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HR Work in the Digital Age

For unusual ideas and true innovations to emerge, habits need to be called into question. One of the core tasks of HR work at Bertelsmann is therefore to create a motivating workplace environment, to train employees, to promote talent in the company, and to find new creative minds.

Especially in the digital age, new challenges are constantly arising for HR managers in all divisions to contribute to the implementation of the Bertelsmann strategy and to actively shape the future of the company – while also ensuring that the employees can make this contribution. The latest HR Summit centered on how they can further expand their role in future and, together with representatives of each business unit, put strategic decisions into action even more fully and comprehensively. Around 120 HR managers from all over the world came to Bertelsmann Unter den Linden 1 in Berlin for two days. Besides CHRO Immanuel Hermreck, Bertelsmann’s CEO Thomas Rabe was also present to share with participants his ideas and expectations of contemporary HR work in the age of digital transformation.

There is a great need for action in the HR community, as the discussions among participants and with external experts showed. For example, Bill Pelster, Principal at the international auditing and consulting company Deloitte and co-editor of the renowned “Global Human Capital Trends Survey,” spoke of new technologies such as “bots,” which are able to take over simple routine tasks at companies – including in HR departments. He said they are simultaneously an opportunity and a challenge for employees. An opportunity because human staff members will gain time for more important tasks such as individual support of their employees and other more complex activities – and a risk because this process requires intensive preparation and management. The HR Summit participants’ impression was that, as a whole, the increasing digitalization of businesses and the working world is accompanied by major changes for HR work. Accordingly, they discussed the question of whether Bertelsmann is moving forward too slowly compared to the world’s major internet companies, and whether the HR departments have the capacity to make the necessary adjustments. Bill Pelster told the HR managers: “You are asking the right questions at the right time. You want to learn. You are looking at your markets and companies and questioning your processes. Believe me, people in Silicon Valley are also wondering how things are going to develop from here.”

“HR Labs” on “Learning,” “Culture” and “Employee Experience”

The trends from the HR world discussed on Day One were taken up on Day Two and fleshed out with practical examples from the divisions and Corporate. Immanuel Hermreck focused on three topics that are particularly relevant for Bertelsmann's businesses as well as being top priorities in Deloitte's “Global Human Capital Trends Survey”: “Learning,” “Culture,” and “Employee Experience.” In “HR Labs,” the HR Summit participants dealt with these three areas where Bertelsmann's HR work is already pioneering, innovative and on a solid footing for the future. They shared experience, ideas and tips across company and divisional boundaries and thought about how cooperation could be expanded. More talent management and more time for employees, more learning from one other and more vocational training – the HR managers were unanimously agreed on ideas like these, and Immanuel Hermreck was full of approval: “This is a strong statement for the cooperation and the trust that we have built together over the past few years.” He attributed the consensus to the diverse support that Corporate HR provides for colleagues in the divisions, and shared events like the HR Summit, organized by Bertelsmann University and hosted by its CEO Steven Moran.

Priorities for HR work at Bertelsmann

Bertelsmann's Chairman and CEO Thomas Rabe also emphasized the value of HR work for the implementation of Bertelsmann's strategic goals. Awareness of digital processes and the opportunities of digitalization – the “digital mindset” – must be reinforced at all levels, he said, and gave the HR managers this task. In essence, he said he sees a number of priorities for Bertelsmann's HR work, such as even closer cooperation among the HR Community across divisional boundaries – and that this includes use of the various HR tools like Peoplenet, as well as the Bertelsmann Essentials and the “Sense of Purpose,” which form the basis for the unique “Bertelsmann Spirit.” Other top priorities he cited include encouraging management development and staff qualification by providing the most efficient – and therefore preferably digital – training offers. Rabe said performance-related remuneration and the development of incentive systems that particularly reward entrepreneurial efforts will make Bertelsmann an even more attractive employer for creative talents from all over the world.

HR Community as a partner for the business

In his closing speech, Immanuel Hermreck stressed the important role of the entire HR Community in supporting and shaping the development of the businesses. He sees HR managers as fulfilling two distinct roles in this process: one is their daily work on the ground, and the other is as part of the large HR Community at Bertelsmann, which promotes Group-wide topics. He picked up on the earlier presentation by Professor Heiko Roehl, an organizational development expert who advocates “ambidextrous leadership.” Transferred to the HR world, Hermreck said this means providing HR services efficiently and effectively for the businesses, but at the same time also adapting HR work to new requirements. “Our roles, too, aren’t always easy to reconcile, but we must embrace these tasks as our contribution to the implementation of the overall strategy,” he said.

Ongoing development of employees, processes and technologies 

“Since the last HR Summit in 2015, we have taken HR work at Bertelsmann to a new level,” said Hermreck. “We have defined HR-relevant criteria for establishing or taking over companies.” New remuneration rules have been implemented, a Development and Transfer Center for the employees affected by restructuring was piloted in the Gütersloh area, and corporate responsibility activities have been strengthened. “We have also created various talent management initiatives that enable us to develop qualified staff from within our companies. We can already see that in cross-divisional succession planning, over 80 percent of all the top appointments are internal candidates, and 30 percent of candidates are from a different division.”

Similar successes can be seen in the field of ​​vocational education. Innovative forms of learning and digital formats are designed to enable lifelong learning in the workaday routine. A new learning culture is being created at Bertelsmann, in which  employees receive proactive, self-directed and demand-driven/needs-oriented training. “With the increasing digitization of Bertelsmann University's offerings, the number of offline courses has fallen by 80 percent, while the digital learning portfolio, on the other hand, already includes more than 10,000 courses on Peoplenet – 9,000 of them from our partner,” said Hermreck. “Peoplenet, which serves as our central platform for digital learning offers, is now available to around 85,000 employees in 38 countries.” Peoplenet’s recruitment module has generated nearly one million visits, 1,400 job offers and 130,000 applications.

The CHRO also talked about the results of the global Employee Survey 2016, which were published in March. He said employees had given better ratings in many categories than in the previous survey. “These are the fruits of our work as well,” Hermreck told the HR managers, but cautioned that there is still a lot to be done. “For example, we want our employees to feel even more that they are part of a greater whole,” said Hermreck, and referred to the “Sense of Purpose” in this connection. “People who feel valued will be fully committed to their company. They will be more creative and innovative,” he said. For this reason, it is important to involve employees more in internal company processes, and to ensure greater transparency in the company. 

“We are on the right track,” concluded Hermreck. “Our efforts to further develop our employees, processes and technologies are paying off.” However, there should be a continued focus and further fine-tuning of measures, he said. “The next few years will remain exciting and offer many new opportunities,” he concluded. “Our role in HR is to help shape the future of Bertelsmann – a Bertelsmann that is attractive for the employees of tomorrow – and at the same time to prepare our current employees for the challenges of the future.” (benet)

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