Interview – Participatory strategy development at msg Automotive

Leadership

Elisa Dittmann is a lateral thinker at msg. As a Scrum Master, she primarily accompanies teams that are working with the customer Volkswagen. She has been nominated by her colleagues for the development of the strategy, promotes the spread of Working Out Loud at msg and is interested in topics related to New Work.

Stephan Melzer thinks differently, questions the status quo and sets unusual impulses. As business unit manager, he and two colleagues lead the automotive sector, in which almost 800 employees are distributed worldwide. In addition to questions about the digital transformation of companies, photography is his passion, where he likes to draw analogies to leadership.

Hello Elisa, hello Stephan. msg’s Automotive division has dared to do something that only very few people can imagine. You let 30 employees, bottom-up, define your strategy. What motivated you to do this? 

Stephan: For us as a division, it was a natural step in the development of our liberal organization. For the previous version of the strategy, we already took a less consistent step in 2015, that gave us tailwind. 

The main motivation for the approach for Roadmap 2025 was that we did not want to prescribe strategic activities centrally. Rather, we wanted to encourage every colleague to contribute their own ideas for strategic development.

Who was involved in the decision-making process? Was there a reason why the project was launched in the Automotive division?  

Stephan: The reason is quite simple: the strategic considerations stretched until 2020, so we started thinking about Roadmap 2025 at the end of 2018. The fact that a lot has changed since the last strategy development is already clear from the wording: Our strategy 2020 was called “Agenda” and was defined as a target point (where?). In Roadmap 2025, we focused more on the way (how?) than on the goal.

You asked who was involved in the decision-making process. The first thoughts on how to proceed were made by the business unit management. Finally, another manager took on the task of forming a team to develop the strategy.

This team then was given a completely free hand in shaping the result and the procedure. We established a delegation procedure for our organization, which is based on Appelo‘s Management 3.0 and for which the delegation of line tasks is planned. For our strategy team, the delegation level “convince the Automotive leadership team with your result” applied.

What were the concerns, what was the idea that convinced you to approach strategy differently than (almost) everyone else? 

Stephan: It was not a wrestling match for us. The approach to think strategy differently seemed natural to us. And because we had already established numerous elements of our idea of a liberal organization, we knew the framework we had to stick to in order to make it work. Thus, elements such as “self-organization” and its protagonist “self-control” naturally came into play in the strategy process. We are never driven by methodology, but by our mindset. I was concerned, however, that I was influencing the Roadmap Team too much with my personal opinion.

What were your expectations for Roadmap 2025?

Stephan: In addition to the result, where we as a business unit never had any doubt that it would be good, we expected to become more mature as an organization and also as people. In the leadership team, we had the expectation that we would learn (even) better to let go and still be responsible. We expected the Roadmap Team to develop an understanding of our quite demanding market situation.

Elisa: I was particularly pleased to meet new colleagues and to get a broader view of the Automotive division by working in such a diverse Roadmap Team.

What design criteria were given to the Roadmap Team?

Stephan: There were no criteria, apart from the fact that the leadership team had to be convinced of the strategy. Yes, and there were of course a few “deliverables” such as a handy strategy for all employees for the now running rollout. It was similar with the economic key points until 2025 in sales and employees as well as our shoring shares via the locations in Germany, Romania and India.

How did you approach the project then? And who was brought on board? 

Elisa: All Automotive employees were asked to nominate colleagues whom they trusted and would like to entrust with the development of the strategy. The opportunity to contribute to the strategy aroused so much enthusiasm that some really worked hard to collect as many nominations as possible. And, as Stephan has already mentioned, an executive then put together the Roadmap Team based on the nominations. In doing so, a balance was struck between location distribution, fields of activity, and professional experience in order to make the team as diverse as possible.

The first meeting of the Roadmap Team took place in a magnificent location (with a view at the Alps), which made it easy to get to know each other, to think about 2025 and to get in the mood for the challenge. In order to get closer to the goal of the finished Roadmap in a workable and focused way, we split up for the work on different contents. The work in small groups was mostly done remotely, but the whole Roadmap Team came together regularly in personal workshop sessions to synchronize. Seeing the colleagues again in the joint workshops was my highlight.  

Were there any problems? How did you solve them? 

Elisa: I already mentioned that we were quite a diverse team and many members didn’t even know each other before. Even though I already felt a team spirit and great motivation after our first workshop, it was a challenge to find a productive working mode and to define a common way of communication in the daily project routine. 

Moreover, most of them had never dealt with strategic work before. So we first had to create a common understanding of what was important and at what altitude we wanted to formulate content. This was also noticed in the exchange with the leadership team, so that convincing the leaders of our work content was really exhausting. This led to the Roadmap Team’s desire to work more closely with the leadership team in order to involve all participants equally in the strategy process. As a new, enlarged Roadmap Team, we then worked together at eye level and developed results more quickly.

Stephan: Yes, a core element was, in my opinion, that very few of the Roadmap Team members knew what would convince the individual members of the leadership team. And even more interesting: The fact that we as leadership team did not actively think about Roadmap 2025 together meant that there was no consolidated opinion. We could have prevented the former if we had been more present at the kick-off.

In addition, the leadership team did not take enough time to discuss the contents of the Roadmap that had already been worked out. As soon as we became part of the Roadmap Team, this opportunity for discussion was there. We were able to discuss the pros and cons of individual questions with all Roadmap Team members and the colleagues could experience how the leadership team works together. It was exciting to see how some of the colleagues reacted to our discussion. Yes, things can sometimes get a bit rough in a leadership team, and the different perspectives are discussed intensively there.

You can be really proud of yourself. If you could summarize it briefly: what have you achieved? What has changed in the Automotive division?

Elisa: Just the fact that we, as a diverse team that had not known each other before, have developed a strategy that will show the business unit the way forward in the coming years is a great success itself. As a result, there are simply more colleagues who support and disseminate the contents of the Roadmap than “just” a selected group of managers. I think that is quite special. And I have the impression that the entire team has moved closer to the Roadmap because we as a Roadmap Team have regularly communicated about our activities and our colleagues have seen in their everyday work how much heart, soul, and brainpower is behind developing a strategy.

And what have you personally learned? What can you share with others? 

Elisa: On a personal level, we as team members have moved closer together across locations and are better networked. In the discussions we got to know different views and perspectives and thus gained a better understanding of the different locations and areas of responsibility within our industry. This not only gave us the opportunity for personal development, but of course also for further advancing the business divisions.   

I guess the whole thing was certainly only the beginning. What are the next steps planned? What challenges still need to be solved? 

Stephan: Developing the strategy is one thing. Now we have to implement it in the spirit of our liberal organization. That will be difficult enough.

Elisa: Sure, it will be a challenge to spread the contents sustainably in the business area. But I can already notice that my colleagues are totally curious to deal with the contents of the Roadmap. We have also designed the rollout from within the Roadmap Team, with the aim of giving everyone the opportunity to become active and help shape our joint journey towards 2025. I am therefore very much looking forward to see what impulses our colleagues will provide in terms of our Roadmap in the coming years.

 

msg Automotive has taken a bold step and had its strategy up to 2025 defined bottom-up by a specially formed team. The close exchange with the leadership and a high degree of flexibility and communication were particularly helpful in this process. In the Workpath Community, you can share your thoughts on this interview and discuss further questions regarding goal setting, agile working and strategy development. You also have the opportunity to participate in the Workpath Quarterly, which offers a personal opportunity for mutual exchange and support.

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