If you’re prepared to tackle the issues, you can help shape change
“Man of Steel” are the words written on his forearm. And they are very appropriate as Jürgen Schaab has been a thyssenkrupp Steel man through and through for more than 30 years. It must run in the family. His father worked for thyssenkrupp as a machinist at the old Bruckhausen coke plant. So it comes as no surprise that his sons are also part of the group of companies. So how did it come about that three generations of one family chose the same employer? It’s clear to Jürgen: Among other things it’s down to thyssenkrupp’s willingness to change. In recent years a great deal has changed for the better with regard to the corporate culture. What does he think deserves special mention? The change in leadership mentality – which he has helped shape – toward greater personal responsibility, improved transparency and a no-blame culture.
Standing still is moving backwards. Let’s move towards change. What are you changing at thyssenkrupp?
“A lot. We turn things inside out where necessary. That applies to broken machinery, but also to driving changes. As Process Coordinator I bear responsibility together with my colleagues for repair management at BOF shop 1 in the energy systems department. As soon as anything there starts rattling or banging, our lads move in straightaway to sort things out. And people largely leave us to do our thing because everyone knows that when we get involved, we always manage to get the line running again. But we didn’t always have such freedom. At thyssenkrupp pretty much everything about the corporate culture has changed in the last 30 years. Above all the leadership mentality. And since I’ve held my position as Process Coordinator I’ve been involved in that – in my area of responsibility of course.”
What exactly has changed about the leadership mentality?
“The old management guard as I knew it is no longer there. In the past it was the case that managers gave orders and no-one questioned them. That’s no longer the case. The employee survey indicated where the workforce was dissatisfied. The suggestions were taken very seriously and measures were initiated. Today managers are much more on the same level as their employees. They discuss matters as equals and hand over more responsibility. I think that’s great because the more responsibility people have, the more they identify with their job. Great importance is now also attached to open dialogue. That wasn’t the case 30 years ago. At events involving the Executive Board we can ask questions without any fear of repercussions and they are answered directly. Such transparency is of course very well received and provides an overview of the big picture. On request I even had a one-to-one online meeting with our new Labor Director. Yes, me – Jürgen Schaab! And I’m not even based at the headquarters in Essen, but rather in a little office on the plant site in Duisburg. And let’s not forget the open way of dealing with mistakes. Mistakes are no longer a taboo subject either for executives or employees and I think that’s extremely important.”
As you’ve mentioned the open way of dealing with mistakes: Have you ever got something wrong?
“Sure I have! Mistakes happen – in the plant and in the office. I have always been transparent about my mistakes actually. That used to be seen negatively by certain individuals but today we have a completely open, no-blame culture. No-one needs to feel ashamed about admitting mistakes anymore. We talk openly about mistakes to ensure that similar things don’t happen to others in the team at some point. Anyone who makes a mistake and tries to hide it is immediately making another mistake – I really like that saying. It will all come out sooner or later anyway so it’s best to be open about it straightaway. And if we’re honest, you always learn most from mistakes – including those of others. Big mistakes don’t happen twice.”
“When I tell others about my job at thyssenkrupp, they always underestimate...”
“Firstly some people think I’m odd because I like going to work. I always say: people grow with their tasks. Of course I can count myself lucky that my employer is a global player – and with a strong trade union too. A lot of outsiders can understand that. But they underestimate what a huge setup this is here. Our plant site in Duisburg is almost five times as big as Monaco. Most people simply can’t imagine that. Even if you look at a photo you can’t grasp the dimensions. It really fills me with pride to work at thyssenkrupp. I owe everything that I am and have to thyssenkrupp.”