INNOVATING TOGETHER The stories that make us Freudenberg
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“Every employee is a Talent” – An interview with Hartmuth Posner

Mr Posner: everyone today is talking about talent management and its great importance for companies. How essential is it for Freudenberg?

Talent management has always been very important to Freudenberg. Further developing the skills of colleagues, making them happier, is something that is explicitly set down in our company’s guiding principles – and they can be traced back to a document that is 130 years old. But it has taken on an even more central role since we began practicing talent management in its current form. We have set ourselves the goal of supporting all our employees and making full use of the potential of each and every one of them. In doing so, we want to enable the company and individual colleagues to flourish and progress.

The concept of fostering employees isn’t necessarily a new one. Why is it so vital right now to install this kind of talent management process?

Every employee is a talent, so everyone should be included in the process. It is of particular importance, especially in today’s working world, which is growing ever tougher and more competitive, to present ourselves as attractive employers – both to our existing staff and to potential job applicants. That is why it is of the utmost importance for us to communicate both internally and to the market in general that we help our employees develop their skills, that we fully utilize the potential of every employee in our company and that we give everybody the chance to develop.

What does that mean in real terms?

We have talent management meetings scheduled all year round, starting with the various individual Business Groups in the first quarter. The results are then presented to the executive board in a global talent conference held annually. At this conference, the management teams of the subgroups and the global HR managers present the managers in the level below the top management of the subgroups, including all high potentials, and the succession plan for their own organization. In this way, the executive board and global HR management can gain an impression of the performances of the managers in each respective subgroup, and find possible candidates for positions at the first and second management levels, if it proves necessary to appoint a new person to a given position. It pays to be prepared for such an event, because the need to reappoint a position often comes suddenly and unexpectedly – whether that’s the result of a promotion, a person changing job or leaving the company, or some other unforeseen event.

So that means if I worked in one Business Group for many years, the other Business Groups would know who I am?

That’s right. We often send managers from one subgroup to another to help them gain a broader spectrum of experience. The subgroups involved also benefit from this, as it can bring a new way of looking at the organization, as seen from the standpoint of another subgroup. This is not the case for all executive level staff, but we will be increasing our support for such reappointments in future, because the more industries you get to know, the more experience you can offer.

Talent management must be an incredibly complex issue in such a global and diversified company. How do you go about it?

The challenge itself is a global one, but it can be mastered with the aid of our Group-wide talent management process, which encompasses all Business Groups, countries and company sites. So what we do in China, for instance, doesn’t differ from what we do in India, South America or Germany. Since its launch in 2013, the sustained high quality of the entire process has priority for us – worldwide and in a unified form. A system helps us to record all relevant information we gain about our employees and promising talents. Only colleagues in Corporate HR have access to this data for their global responsibility, and HR managers to the extent of their authorization and expertise.

You say that all staff members are talents and registered in the System – but how can special high potentials be found in it?

In an interview, an employee’s self-perception is compared with the supervisor’s impression. After this discussion, the evaluation of their last year’s performance is saved in the system. Here, a predefined process also makes a structured interview possible. This looks at overall performance as well as personal conduct, using our five behavior criteria. What’s more, we have made the decision to assess the potential of individual colleagues according to three different criteria: “Management of Change”, “Influence in the Organization” and “People and Organization Development”. These benchmarks were selected because they can provide insights into whether the employee has the potential to be able to deal with more major tasks and challenges.

Let’s say I get identified as a high potential – what happens next? What goes on in the background and what actions are expected of me personally?

The annual employee interview is not only there to look at the person’s past performance. Part of the meeting is meant to point out and discuss possible fields of activity for the future and to talk about what the staff member can still learn and what experience he or she can and should gather. That can take place in the form of seminars and training courses as well as on the job. The most important thing is that the whole process prepares the employee to take on more responsibility. The goal of the employee interview, alongside evaluating performance, is to shed light on the employee’s strengths and point to possible areas for development on that basis.

What development programs are there for employees at Freudenberg?

For five years now, Freudenberg has been promoting the development of executives with the Freudenberg Leadership-Development Program for first management and project experience. We now offer this program not only in Germany but throughout Europe. There are also comparable programs in place in North America, South America, China and India. Our plan is to expand the offering to further programs within the Freudenberg Group. That is one of the programs at present, and two further top programs have been conceived together with the INSEAD business school for the first and second management levels in the subgroups. These represent an excellent vocational training opportunity: the Freudenberg “Strategic Leadership Program” and the “Business Leadership Program”. Furthermore, in our Freudenberg Academy we are currently working on a systematic program structure to give us a concept for every management level and to enable people to pass through the entire range of programs – all the way through to the top ones.

Do colleagues also have the opportunity to develop their potential at international sites?

Of course. It is a Freudenberg tradition to send colleagues abroad to gain international experience, if they are interested in doing so. Experience working in other countries is of particular value to those who aspire to a top-management position, because it is laid down in our target profiles that potential candidates for a management position at the highest level should have professional experience abroad. So it pays to send people out of the country early on in their careers.

Identifying development potential is one aspect; retaining identified talents within the company is another. What does Freudenberg do to retain its high potentials?

As I see it, two main things are important here: good management on the one hand and interesting career prospects on the other. There is an adage I believe in that says: people join a company but they leave a boss. That is why it is so essential to give employees good leadership, with supervisors who have their finger on the pulse and who they can talk to on a regular basis. Managers should always know for each member of their team whether they enjoy what they do or if they would prefer to develop in some other direction and be given bigger challenges to deal with. Doing so can save you from the unpleasant surprise of staff members suddenly coming up to you one day and saying that they are going to leave the company. Good leadership, interesting work and a promising outlook for future responsibilities and challenges: that is what keeps people in the company.

How does good and successful talent management affect Freudenberg’s employer brand?

Establishing good talent management in the company has positive effects internally and externally, because it says to people: we foster the development of our employees, offer promising prospects for the future and attractive tasks, and each and every staff member has the chance to pursue a career. And if colleagues also speak highly of the company and its talent management, this further enhances our image. Colleagues pass on the message of what Freudenberg stands for to the market: attractive jobs, upward mobility and personal values consistent with those of the company. Good talent management makes a key contribution to the company’s image as a good employer.

Freudenberg Group

Together with our customers and with our research partners, we develop leading-edge technologies, products, solutions and services. The innovative strength of Freudenberg has many facets. Having pioneered innovation throughout our history – from chrome tanning and the development of the Simmerring to sophisticated and high-tech medical devices – our company is an innovation champion.

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Christian Daumann