"It's very important to me to get to know and absorb the atmosphere and culture of Volkswagen Financial Services before things really get going," said Dr. Alexandra Baum-Ceisig shortly before taking up her duties in July 2020 as Member of the Management Board responsible for Human Resources and Organization. She has now been in office for more than six months and, in an interview with Corporate Communications, she takes stock of her tenure up to now and looks ahead to the challenges in 2021.
Dr. Baum-Ceisig, you came to us in the middle of the pandemic. You would probably have wished for a different start. How has it been for you?
Baum-Ceisig: It would have been great, of course, to get to know more of the staff and managers directly and to introduce myself to the employees in person as well. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible due to the coronavirus. So I'm particularly pleased that I was nevertheless given such a warm welcome and that I was able to familiarize myself with all the new topics and issues so easily as a result. Looking back, I would say my start in the midst of the pandemic went better than expected.
Home office, keep a safe distance, avoid personal meetings – those are still the orders of the day. With so much distance being maintained, how can you get to know your new colleagues and teams properly and get off to a good start together?
Baum-Ceisig: Easy: we simply turned the camera on more often on Skype or else exchanged views and ideas over the phone. Of course it's nicer to sit down together face to face for certain topics. In the beginning, I still had the chance to take part in personal meetings and get to know individual employees. I was able to successfully build on that in the home office phase. Despite everything, all the important topics could be effectively dealt with and any issues resolved.
What has changed for you personally as a result of your new task?
Baum-Ceisig: First of all, it's an advantage of course that I was already in charge of human resources for non-production units at Volkswagen AG. Many topics and problems are very familiar to me. But I had less contact with financial services until now. There has been a lot to learn. And, obviously, the responsibility I now have as a Member of the Management Board is quite different from that in my previous position. In addition to Human Resources and Organization, I'm also responsible for sales in the 'Region International', which includes countries such as Australia, Japan and India. This sharpens my international perspective outside my HR role in a different way. It would be great to be able to visit these regions soon and discuss the upcoming challenges on the spot. I'm looking forward to that.
What impression have you gained of Volkswagen Financial Services during the past six months?
Baum-Ceisig: At VW FS we have the challenges of digitalization firmly in view and are implementing many aspects in a highly innovative manner. I noticed that straight away. Many large-scale projects that are having a strong impact on the company are running simultaneously. I find it exciting to be able to be part of this change process and shape its progress. It's particularly important to me that we work together with the management team to continuously make sure that everyone is on board and involved along this journey. We need the skills of those we work with, but also the courage and willingness to change. And I say that quite deliberately, because I've got to know very motivated and innovative colleagues who are willing and eager to help shape the future. But in some cases I've also gained the impression that the nature of the challenges has not yet sunk in with everyone. This is of course also due to the fact that the transformation has quite a long start-up curve and it isn't yet immediately tangible for everyone. But the changes will come, and we must use the time now to prepare ourselves adequately. And that's indeed what we're doing.
The Covid-19 pandemic is still having a massive impact on the day-to-day work routine at VW FS, as well as on collaboration and work processes. Up to now you've only experienced the "remote culture". What do you think a pandemic like this will do to our company culture in the long term?
Baum-Ceisig: I believe the pandemic brings it home to us how important being and working together is. It shows us the importance of personal exchange with others and that it's an advantage to sit across from each other, especially during creative processes or in project work. This has also been the feedback I've received from many managers and fellow employees. Nonetheless, mobile working will continue to be an important tool for us in the future as well: it will enable us to support a better reconciliation of work, family and private life, to promote new forms of working together and to further enhance our attractiveness as an employer. At the same time, the pandemic has made us realize all the things that we can achieve together, even if we are no longer sitting in the same office. That's something we can be proud of.
We need the courage and willingness to change.
As Chief Human Resources Officer, your capabilities are particularly called for when it comes to making the workforce "more digital" as part of the transformation. At the last Supervisory Board meeting, the topic HR Transformation – Fit4Tech was specified as a priority subject matter for 2021. What's that about exactly?
Baum-Ceisig: Making the workforce more digital is the second step. In the first step, a project team is looking at what repercussions digitalization will have on our workforce. We need a more precise picture of which areas will be affected in qualitative and quantitative terms by the transformation in the medium term. That means, for example, where operations might be eliminated completely or where new fields of activity could arise. We're currently working on this. But there's one thing we know already: the transformation will indeed change the scope of the tasks and functions performed by our employees over the next few years – and we need to prepare them for this. This raises the question of which types of job with which skills will still be needed in the future or which should be specially nurtured through qualification measures. Based on the results of our analysis, we will draw conclusions for the further transformation of our company and develop a strategic consultation with the HR business partners. Needless to say, it's also important that our managers be closely involved in the transformation process and therefore be a source of detailed advice, guidance and support to our employees.
Until now, many employees have associated the 'internal labor market' with the term personnel transformation. What's the current state of play in this area?
Baum-Ceisig: The 'internal labor market' started up in 2018 and is our company's tool for personnel transformation. In the meantime, 180 employees have found a new role. That's a great achievement by the Transformation Office. But it's just the beginning. Major transformation surges will only come about over the next few years. However, the instrument of the internal labor market has proved its worth. We have gained the initial experience needed. That will help us in the future.
In order to remain competitive, we have to optimize and standardize our processes across countries at the same time.
The company is growing closer and closer together internationally. The focus is shifting to transnational solutions. At the same time, it's always about becoming faster, better and more efficient. What does that mean for the skills here at company HQ in Braunschweig?
Baum-Ceisig: One thing is certain: we will definitely continue to need very well qualified employees here in Braunschweig. But competition from abroad is increasing. For example, there are now many highly qualified IT specialists working in countries like Romania, Portugal or India – and there's growing competition for other job profiles too. So, in order to maintain our position as an attractive location in the international arena, we have to be one of the best. We're working on this with our qualification offerings and we're currently testing new formats that we hope to be able to offer soon. We also need to look very carefully at who we bring on board when recruiting new talent. The crucial thing, however, is that we all pull together and also acquire new skills and familiarize ourselves with new subject matter. And in order to remain competitive, we have to optimize and standardize our processes across countries at the same time.
2021 is already well underway and the overall environment remains challenging in the face of the ongoing pandemic. What do you expect from 2021?
Baum-Ceisig: I hope that the coronavirus pandemic will soon level off and that we can fully focus again on what we're supposed to be doing, on our actual tasks and responsibilities. This virus is severely hampering our day-to-day work. At times, or in some cases all the time, working from home for long periods is also a major challenge for our employees. Many of them also have children to look after at home and have to spend considerable time helping them with their schoolwork. It would be great if things could become a little more normal again in this respect and if we, together as VW FS, could all really get going again. We have, after all, a lot ahead of us. The uncertainty as to when we'll get back to more normality doesn't exactly make it any easier.
Dr. Baum-Ceisig, thank you for this interview!