STRABAG SE Board Member Alfred Watzl has accompanied the leadership programme from the beginning. Here, he talks about his personal experiences with change and a concrete idea he gained from participating in the programme.
Alfred Watzl
Alfred Watzl
STRABAG SE Board Member

Mr Watzl, you are one of the idea generators for the leadership programme. What motivated you to develop it?
With the advent of digital transformation, the world seems to spin faster and faster. Our topics and our environment are changing, in ever shorter cycles. We are increasingly challenged to better understand young people, our talent, in terms of their expectations and attitudes, and sometimes quite fundamentally, in terms of language. We must adapt our leadership to these dynamic times, and that includes adapting the way in which we work together.

The phrase “dynamic times” is now also found in the title of the leadership programme. How did the path from the findings just described lead to implementing a Group-wide leadership programme?
It was obvious to us that these dynamic times bring great challenges for our leadership culture. Consequently, together with the HR department, we considered more structured training for leadership development and developed this programme with a modular structure. One module is dedicated to the topic of LEAN, which we also want to push further in the Group.

Before the roll-out, did you test the programme?
At the end of 2019 to the beginning of 2020, we examined the structure of the training series in the Executive Board with the management of each division. We wanted to know whether the content was correct, to get to know the programme better, and as a result we made some changes. It was supposed to start in spring 2020…

…but, unfortunately, the coronavirus came instead.
And so the programme was abruptly put on ice. First weeks, then months. Then, in autumn last year I decided that we would not wait any longer in the North + West segment. We started with two test runs, all online.

You even invited people to a virtual fireside chat.
Yes, this discussion format with managers was extremely informative. In the markedly open discussions, it emerged, among other things, that the Division Heads should also go through the leadership programme, something which is now being implemented with enthusiasm and commitment.

So, there is also interest at the highest level?
Yes, that is our goal. We discussed for a long time who should take part. In the end, we agreed that the subdivisional and divisional management level should also participate, that they should be represented in each module, but always in a mix; direct superiors never sit in the same course.

What have you personally observed about having to change the way that you lead?
It’s about speed. We have to react to or drive change permanently and do it at high speed. At the beginning of my career, leadership was much more static; there were clear hierarchies and no such thing as having five communication channels to handle at the same time. Today though, it’s more about sharing information, giving feedback. Vertical hierarchies are eroding, and at the same time horizontal cooperation is emerging, often on a temporary basis and with a project character.

Does this development create pressure?
This is exactly where the leadership programme comes in: We want to take away any fears and pressure, to motivate the leaders, including the older ones, to open up not just to new technologies but also the behaviour and attitudes of the upcoming generations.

What is your personal goal in participating in the modules?
I want to face the challenges of our time, to help shape this time. I am convinced that we must exemplify change, to carry it from the top down into the organisation.

What concrete ideas have you gained from the programme?
One idea is very much on my mind: The creation of so-called safe spaces, in the sense of psychological safety: a place where staff can share ideas openly and honestly, without fear of ridicule or fallout. It’s about expressing one’s opinion on a constructive level. And the task for us managers is, above all, to listen as well as ultimately make decisions.

What feedback have participants provided?
It’s been consistently positive, I’m happy to say. I’ve observed a truly broad change in awareness, a high motivation not only to go along with changes but actively shape them, starting with oneself.

How will you measure the programme’s success?
That’s a question without an easy answer. After all, how does one quantify the mood or spirit in an organisation? One measure could be turnover rate. If we successfully implement the topics of the leadership programme, employee satisfaction should increase. The word will get around that STRABAG works with modern management structures. So, we should see the leadership programme generate direct benefits towards our group goals to further develop STRABAG as an attractive employer and secure, and even steadily increase our long-term economic success.

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