“Our recipe for success: Diversity and innovative ability”

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September 11, 2023 | Leadership and Organizational Development, Staufen Academy

As Director of Corporate Learning and Development, Dr. Makoto Makabe has been in charge of employee development at the Freudenberg Group for about ten years. Together with the Staufen Academy, he has found a way to address the diversity of executives within the Group’s global operations.

Freudenberg is a global technology company that sustainably strengthens its customers and society with pioneering innovations. Working closely with partners, customers and the scientific community, the Freudenberg Group develops technologically leading products, excellent solutions and services for some 40 market segments and for thousands of applications: Seals, vibration control components, batteries and fuel cells, technical textiles, filters, cleaning textiles, filters, cleaning technologies and products, specialty chemicals and medical technology products. In 2021, the Freudenberg Group boasted a staff of 50,000 employees in some 60 countries worldwide and generated sales in excess of sales of more than 10 billion euros.

Interview with Dr. Makoto Makabe, Director of Corporate Learning and Development at Freudenberg-Group

Supply chain problems, a lack of qualified workers and skyrocketing energy costs – today’s economy is facing major challenges that it has to deal with in parallel. Dr. Makabe, what kind of recipe does Freudenberg use to deliver performance and still remain competitive under these difficult conditions?

Just look at our guiding principles and you will find the answer: customer proximity, innovation, leadership, people, responsibility and long-term focus. Reducing this to two words, we say: “Innovating together”. For me, what this means is: diversity and innovative ability. What’s interesting in this context is that these guiding principles were not drafted at the green table, but in. a sense condensed are a reflection of Freudenberg’s almost 175 years of experience.

You have years of experience in developing people and organizations. What impact does a crisis have on employees, but also on managers?

Clearly, it initially creates uncertainty. The pressure on executives is enormous in such situations, because they are affected by the crisis in the same way, yet are now expected to tell others where to go from here. Ideally, a leader is someone who is able to orchestrate the learning process, even in a crisis, and ensure that his or her staff do not fall into a panic zone where learning is impossible.

How can this be accomplished?

The responsibility of every executive is to find this out for themselves by experimenting. Like a pressure cooker: You need enough heat and pressure to make a stew taste good. The manager must determine whether there is enough pressure on the system, whether more pressure is needed, or whether it is better to release some steam so that nothing boils over. This assumes that the manager has a precise grasp of the situation and is also able to take himself out of it and look at it from above, so to speak.

What kind of skills does the ideal manager need to develop for this?

I have a problem defining what an ideal executive has to be able to do. In my opinion, there is no such thing as an ideal manager who is able to function well in every context. Take Freudenberg, for example. We have 11 business groups and more than 40 different business units in different markets. Instead of telling managers that they might deviate from the ideal, we make use of the available diversity. The objective is for our people in the market to develop products that our customers really need and for them to find out for themselves what is right in their environment.

Ideally, a leader is someone who is able to orchestrate the learning process, even in a crisis, and ensure that his or her staff do not fall into a panic zone where learning is impossible.

Dr. Makoto Makabe
Director of Corporate Learning and Development, Freudenberg-Group

How does Freudenberg measure up to this high standard in management development?

Our entire architecture of leadership programs is designed for every level of the of the organization. To give just one example: We designed our global “Operations Leadership Program” with the Staufen Academy so that training always directly relates to the shop floor. By bringing our plant managers, whether they are seasoned veterans or newcomers, to the shop floor together, we ensure the diversity that is necessary so that participants can find out for themselves what is right for their particular environment.

Power Skills

Job-spanning skills are crucial now.

Power skills include competencies such as digital skills, the ability to collaborate, teamwork, creativity, flexibility, and empathy. Individual initiative and the ability to communicate are among the skills that the most managers are seeking in their employees. And everyone can learn and expand their power skills. Encouraging these skills in employees requires training offerings that are high-quality and individually tailored. It makes sense to concentrate on one or two skills and to improve these in goal-oriented fashion.

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