Hans Werner, Head of Group Human Resources and a member of the Group Executive Board of Swisscom, believes that we need to once again become better at setting boundaries and at relaxing properly. In this interview, he expresses the view that the most important thing is to carefully manage our own time and energy. Hans Werner also explains that Swisscom places a strong emphasis on agile leadership and collaboration – giving employees more room for maneuver but also greater individual responsibility.
Claudia Kraaz: Swisscom is undergoing a transformation due to the changed market environment and it needs to reduce costs. At the same time, it wants to lead the way in terms of agility. How are these developments impacting on your employees?
Hans Werner: When we talk about the changes for employees, we are mainly referring to agile working methods. This is what we describe as “doing agile”. There are a lot of discussions about this topic at present. There is no question about the fact that companies need to act swiftly and very flexibly in the face of competition and continuously evolving client needs. We are convinced that by adopting an agile approach to our work and to our leadership style, we can realize considerable potential: Experience has shown that separating leadership tasks from hierarchical thinking and sharing the related responsibilities between a number of people unleashes energy – which is vitally important in the competitive environment I referred to. For employees, this means that they have more room for maneuver but it also brings greater individual responsibility. In the case of managers, they have to achieve the transition from a ‘command and control’ approach to ‘servant leadership’.
How are your employees responding to this new environment? Which aspects do they find easy to embrace and which do they find more challenging?
It will take time to transform the way we collaborate and to change our leadership culture. This requires openness and a spirit of curiosity on the part of everyone involved – and it also involves intensive training and on-the-job coaching. It is not easy for some employees to let go of the established mechanisms of hierarchical leadership. We have spent years or even decades thinking and acting a certain way based on this division of roles. However, we have also seen that greater individual responsibility is a very strong motivating force for many employees, who are enthusiastically embracing this change.
Managing one’s freedom responsibly
Swisscom’s new vision is: “As number 1, we are shaping the future. Together we inspire people in the networked world.” This creates opportunities but at the same time, many people now have difficulty setting boundaries and dealing with the need to be permanently available. What steps is Swisscom taking to prevent burnouts among its employees?
It is true that many employees find it increasingly difficult to separate their work and free time. Working models such as ‘work anywhere’ – i.e. in a home office or outside of the company – give people more freedom and allow them to strike a better balance between their working life and personal interests. However, this is also dependent on employees managing this freedom responsibly. In addition to comprehensive training courses on the topic of stress, we make use internally of our health platform Healthi, which provides helpful insights and recommendations on various topics such as healthy eating, exercise and wellbeing. At present, for example, we are offering a six-week online training course about stress management in conjunction with the University of Freiburg im Breisgau. We are also working on a ‘train-the-trainer’ module about stress and resilience. In addition, we provide an independent point of contact in the form of Care Gate, which employees can reach out to. Our employees can also consult our ‘Mobile Working’ guidelines, which set out the principles that apply at Swisscom regarding the availability of staff.
What type of changes to your leadership culture have already been made or are planned (e.g. holacracy) to address the changed market environment?
As I mentioned earlier, part of our transformation involves the implementation of agile forms of collaboration within our company, with a distinction being made between ‘doing agile’ and ‘being agile. When we talk about ‘doing agile’, this means that we apply very specific, agile leadership methods and forms of collaboration in appropriate situations. At present, around 2,000 employees within the company are being trained in these methods and are working accordingly. When we use the term ‘being agile’, we are referring to agility as a mindset. We are convinced that traditional, hierarchical leadership models also have considerable agile potential.
I have noticed that more and more young people are coming to me for stress coaching. You once worked as the Principal of a cantonal school and you yourself have grown-up children. How do you explain this phenomenon?
I think that our lives and daily routines have become much more intense in recent years. This is driven largely – but not exclusively – by the world of work. I believe that many people have forgotten how to relax and enjoy being idle. It is like doing sport: After each intensive period of training, you need to recover properly or the body and mind become overwhelmed.
Manage one’s time and energy with care
What advice did you give your children to help them perform well in the hectic world of work?
I think it is important to tell children and young people at an early stage that they need to manage their time and energy with care. Nowadays, there is a huge temptation to be permanently online and in contact with other people via digital channels. This also includes aspects such as how to assert oneself in groups, how you portray yourself, and having a sense of belonging. Only those individuals who learn to set boundaries and say no will be capable of dealing with the intense pace of life over the long term. It is for this reason that at Swisscom, we provide advice on the right way to use digital media (https://www.swisscom.ch/de/medienstark.html – available in DE/FR/IT).
What is your definition of being resilient and what steps do you personally take to increase your own resilience?
In addition to dealing with the intense pace of life, I believe we also need to learn how to deal with praise and criticism as well as with success and failure. Our culture is still very much shaped by the view that errors equate to failure. Resilient people don’t let it go to their head when they are successful and if they suffer a defeat, they focus on the lessons that can be learned from it.
Dr. Hans Werner (aged 58) has been Head of Group Human Resources and a member of the Group Executive Board of Swisscom since September 2001. He is a qualified economist. From 1997-1999, Hans Werner was the Principal of Büelrain cantonal school in Winterthur. He then spent 13 years in various management positions in the area of HR at Swiss Re and Schindler.
© Claudia Kraaz