants.

How progressive is Körber in terms of equality and diversity?

In the areas of mechanical and plant engineering, technology and digitization, the proportion of women has always been relatively low. At Körber, it is 20 percent within the workforce and 15 percent in management. There is room for improvement, but at the same time we are well above the industry average. Our goal is to continuously increase the proportion of female employees at all hierarchical levels. We encourage more women to train in technical and digital professions. In our management training courses, we already make sure that half of the participants in all courses are female. At Körber, we have the ideal prerequisites for a culture of diversity and cooperation free of prejudice and discrimination. As a global group, we have always been accustomed to viewing differences in migration background or religion, age, or sexual orientation as enrichment. We strengthen this culture with numerous measures – such as an Unconscious Bias Training, in which our recruiters are sensitized to their own pigeonholing and practice techniques for dealing with such schemes in job interviews. In the LGBTQ+ area, we recently launched an audit to identify everyday discrimination. A first learning from this undertaking, for example, was that we need unisex toilets to replace the conventional men's and women's ones we currently have. For me, this is an important step towards living diversity.

Last but not least, where does Körber stand in terms of inclusion? 

Here, too, we are well on the way. In order to better integrate people with mental or physical handicaps into everyday working life, we are working closely with the Federal Employment Agency in Germany. Together with the group's representative body for people with disabilities, we try to find out whether there are colleagues who believe they have to hide their handicaps. We then explore how the working environment can be optimized for them, and how we can create suitable jobs and profiles at Körber in which these individuals can best develop.

Gabriele Fanta has been Head of Human Resources at the Körber Group since the end of 2020 and is responsible for HR development and employer branding, among other things. She is particularly concerned with making Körber a great place to work for all employees – and ensuring they are proud to work here. She says of herself that she has remained a little rebel at heart and that it is above all the passion for learning and progress that has carried her through her professional life. She likes to convey this spirit to junior staff as well as her voluntary program mentees.

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