Diversity Is the New Corporate Capital
Why Vera Schneevoigt lets herself be coached by young executives.
There is an amazing parallel between the transformation of buildings and changes in social structures. In both cases, the foundation is crucial for new possibilities. But tearing down walls without damaging the foundation is something that has to be learned.
Vera Schneevoigt knows this all too well. As Chief Digital Officer at Bosch Building Technologies, she is responsible for the digitalization of the business, with a focus on transformation, the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. Vera concentrates on holistic, networked solutions that involve a combination of hardware, software and services, drawing on her experience from many years as Senior Vice President Product Supply Operations at Fujitsu. Vera is also an avid fan of reverse mentoring — when young people coach the older generation — and sees it as having great potential for companies. But more on that later.
Technology versus “mental concrete”
Currently, Vera is looking at the future of construction, whether that’s in existing buildings that are being transformed or in new buildings that are being planned completely digitally. She sees technology itself as a raw material. But with this way of thinking, she sometimes encounters “mental concrete”. “The curricula of architects and construction planners have looked the same for years. As a rule, building services are not considered from the outset, but are only included as an additional extra,” Vera notes time and again.
Why should things be any different in the construction industry than they are in most other industries? Unfortunately, the train toward digitalization is only slowly getting rolling. That was also the concern expressed in conversations I had with Andreas Boes, Daniela Gerd tom Markotten. The recurring problem is that the training and course content for skilled workers has not yet arrived in the 21st century, and digital technology is only taught in passing, if at all.
Handmade versus digital
Besides the inadequate curricula and training programs, the shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry can no longer be explained away either. But Vera also sees a great opportunity here: “The shortage of skilled workers on the one hand and the customers’ desire for efficient construction on the other are the best approaches for talking fundamentally about change. Architects, building designers and clients are becoming more open to technology.” By using a digital twin, for example, ventilation or heating systems can be maintained without the need for a specialist. A plumber will only come by to replace spare parts.
We all know that the technology is there and the potential applications are immense. But the knowledge about it is still very much in need of development. “What really worries me is that sales departments have such a hard time adapting in terms of a digital customer journey that can show customers the technological possibilities right from the start,” says Vera. In her experience, even some small craft businesses are more digitally savvy than sales departments at large companies. “The digital solution is just as justified as the handmade one. Everyone needs to be able to think about both,” is Vera’s motto. “I believe that in the future buildings will move a lot more, and mobility for walls and sensors will become very important.”
Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset
Mobility in walls is one thing — mobility in minds is another. A digital transformation can only succeed if there is a paradigm shift in companies and, in addition, current legislation is put to the test. The Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent need for remote working have revealed the need for flexibility in terms of work and living moving forwards. More than ever, companies need to be attuned to this and to the demand for much stronger co-determination in order to remain attractive to employees — especially because of the shortage of skilled workers. If work becomes permanently independent of time and place, companies based in Germany could soon be left behind, as the issue is kept more open in countries with less stringent legal requirements. Germany’s Working Hours Act needs reform. Vera and I agree: good governance is therefore also an important component for driving transformation at all levels.
Talking about change
But companies should not wait for legislation to change. Rather, they should take the first steps themselves. “Germany is very old fashioned in terms of employee structure. Diverse teams are needed. We have to capitalize on the differences,” Vera is convinced. As previously mentioned, she advocates reverse mentoring, giving younger employees with verve and enthusiasm responsibility and providing them with the experienced, older generation not only as a sparring partner but above all as a “spirit partner”. “I now consider the coexistence of old and young to be just as important as that of gendering, because it provides a new way of looking at things,” says Vera.
Even if the power-oriented models continue for a while because long-established bosses are doing everything they can to avoid being undermined, now is the time to start talking about different backgrounds, talents and views, about different leadership models, about the fear of change. All with the goal of getting a non-judgmental view of things, Vera thinks. Diversity must become a preference in companies.
“As we make the transformation, can we manage to look at people not only as a workforce, but also look at them with all their needs and truths and bring them with us?”
“As we make the transformation, can we manage to look at people not only as a workforce, but also look at them with all their needs and truths and bring them with us?” Vera sums up with a philosophically tinged question. I will search for the answer in this blog.