Peggy Salz-Trautman finds that the list of requirements for tomorrow's manager is growing. Broad-based skills and teamworking are placed at the top.
Cut-throat international competition, the rush to restructure company hierarchies and a booming service sector are factors currently pressurising German firms to combine the solidity of industrial giants with the nimbleness of entrepreneurs. To achieve this goal, German companies of the future will need new ideas and managers who are not afraid to implement them.
In responding to this challenge, German managers are handicapped by tradition. For the majority, their experience has taught them to respect rank, pay indiscriminate attention to detail and tolerate customer service as a tedious duty. In general, German managers have historically neither been encouraged to think as individuals nor taught the value of flexibility. They have often placed so much emphasis on technical expertise and capability that they have neglected to work on their personal charisma. It's not surprising that many foreign employees complain that German managers are cold.
At Volkswagen AG, head of human resources development Peter Haase says that the type of leader best prepared to meet the challenges of the future will be the manager who has developed himself beyond his narrow speciality to command a broad range of general management and people skills. 'Markets are breaking apart and collapsing. The managers of the future will have to know about their specific areas but also where that knowledge fits into the whole picture ... We will have no room for persons with limited scope.' Managers will also have to learn the importance a teamwork - almost a dirty word in a country which has been so wedded to title and position. 'The age of the great individual leading the company is truly history,' says Haase. Managers must learn to steer rather than just give orders. 'The role of a manager', says VW head Ferdinand Piech, 'is to be a coach to his or her colleagues, make sure they do the right things and provide them with trust so they may do their jobs.' Management training at VW is now designed to encourage potential managers to be broader based and work well in, or at the head of, a team.
Ralph Kuntscher, psychologist responsible for management development at Siemens Nixdorf Informationssysteme AG, says the success of future managers and the teams they lead will depend on the manager's ability to listen and show tolerance. Kuntscher also sees a swing away from German preoccupation with product-driven information technology. In future, software and services will power the industry. 'Our managers will be called on more and more to advise customers and not think in terms of products. This will require tomorrow's managers to be warm and empathetic.' These are traits which cannot be taught or trained, Kuntscher says, but they can be encouraged. SNI has taken the first steps in this direction. The company recently restructured its internal organisation with greater emphasis on account managers to strengthen the synergies between itself and customers.
Technology, Kuntscher adds, is a particularly difficult sector because of the danger of obsolescence: 'If you're not moving you're standing still'. The manager of tomorrow and the firm for which he works will have to be a perfect mix of entrepreneur and 'intrapreneur' - the latter introducing fresh ideas and a willingness to take risks into a traditionally risk-averse corporate culture.
Detlef Hunsdiek, executive vice president of human resources at media giant Bertelsmann AG, adds to this growing list of requirements for tomorrow's manager. The future manager, he says, will be expected to take on a more public role. 'He will do his job with the help of dialogue rather than directives,' he says. Managers will also be expected to take more responsibility for their decisions - a task which many German managers, used to a strictly hierarchical decision-making process, will find difficult. But not so, Hunsdiek believes, at Bertelsmann where employees can make career moves after only two years. 'They have responsibility from their first day,' he says. 'We watch how they handle themselves and then decide ... intelligence alone is not a major criteria.' In reality, argues Hunsdiek, neither the challenges of the next decade nor his company's reaction to them will be vastly different from now. But, he argues, demands on both companies and managers in the next decade will be influenced by the rapid expansion among those of pensionable age. Bertelsmann, like many other companies, will have to increase foreign recruitment and maintain its so-called 'native employment' principle of hiring nationals to manage its subsidiaries. This increasing 'internationalisation' of managers, combined with the requirement for enhanced 'people skills', should speed the thaw of the traditionally cold German managerial model.