A Follow-Up on My Presentation – Comments and Questions #8 Responsibility for and of the Employees

In this series, I will comment on the written feedback I received after my presentation. Also, I will answer the online questions asked by students I had no time to amply reply to during said presentation.

Lehren für Unternehmensführer – das Leben, das Wissen, die Informatik und die Ethik

„Innovative Entrepreneurs“/ Summer Semester 2010
Leadership in growth-oriented enterprises

Today: Responsibility for Employees

Working for a service enterprise, your employees will certainly often have to change their places of work. Do they see having to face new challenges all the time and never being really deeply involved as an extra strain, or do they consider being confronted by new problems and experiencing different surroundings a great experience? Or maybe this is the aspect that makes working for a service enterprise particularly exciting?

Most people appreciate it if they can approach new themes and projects all the time. They consider it a great experience. Serving the same customer for several years might just make you a little tired of him and wish for a “change of scenery”. However, most of our employees do not appreciate “nomadic” circumstances, for instance living in Munich and working in Hamburg Mondays to Fridays. Unfortunately, it can not always be avoided in our line of work, although we do try to match the individual interests with the business requirements. On the whole, it seems like young persons, too, tend to be less inclined towards mobility (except if it is really worth while, because project, conditions or place of work are particularly attractive). 
Personally, I believe it is more attractive if you learn about new projects, themes, technologies and cultures. It is probably what makes working as an IT counsellor so exciting.

On your homepage, you say that social and value competence are important for you. Which values exactly do you mean? Do you explicitly mean moral values, as well? How do you teach them to your employees?

For me, the important values are a healthy sense of autonomy, the wish to live your life in self-responsibility, moral courage which once in a while must border on constructive disobedience. A certain degree of social competence is an important criterion for getting a job with us. Among those qualities, I count the ability to listen, communicative competence also in critical situations, the capability of conflict management, but also a healthy degree of altero-centricity, including empathic competence. Basically, these are all very normal characteristics and everybody would benefit from having them. We at InterFace try to combine a maximum of personal freedom with a high degree of entrepreneurial clarity and simple rules. Incidentally, this is not at all trivial.

On your website, you mention that, due to the know-how transfer within your network, employees who – for whatever reasons – fail to be on duty, can always be replaced. Would you say that, in principle, every employee is replaceable? Or is that only true with reservations?

🙂 It is really about time I looked at my website!    
I believe we could replace any colleague in case of emergency, because it is true that we have quite a good network. Our internal network, however, is very important for an additional reason: when dealing with customers, our employees can quickly get information even on subjects they are not directly knowledgeable about. Thus, every InterFace employee has a very broad scale of know-how in the background his colleagues have no problems sharing with him.    
On being irreplaceable: basically, everyone can be replaced, but there are certainly some colleagues who have a know-how that is not easily come by again at short notice.

On your homepage, you say that you also employ quite a number of freelancers. What are the advantages of this for your enterprise?

First and foremost, the advantage of using freelancers is obvious: they share the risk. To make up for it, they earn better money while under contract. If we fail to get an order following the first one, the cost for a freelancer will immediately be zero. This is why freelancers are, in a way, the chance for an enterprise to “breathe freely”.
Freelancers are also very helpful when it comes to projects, because they are usually more aware than salaried employees of the fact that only success guarantees our and their income. Freelancers are mostly very faithful. They very much appreciate being treated fairly and often also support us wonderfully in sales.
The only potential problem is the labour leasing law (AÜG for Arbeitnehmerüberlassungsgesetz). We are licenced for “leasing labour professionally” (this sounds typically bureaucratic German). However, this does not permit us to use freelancers.
Incidentally, I believe that, in the long run, salaried working contracts will lose more and more ground. It seems that the time is past for this kind of thing.

After the foundation of an enterprise, there comes a time when you can no longer do or be responsible for everything yourself. How hard is it to delegate responsibility to someone who is only a salaried employee and therefore not directly dependent on the success of the enterprise? Or in other words: do you still personally supervise all the important parts of the enterprise?

I believe that trust has nothing to do with the formal working contract, so I am in favour of the subsidiary principle (Subsidiaritätsprinzip). That means that all decisions should be made as near to the bottom of the hierarchy as possible. Of course, this calls for a high degree of mutual trust. Mutual because there also has to be the guarantee that the boss will eventually back your decision.    
I do not think highly of control, but there is one exception: there must be an excellent mercantile transparency at all times. Otherwise, you might easily land on your nose very soon, indeed.    
Another important rule is that all parties concerned are responsible for the success of the enterprise, according to their abilities.

To what extent do you make strategic factors on top management level part of the implementation of new company software or of the IT planning process?

It would be stupid to ignore what top management among our customers suggest. You would lose the project in no time, even if you were offering highest-quality work.

My next post will be about questions and answers on the location.

(Translated by EG)

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