Clear Paths, Happy Employees Steffen Fischer’s Blueprint for a Supportive Work Environment

Steffen Fischer
Steffen Fischer

The intricate world of international automation pulsates with the beat of innovation and at the helm stands Steffen Fischer. He serves as a pivotal force, guiding ifm group services gmbh as the CHRO and a distinguished Executive Board Member.

Steffen is the maestro of holistic HR approaches, managing a broad range of organizational design and people-centric strategies. He is also a co-author of BPM brochures such as ‘Die Personalstrategie kompakt’ and ‘Der Personalstratege konkret,’ delving deep into the multifaceted realm of HR. His literary footprint extends to the exploration of Artificial Intelligence’s role in HR, as evident in the 2019 publication ‘Zwischen Euphorie und Skepsis – KI in der Personalarbeit.’

Steffen’s influence extends beyond ifm, as he assumed the managerial helm of the strategic HR management group at Bundesverband der Personalmanager e.V. in 2014. A testament to his global acumen, he took on the role of Business Ambassador Singapore in 2015, advocating for German small and medium-sized enterprises on foreign shores.

For Steffen, HR is an exhilarating journey. Beyond the products and solutions, he perceives the heartbeat of any organization lying in its people and the intricacies of organizational design—a realm distinctly shaped by the HR manager. Steffen infuses this dynamic landscape with a blend of expertise, emotional intelligence, robustness, and an innate joy for human development.

In addition to his illustrious career at ifm group services gmbh, Steffen’s dedication extends beyond the corporate realm to humanitarian efforts. As a Volunteer Board Member of Doctors Without Borders, Steffen lends his expertise as an HR professional to support the organization’s critical mission. While not a requirement, his involvement with Doctors Without Borders underscores his commitment to making a difference in the world. This endeavor holds a special place in Steffen’s heart, reflecting his deeply held belief in the importance of serving communities in need.

Transparent Threads

A holistic HR approach is crucial in the dynamic world of corporate strategy. He emphasizes the need to seamlessly integrate strategic considerations and operational elements. At ifm, this approach is the foundation of their success. The company’s commitment to making corporate goals tangible across departments and global locations is evident in its global HR strategy.

Steffen highlights that at ifm, transparency is key, with an accessible overview of coordinated HR topics available in multiple languages. The inclusive approach involves all stakeholders fostering collaboration and ensuring that jointly developed concepts contribute real value to day-to-day operations. The company’s management matrix ensures that HR is on par with other crucial departments such as production, development, quality, finance, and sales.

Decentralization at ifm doesn’t mean a lack of coordination, rather it emphasizes the importance of ‘listening and networking,’ notes Steffen. The approach focuses on constant adjustment and networking to stay attuned to the diverse needs of a global workforce. Moreover, ifm’s commitment to a culture of continuous improvement and engagement is about employee satisfaction and also a strategic move to enhance productivity and innovation. Steffen emphasizes how this approach effectively develops and retains talent, propelling the company’s innovative strength and growth.

Global Perspectives, Local Contributions

Starting his career at an international technology company within DaimlerChrysler Aerospace, Steffen reflects on the fortunate beginnings that shaped his professional journey. “This gave me a vast network and opportunities for collaboration,” he shares, emphasizing the importance of early exposure to a global landscape.

His role which encompasses both classic HR tasks and legal responsibilities involved extensive travel with sales while providing a unique customer and sales perspective that continues to influence his central HR role today.

Steffen’s stint at MTU further enriched his understanding of HR dynamics emphasizing the significance of a robust corporate culture and effective talent management strategies. He delves into his experience in international personnel management, particularly with a German-Canadian joint venture spanning Great Britain and South Africa. Reflecting on the decentralization at a smaller location, he notes, “I could actively contribute to the bigger picture,” highlighting the value of local contributions in a global context.

These experiences have deeply influenced Steffen’s convictions about the essentials of leadership. He stresses the importance of clear communication and tailored development programs for promoting effective leadership and enhancing team performance. His practical approach extends beyond conceptual discussions, emphasizing the need to perform operationally with day-to-day things. Steffen’s journey underscores the importance of real-world action in shaping a successful HR strategy.

Benchmarking Excellence

Steffen self-describes as a “soccer fan constantly staying on the ball” in the HR realm revealing his proactive approach to staying abreast of industry trends. Engaging with HR networks, participating in professional conferences and collaborating with solution providers keep him in the game. “Eventually, you’re in and get asked to take a stand on current HR topics,” he notes.

For Steffen, this constant collaboration with industry experts translates into continuous education and a natural benchmarking process. “You are forced to compare yourself with innovative HR practices of others,” he states, underlining the importance of staying competitive and forward-thinking. In his publications, Steffen reflects on these experiences, using them to ‘process such topics’ and organize his insights for a broader audience. This dynamic and engaged approach defines Steffen’s commitment to navigating the HR landscape.

Transformative Trends

Reflecting on the early days of AI integration in HR, Steffen acknowledges, “In 2019, we were very early – probably too early.” Undeterred by the initial lack of interest, he spearheaded the establishment of the AI-HR-LAB platform, dedicated to AI solutions in HR. Fast forward to today, Steffen sees a significant shift, “Today, with the advent of user-friendly GPTs, it’s different.” Artificial intelligence, particularly user-friendly GPTs presents transformative possibilities in HR spanning recruitment to employee development.

Steffen envisions a future where AI tools play a pivotal role in HR management facilitating data-driven decisions and personalized employee experiences. He emphasizes the potential of predictive analytics in talent management and the automation of administrative tasks to empower strategic HR initiatives. However, he pragmatically notes that challenges persist including the need for clear company usage regulations, robust data protection measures, stringent data security, and resolution of copyright issues.

From Pitfalls to Progress

In his current role, Steffen gains a broader perspective on the HR landscape emphasizing the significance of networking and cross-industry exchange. This experience has fueled his passion to position HR as a strategic partner within the company, his ‘professional home.’ Steffen’s main insight highlights a common pitfall, “Many HR managers jump too quickly into specific HR topics without first understanding the overall strategy of their own company.” His professional group stands out for its integrated approach to HR topics offering a comprehensive understanding.

Steffen finds joy and continuous learning in moderating HR strategy events, where he shares, “I learn incredibly much myself.” The camaraderie with professional colleagues, characterized by trust and simplicity adds a layer of enjoyment to his work. Reflecting on over a decade of announcing HR trends, Steffen notes that the response is always overwhelming which supports reinforcing the professional image of HR managers and the crucial role of HR topics.

The Subsidiarity Shift

Steffen emphasizes the diversity of corporate cultures and the unique challenges, stating, “Corporate cultures, requirements due to the product, market conditions, and local challenges vary from company to company.” In personnel management, he underlines the impracticality of a one-size-fits-all solution recognizing the need for adaptability in shaping organizational structures and fostering employee engagement.

Steffen addresses key challenges faced by ifm, highlighting the continuous reassessment of two critical topics, he states, “Complexity reduction in decision-making without losing sight of important details” and “The balance between centrality and decentralization.” He observes a prevailing shift toward the subsidiarity principle signifying a nuanced approach to decision-making and organizational structure.

In navigating these challenges, Steffen champions an ‘open communication culture’ as a solution enabling the mastery of challenges and the creation of an environment conducive to creativity and collaboration. His insights provide a pragmatic perspective on the dynamic interplay between organizational structure, decision-making and communication within the context of modern personnel management.

The Human Side of Leadership

Navigating the complexities of company dynamics, Steffen candidly acknowledges the challenge of balancing’ the company centrally due to limitations in involvement and expertise everywhere. Steffen elaborates that his role isn’t about dictating everything alone and all-knowingly but rather fostering collaboration and trust among the many specialists and decentralized responsible parties worldwide. He emphasizes, “My task is to listen and facilitate an appropriate decision in a moderate manner.” He opens up about his own emotional nature, admitting, “I am an emotional person myself and certainly not always right everywhere.” However, he brings a pragmatic approach to his role emphasizing the importance of promoting professional interaction and corporate culture in everyday situations.

In his capacity as the top HR person, Steffen champions the role of being a ‘role model’ by exemplifying professional conduct and cultivating emotional intelligence. He emphasizes this through training programs in the ifm Learning Factory and ifm Academy, where technical expertise converges with emotional intelligence to foster authentic relationships and effective leadership. Steffen highlights the necessity of active listening, empathy and adaptability in creating an inclusive and motivating work environment.

When it comes to leadership development within ifm, Steffen focuses on a comprehensive program where leaders undergo training on these essential aspects. Notably, a unique feature involves a ‘FireChat’ where board members engage in an evening discussion addressing critical questions.

Beyond the Stereotype

Steffen elucidates the multifaceted role, noting, “A successful CHRO combines strategic thinking with operational excellence and possesses strong interpersonal skills.” He acknowledges the complexity of the position emphasizing the need for an in-depth understanding of the company along with its strategic direction, key players and the dynamics of decision-making.

In navigating the occasionally conflict-laden scenario, Steffen sees the CHRO’s role as a representative of people in the organization. What a task!” he exclaims. To embody these qualities, he relies on a clear vision, integrity-based leadership and a passionate commitment to employee development. This, he acknowledges, requires a blend of diplomacy and passion.

Steffen highlights the importance of seeking feedback, saying, “Every now and then, I ask my environment and especially the owners if what I do and how I do it is okay for them.” He advocates for continuous self-reflection, recognizing the need to constantly question oneself. Steffen challenges the common perception of HR as solely a service provider asserting that at the CHRO level, a more comprehensive view is essential which often requires confident advocacy for HR topics.

Guiding Principles for Success

Steffen outlines a holistic approach to employee well-being, stating, “Our approach takes into account individual needs and promotes a healthy work-life balance.” He underscores the importance of clear communication about company expectations and opportunities aligning with the goal of sustainable economic success.

In fostering a supportive work environment, Steffen highlights ongoing dialogue, especially with social partners like works councils and group works councils. The company employs flexible working arrangements, support programs and a comprehensive health management offering to address evolving expectations and contribute to the long-term success of employees. Steffen emphasizes, “For over 30 years, we have had a codified corporate philosophy to which we continue to commit.”

The corporate philosophy, encapsulated in over 70 guiding principles comprehensively outlines the company’s stance on various aspects. Steffen notes, “In over 70 guiding principles, we have described, among other things, how we see all these aspects in context holistically.” This enduring commitment to a holistic approach reflects the company’s dedication to the well-being and success of its employees over the long term.

Data-Driven Agility

Highlighting the dynamic nature of HR strategies, Steffen asserts, “HR strategies are not static.” He emphasizes their alignment with the main value creation process of the company, be it in products or services acknowledging the rapid changes in today’s world driven by global events like wars, supply chain disruptions and legal changes.

In response to this dynamic environment, Steffen advocates for agility in HR strategies. He notes the necessity for quick exchanges and an increasing reliance on data analytics to stay informed and responsive. “We promote a culture of innovation,” Steffen states.

Describing his day-to-day, Steffen shares, “I personally am in many meetings, trying to understand everything correctly and propose the most suitable tools and changes.” Despite the hustle, he acknowledges the desire for a quieter environment. Yet, he maintains focus on the overarching goal, emphasizing, “The main thing is not to lose sight of the long-term goals.”

Strategic Wisdom

Offering valuable advice to aspiring HR professionals, Steffen emphasizes the importance of developing a profound understanding of the business and the necessity to continuously learn and adapt. He advises building networks, embracing new ideas and placing the human component at the center of all HR initiatives and the way of working together.

Steffen provides a realistic perspective for those entering the HR field, cautioning against romanticized notions. “I find that young HR employees and applicants are a bit too romantic,” he observes. Addressing the balance between strategic aspirations and operational needs, Steffen underscores the significance of meeting initial operational requirements for internal customers. He advises aspiring HR professionals to have a talent for complex subject areas and a culture of debate emphasizing the importance of resilience and not being overly sensitive.

In a competitive landscape, Steffen notes that being ‘friendly and composed’ while showcasing expertise enhances one’s chances in HR. He highlights the increasing importance of digital skills acknowledging the evolving demands of the modern HR professional. Steffen’s insights serve as a practical guide for those embarking on a career in HR, emphasizing the dynamic and multifaceted nature of the role.