How does transformation succeed? The example of thyssenkrupp Materials Services

Career at thyssenkrupp | innovation | People at thyssenkrupp | thyssenkrupp Materials Services is currently facing a long-term change. Chief Transformation Officer Ilse Henne outlines some key aspects of the process.

Ilse Henne, CTO at thyssenkrupp Materials Services.

“The journey is more important than the destination” – a conversation with Ilse Henne

Ilse Henne manages the change. As Chief Transformation Officer of Materials Services she focuses in particular on the people affected. After all, the transformation into a strong service company can only succeed if employees and customers are involved in the process.

The transformation of Material Services affects the entire business area: Alongside traditional global materials trading, it will focus on logistics services to optimize the customer’s supply chain. How do you approach such a gigantic project?

I am a big fan of many small steps. The intention is clear: We want to combine our services and materials trading to better meet the needs of our customers. But the many changes along the way – I can’t plan them in advance. Then we wouldn’t be able to react flexibly or make adjustments.

I used to say that transformation is like a marathon uphill. It’s difficult to accelerate. Now I realize that this run may never really be over. Transformation is a process of constant change and adaptation. That’s why the journey itself is much more important than the finish. And the only way to progress along this path without losing heart is to take many small steps.

Rather than small steps, don’t customers expect a big disruption that solves all their problems?

On the contrary, the opposite is the case. We operate in key areas of the business such as supply chain management, warehousing and materials purchasing. Nobody wants to jeopardize these with a major disruption.

Therefore, we do not approach the customer with a ready-made service offer, but meet, for example, at Gemba-Walks. We walk through the production halls together with the customer and ask: What are you doing here? Where do you have waste? Where has something changed in the last years? What could be our role in the optimization? The occasions when our customers reject this approach can probably be counted on one hand.

By the way: Even if challenges differ individually, the basic needs are relatively independent of the industry. This means for us: We analyze the individual company but can transfer contexts and solutions from one industry to another.

Chief Transformation Officer, Ilse Henne, about transformation at thyssenkrupp Materials Services.

What does a successful change look like?

It is difficult to make changes and do things differently than before. But stagnating is even less fun, and not an option anyway. When people are positively involved in a change, it shows me that it has been successful.

I am convinced that major transformations are about ‘happy people, happy customers, happy stakeholders’ – and always in that order. We must motivate our employees to go down this path with us. In my experience, the more transparent our communication is, the more positive the reactions are.

How do you motivate yourself and others?

Motivation does not happen by itself. I, too, have to keep asking for feedback: Who is on board? Who has questions? Who needs help? An open and constructive failure culture is as much a part of this as the right instruction. For example, if a company switches to agile working, it must also train its employees.

As Chief Transformation Officer, I personally have to be very convinced and persuasive. For my role is to explain the changes, to keep things running, to preach. But I sometimes find it difficult to understand when others are not moving forward at the same pace. It is perfectly normal that other areas have different priorities than I do. That’s when I have to find the balance between aspiration and reality.

One point at which we could do better is to celebrate small successes. As a Belgian, I have been taught in Germany that it’s enough praise not to scold. But I think we should tell each other more often, when things have gone well.

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