Young Leaders at MANN+HUMMEL
Kathrin Sauter and Julia Remmele are young, female leaders at MANN+HUMMEL. Kathrin is the Vice President of the Corporate Marketing & Communications department, Julia heads the Corporate Digital Solutions team and leads one of the major digital transformation initiatives at MANN+HUMMEL. In our interview, they talk about their personal definition of success, the benefits of diversity and how to promote corporate culture in times of COVID-19.
Interview with Kathrin Sauter and Julia Remmele
How do you define success, if you think about your own career?
Kathrin: For me, a title and the corresponding salary are not necessarily the definition of success. If my managers, employees and colleagues see me as a valuable team member, consider my work as value-adding or appreciate my commitment – that is success for me. And if my colleagues and my superiors know they can share their concerns with me or give open feedback, then I know I've done something right. And of course, you have to believe in yourself and know what you're capable of. Others will notice that and then titles and salary increases come along at the right time. That may be important, but it's not my primary criterion for success.
Julia: For me, success means being able to appreciate what you have achieved. When I look back on my career so far, there have always been topics that I have driven forward on my own because I felt they were really important. My current project is the best example – it all started with challenges I had in my day-to-day work and has now turned into a major initiative with company-wide scope that will sustainably transform the company. When you manage to win others for an idea you strongly believe in, when you grow into a team with everyone pulling in the same direction, when you then succeed together and can change the company in a positive way - that's when you know it's all worth it.
Which skills do you need in order to be a good leader?
Julia: To me, the most important skill is to listen to your team, and about taking their issues seriously. Secondly, I consider the ability to prioritize to be hugely important. You often hear that managers have no time for their team or for talent management, but to be honest, it is always a matter of prioritization. Third, as a leader you have to make decisions. That involves assuming responsibility and admitting your own mistakes. Step one is to empower your employees to make their own decisions, but if for some reason they can’t, I am here and we decide together.
Kathrin: Empowerment is very important to me - putting the employees in charge and trusting that they can do certain things better than you. I also try to always be authentic, because that's the key to getting employees to accept you as a leader. Reliability is also an important ability for managers. It's important for employees that you keep your word.
Julia, what do you think, how does MANN+HUMMEL benefit from young managers and why is it important to recruit and promote more young female managers in the future?
Julia: I think it is not specifically about young or female managers, it’s about the fact that MANN+HUMMEL generally benefits from diverse teams and leadership – with people of different genders, ages, and backgrounds. To promote diversity in the workforce and at management level, we need to offer a corporate culture and development opportunities that match individual circumstances. As a manager, this is one of my main priorities.
Let me give an example: in my team I have four mothers working in part-time. They all are very talented, and I want to create an environment in which they can follow their individual development path in a way that their family situation allows.
There's another important aspect for creating this kind of flexibility to foster diversity: it should not lead to anyone feeling disadvantaged in the sense of positive discrimination. It is about creating equal opportunities for everyone, as management positions should not be awarded based on superficial attributes such as gender, but on the basis of relevant professional and personal qualities.
What challenges did you face as a young manager and how did you overcome them?
Kathrin: Our industry is dominated by experts, in particular in the technical area. As a young manager, you often feel that people are explaining everything to you. When you are young and not experienced yet, you often take this very personal. But after two or three years, you realize that it is not necessarily a criticism but simply an exchange that more experienced people want to have with younger managers so that they can transmit their knowledge.
As a young manager, I also enjoy being underestimated. In some situations, I can create a “star moment” and can let my knowledge shine through. I never fail to take pleasure in the surprise effect this has.
Julia: As a young manager, you naturally have less experience than your older peers, so you have to do a better job to explain your way of thinking and provide more convincing arguments. And this is an extremely good exercise! If you master this, you can be much more confident in discussions, even if they are difficult.
What also helped me on my way was to find experienced colleagues willing to support my learning and development process as mentors. Openly discussing challenges on a professional but also on a personal level allows me to see myself from a different perspective and find other ways to approach difficult situations.
Kathrin, as a leader, what is the hardest part of your working day and what is most rewarding?
Kathrin: The most difficult thing is being able to let go at the end of the day, despite the fact that there is still a lot to do. Over time, you learn that work is never completely done and that’s a good thing, because you gain new energy and get back in the saddle the next day.
What I enjoy most is seeing employees showing the highest level of commitment to their tasks. I believe that team spirit and team motivation are extremely dependent on the respective manager. If, as an employee, I value my supervisor and know that they also value me and really involve me in their work, then I am also more motivated. I think the best thing is when I see that people enjoy their work and don't just participate because they have to, but because they want to. When that happens, the results are usually great.
Kathrin, how would you describe your management style and how do your employees describe it?
Kathrin: I would describe my management style as collaborative and transparent – and I think my employees would agree. My goal is to solve every task together as a team, and I always pass on any praise directly to my team.
But it is also important to me that everyone takes feedback seriously and learns from it. I have a mixed team, consisting of very experienced employees who have been with the company significantly longer than myself, and very young team members. I have confidence that with a clear objective and the appropriate support, they can find their own way to solve their challenges. That's why it's important to me to communicate goals and milestones clearly and to address blockers openly and in a timely manner. In this process, mistakes can and will occur as a part of the way, and I firmly believe that they help you grow. However, it is important for me that we don’t make the same mistake twice.
Julia, which influence do you have on your team culture or even on the general corporate culture, in particular in times of COVID-19?
Julia: I work in communications and am part of our global COVID-19 steering committee. In this team, we have analyzed and defined the COVID-19 measures, frequently adapted them to the everchanging regulations and communicated them transparently within the company.
A core challenge for us was that employees around the world were no longer on site from one day to the next, and we had to ensure that we maintained contact and closeness. Our employee app suddenly became the main channel for internal communications. We have established direct communication from our CEO, the Management Board Committee and the whole Senior Leadership Team to explain the guidelines in place and provide an assessment of the current situation. These activities and especially the reliable regularity of updates was appreciated a lot among the employees. With these measures, we were able to overcome the lack of stability and the insecurities many experienced in this difficult situation through openness, positivity and trust.
I believe that we have also had a lasting impact on the corporate culture with this strong focus on communication. We encouraged frequent exchanges, for example through daily calls, where the focus was on the well-being and feelings of colleagues rather than on work. This brought us much closer together in the individual teams and in the company as a whole. By openly addressing challenges and needs, team spirit and mutual support have increased significantly. For example, we started virtual afterwork sessions during the lockdown to replace our common lunchtimes or coffee breaks.