Portrait Lars Karsten

Interview

‘Our innovative power comes from our employees.’

Chief People’s Officer Lars Karsten on flat hierarchies, lateral entrants and digital transformation at umlaut.

What qualifications do applicants need who want to work at umlaut?

The passion and will to change things. And the courage to stand up for your ideas. For that, we will provide the necessary pre-requisites. At umlaut, you can have confidence and are allowed to make mistakes. That is part of our culture, where we as board members set an example. That is the only way people have the courage to try things out and develop ideas. Our innovative power comes from our employees.

In addition, we have flat hierarchies so that everyone can quickly take on responsibility That is a challenge for employees, but also an opportunity. That way we can better implement new ideas. Our organisation is based on networking, allowing us to communicate directly with one another rather than having to go all the way through the hierarchy. For we believe that we can all learn a lot from one another.

How important is the employee’s professional competence?

What matters most to us is that employees fit in to umlaut and bring the above-mentioned qualities. That is more important than professional competence, for the knowledge necessary for the individual clients’ projects is usually so specific that new employees will need to learn from their colleagues on the project. Through this coaching on the job, a lot is learning by doing. In addition, we convey the necessary knowledge through training by internal and external experts. We never let anyone just “jump in at the deep end”.

What chances do young professionals or lateral entrants have?

We work a lot with young talent that comes fresh from university. They start with us, in some cases as student employees, and we then teach them the ropes.

Then there are our "rookie cycles", in which we regularly challenge young, promising talents with unusual tasks. In one case, for instance, the idea of a tailor-made, 3D-printed biathlon sports rifle was born. After only a few months of development, the team was ready for production, which impressed the global market leader Anschütz so much that they became our cooperation partner.

We are also open to take lateral entrants on board. One example is musical scientists who support us with their professional knowledge on the testing of car entertainment and sound systems. In one specific case, a small idea in a consultancy project lead to something much greater. Initially, a large car OEM came to us as they needed support in their quality control of entertainment systems. That went so well that we formed our own start-up, which is now embedded in our brand but operates independently. Today, this start-up employs 800 people, who test the complete electronic systems on vehicles, from indicators to starters, and how the various components communicate with one another.

Is there a regular exchange of information between employees?

Yes, we repeatedly organise network events to encourage setting up direct contacts and using their imagination for new ideas. An example of this is our Irregulars’ Table, which takes place in Hamburg and other sites. Employees present their projects, competences or new clients. All employees are invited to attend, listen and share a beer afterwards to talk about the event. Based on these conversations, often enough new ideas or business models are created.

Based on this same principle we organise our umlaut Fusion*, which so far was always held in Aachen, but which we now want to extend to France, India and USA. The event is an exhibition with some 40 booths where employees tell each other about their expertise – independent of their areas of competence. Thus, hundreds of ideas are created of how to better support our clients.

What does umlaut, as employer, want to focus on this year? What is planned for 2020?

We want to intensively care for our employees and prepare them for the digital transformation, just as much as the whole company. That includes strengthening employee development in operation and improving those processes.

According to recent studies, 50% of all workers will have different occupations in the next 5 years as their jobs are gradually replaced through automation and digitalisation. That is why we are taking measures today to develop our employees and, for example, make them experts in digitalisation and automation. With this umlaut is laying the groundwork for the future.

umlaut has slightly changed the title of „Chief People Officer”. What is the reason?

umlaut is a people-oriented, participative company. Our employees are the cornerstone of our success and our futurability. In our understanding, the Chief People’s Officer is therefore responsible for more than just strategic employee planning and development. More importantly, the CPO is there to enable our people to help shape the company in all areas and to give their ideas and wishes a voice all the way through to board level. That’s the “extra” we want to express with the extended title of Chief People’s Officer.


* taking into account the current situation of COVID-19