Christian P. Illek, Member of the Deutsche Telekom Board of Management for Human Resources since April 2015
Mr. Illek, what does digitization mean for all of us as well as for society – is it a blessing or a curse?
We are seeing dramatic changes in our world due to digitization. As the saying goes: "Life will never be as slow as it is right now." We all need to deal with these changes – both personally and professionally. One thing we can be sure of - digitization knows no limits. This may sound threatening to some, but anyone who takes a closer look will notice that they are already part of this development: when they surf the Internet, use social media or simply check their account balance online. I consider the situation as a positive one and am convinced that digitization will promote us as a society and as a company. Previous industrial revolutions show that those countries and businesses that adopted new technologies at an early stage are those that are well off now.
Doesn't Deutsche Telekom have a home advantage in this respect? Its services play a significant role in digitizing our everyday life.
The major challenge that we at Deutsche Telekom are also facing is how to digitize our core business, which we have been growing for decades, and take our employees with us on this journey. We are not a start-up; we have an established structure and culture. That is why we need to consider how to properly balance out the enormous changes we make in the Group in terms of digitization. We want to take as many employees with us on this journey as possible. Although we have some employees who do not wish to take this step into digitization, there are also others who can hardly wait. We need to consider these two mindsets in the digital transformation of our Group.
And what do you tell those employees who do not want to come along on this journey?
I would tell them: "Give digitization a chance, there are no alternatives. Get actively involved. That will secure your job in the future." And I would definitely point out the many supportive offers at our Group that enable our employees to keep up with digitization. We need to show people that digitization is also about guaranteeing your attractiveness as an employee.
And what will change with digitization?
The work of the future will in many ways be a lot more project-based than today.. Team structures will be much more heterogeneous. We will have to come to terms with the fact that some of our activities, in particular standardized, repetitive tasks, will be carried out by intelligent machines. The topic of employee participation, i.e., democratization of the workplace, will be boosted by digitization. Independent work and self-management are becoming increasingly important. Information monopolies are starting to dissolve, knowledge is being shared. Social media, although still dismissed by some as a gimmick, will become the main drivers of process productivity, and offer huge potential as yet untapped. I firmly believe that in the future we will collaborate much more in virtual communities, not only within the company but also with our partners and customers.
And what are the new challenges Human Resources will have to face?
Good HR management provides orientation and transparency – both in everyday work and regarding the future challenges our employees will face in our work environment. We support our employees in mastering and shaping digitization – the best team that will drive us along our path to becoming the leading European telecommunications provider.
Key innovations are no longer the product of individuals but are created in collaboration. That is why we are interested in the topic of digital, virtual collaboration, what trends exist outside of our company and how we can use them in human resources management. With work becoming increasingly mobile, access to our systems via mobile devices needs to be possible as well. This, of course, also has an impact on our leadership styles. We are paving the way by demonstrating the collaborative leadership models that are out there. We are focusing on concepts like workspaces and work environments, from office layouts to what people need for mobile working.
Getting the right people to the right place at the right time has always been HR management's key task. During a time when everything is in motion, this is becoming an entirely new challenge. How can that challenge be mastered with almost 220,000 employees?
One example is our strategic Skills Management project, which will help us manage our HR planning more effectively while promoting the employability of our employees. The goal of this pilot project, which has been agreed with the Group Works Council, is to create a database that provides a transparent overview of our employees' skills. We will be able to use the database to identify skills gaps for each employee and team and then encourage any necessary training. The skills database is another example of our productive collaboration with employee representatives. This project is a great example of how employers and employee representatives are prepared to shape the digital transformation together, in the interest of employees. After signing the first collective agreement on mobile working last year, we have taken things a step further with our skills database.
If the professional world is steadily and radically changing, how can people keep up?
I think that is a question most people do not even ask themselves. Because digitization has many positive effects and can increase quality of life, they are prepared to take this path. In my experience, people flourish when they have freedom and can grow. Employees, regardless of their age, are increasingly expecting creativity, diversity and openness as well as individual training and development opportunities from their working environment and tasks. They want to take on responsibility and new challenges – ideally no day is like another. And when it is no longer important where and when we work and constant availability and accessibility is no longer a sign of performance, work can more easily be combined with private life.
But couldn't it be that employees are scared of losing their jobs due to digitization? Aren't there studies with dramatic predictions?
There are studies that predict dramatic job losses and there are studies that expect a very favorable impact on employment figures. We will see very different results depending on the industry and field. This also applies at our company, as we will be making job cuts in some fields while creating new jobs in others. The sooner a company recognizes and addresses the topic of digitization, the better prepared it will be for the changes to come and the more able to shape the best possible future for the company and its employees. I believe that digital solutions will help us meet growing customer requirements and offer more services. That means that we will have more possibilities for corporate action and thereby create jobs.
I don't know what the future holds. But in having a positive attitude toward change and innovation, I can help shape the changes to come – whatever they may be. That is what we need to do to guarantee a strong future at Deutsche Telekom.