“Not nearly as popular as Google or SAP”


Bonn The Deutsche Telekom is the largest telecommunications company in Europe. In Germany alone, the company employs around 100,000 people. At the beginning of the year, Birgit Bohle took over the management of the Dax Group's Human Resources department. She had been with Deutsche Bahn for about a decade, most recently as head of long-haul transport.

In the interview with the Handelsblatt she looks quite down to earth: The old board office has Birgit Bohle exchanged for a work corner in the metropolitan area. Telephone, tablet, family photo, headphones, a bottle of water, a notebook and a stack of sticky notes – nothing more can be found on her desk.

As human resources manager, she now has other tasks than at Deutsche Bahn: the challenge of designing the digital transformation is great, says Bohle. Through employee surveys, she has already found out in which areas she has to work hard. “We are clearly too slow in recruiting,” she says. For example, for highly qualified job starters: “The Telekom is not considered cool in this area,” admits the executive. “That needs to change.”

Read the complete interview here:

Ms. Bohle, you are now half a year staff member at Telekom. Before that, you directed long-distance traffic at the railway. Do you really have a thing for old state companies?
No. The similar history was secondary to me. That I am here now, was a lot of gut decision. I followed an interesting offer – and it immediately felt right. Not only is the industry a new one, the HR department is also completely new to me. Such challenges spur me on.

What distinguishes Telekom from the railway?
The biggest asset is culture. The people here work with magenta heart blood. Managing the HR department in such an environment is a great job. Still, the challenge is to shape the digital transformation here, and I have a lot of respect for that. But I am also looking forward to the task.

What priorities have you set? So far, one had the impression that you have nowhere really put your stamp on it.
For me, first of all content-related work in the team is subject to big announcements. That's why we've done the first hundred days of classic HR strategy work. Among other things, we have developed a purpose and seven priorities that define what we achieve and how we want to work. In January, I also started our culture process “Living Culture”. We interviewed more than 3000 employees and had them work in workshops.

What is your business purpose, your purpose?
For us in the personnel area, the purpose is “Supporting people, driving performance”.

Does not every HR department say that?
Perhaps. But it is exciting in those situations in which the Purpose is actually implemented.

We are listening.
For example, I called for the hunt for bureaucracy monsters. Have you ever had to fill out an A1 certificate?

The document means a great deal of bureaucracy for employers who only send their employees to other EU countries for a short time.
Exactly. We have developed a digital tool that solves the problem in a matter of minutes and makes all the important applications. This saves time for the actual work. Just a small example of what we mean by “Supporting people, driving performance”. We are talking about the people, the employees. And our role is to best assist these people in doing their jobs well.

Which grade would you currently issue to the personnel department of Telekom?
I do not want to talk about grades. However, our employee surveys have shown that there are clearly areas where we have to work harder.

For example?
In recruiting we are clearly too slow. This is no longer acceptable to candidates and fatal for a company like Telekom in a battle for talent. Christian Illek, my predecessor, has set up projects in this direction. But there is still a lot to do. That's why the application process is further up the list on our upgrade list.

Telecom Manager Bohle

“Our employee surveys have shown that there are clearly areas where we have to work harder. We are clearly too slow in recruiting. “

(Photo: Thomas Berger for Handelsblatt)

Compared to the Deutsche Bahn, the change from a state-owned company to a modern company seems to have succeeded in many ways even better. Apart from the fact that Telekom has been on the stock exchange for years and the train is still not – what has Telekom done differently?
At Telekom, employees have a lot of freedom. Timotheus Höttges and his team attached great importance to this. Deutsche Telekom is doing very well economically. This, of course, is the basis for employees to be proud of the brand. Then to distribute sneakers in magenta, is a brilliant idea.

But is that enough? In the area, the magenta pride does not seem to arrive anywhere.
Not only in the headquarters, but also in the area many employees are proud. In recent weeks and months I have traveled to various German and European branches and national companies. And everywhere magenta is the connecting element.

But there were also cases of employees who preferred to wear their free sneakers ebay sold instead of showing oneself in the family circle. How do you want the cultural change you seek to achieve everywhere?
Of course it is true that this positive attitude has not yet arrived everywhere. We can certainly get better. We do not want the impression to be created that the head office in Bonn would decide on the heads of employees. Therefore, we will involve our employees more strongly in the future.

What does that mean in concrete terms?
Let me give you an example from my time at the Deutsche Bahn. There we had bottlenecks. In critical phases, I then asked the staff to go to the travel centers. You should not only decide from your office, but be on the spot with the customer. Managers have then placed themselves next to the vending machines to help customers buy tickets. When things get tight, everyone has to help. We have to transport this message clearly and take everyone with us.

As a former state-owned company, Deutsche Telekom reduces its jobs almost every year. How long should this continue? How many employees will Telekom have in the long term?
It does not make sense to commit yourself to a number. It is clear that we will continue to rebuild. But we do it in a socially responsible way. Automation and digitization change our work. Our customers do not pay for inefficiency. Therefore, we must continue to look for ways to make our company more efficient. This is also an area in which telecom and rail differ significantly. At the train is set massive. Of course we also need talents at Telekom, but in very specific areas.

The Telekom suffers above all in the technology and the IT under staff shortage. How do you want to recruit enough skilled workers?
That is one of the focal points of my work. We offer exciting fields of activity. In cybersecurity, for example, we have outstanding products. But we also notice that we are not perceived very well by the target group of highly qualified job starters. The Telekom is not considered cool in this area. That needs to change. We are by far not perceived as positively as Google or SAP,

How do you want to assert yourself?
We build the basis for the digital economy and society through our infrastructure. So far we have hardly been noticed with this message. That's why we will launch a transnational employer campaign in late summer, which is specifically aimed at IT talent. To people who value something like that and who feel like working to be part of it. Let yourself be surprised.

Back to the transformation from a state-owned enterprise to a modern enterprise – and the difficulties: Even today, many employees, including some civil servants, are in the overhanging company Vivento. How should it continue for her?
Of course, we keep trying to find good jobs for them – whether inside or outside the Group. Just a few years ago, there were significantly more employees at Vivento than today. Here we are on a very good way.

What are the rates of referral?
We are very satisfied. For example, a good 1900 civil servants have been permanently relegated to public administration since 2015.

Again and again, Vivento employees complain that they are on a return ramp and are being pressured by constantly changing tasks and locations. Is that correct?
Vivento is an important instrument of our socially responsible staff restructuring. We do not put anyone under pressure. But of course we are looking at whether we can use people in projects, depending on qualifications and needs. Sometimes these are longer, sometimes shorter. I think it's better than condemning people to doing nothing.

Birgit Bohles coffee cup

At the meeting in the Bonn headquarters, the top manager taps the coffee for the guests themselves. Two cups are left for Bohle. On the one hand is: “What am I doing here?”, On the other: “I'm not responsible for that”. Bohle chooses the latter – and says: But that does not have anything to do with her attitude now.

(Photo: Thomas Berger for Handelsblatt)

The topic of agility is also part of modern working culture. You have developed an agile manifesto. Sounds a bit class-aggressive for a Dax company. What shoud that?
We strongly believe that agile working practices help us focus more on customer needs and become faster, such as in product development. At the same time, such changes always trigger many questions among employees. That's why we passed guard rails together with the Group Works Council at Group level – our manifesto.

What is in it?
For example, we agreed that agile ways of working are on a par with traditional working forms. The nature of the work must always determine which methods we use. Agility can not be an end in itself.

Are there areas where you are deliberately unagile?
There are definitely areas with limitations. You can not work 100 percent agile in the network expansion or in a shop. But you can incorporate agile methods into your daily work routine. Even a shop can hold stand-up meetings.

Your old employer, Deutsche Bahn, has had some bad experiences with agile methods – especially in middle management. How do you want to address such problems at Telekom?
This is ultimately leadership and communication work. The Magyar Telekom, our Hungarian telecom subsidiary, introduced a wide range of agile ways of working nine months ago. There, internal coaches have supported the managers, integrated them and prepared them for their roles. Agile leadership only works if not only the employees, but also the managers are taken and qualified. Because they have to shape the change in the end.

The telecommunications industry is considered dominated by white men. How do you want to make sure your teams are not too homogeneous?
The telecom is not dominated by white men! There are currently two women on the board with Claudia Nemat and myself.

… of a total of nine board posts.
Yes that's true. For me, diversity is more than the dimension man / woman. And that starts on the board. There we have with T-Systems boss Adel Al-Saleh an American and European leader Srini Gopalan also an Indian on the board.

And on the levels below? How do you prevent women from encountering a glass ceiling during transport?
We know from research that there is a problem with unconscious presets in job interviews. Hans likes to recruit Hänschen. We have to break that. But that does not just apply to white men. That's just as true for women. Therefore, we offer – as a building block – special courses to break up unconscious stereotypes, which are very well received.

Could the Telekom be the first Dax company to get a female CEO? Maybe your board colleague Claudia Nemat?
With Timotheus Höttges we have an outstanding CEO. That's why we do not need to discuss it today.

The contract of Mr. Höttges expires on January 1, 2024. And then?
Management Board contracts are the responsibility of the Supervisory Board of Telekom.

Ms. Bohle, thank you for the interview.

More: Flash analysis of the second quarter – Telekom lays in all key figures. The most important reason: the strong business in the US. But there are also risks.

Agenda (t) Career (t) Telekom (t) Bohle (t) Höttges (t) Deutsche Bahn (t) Vivento (t) Magenta (t) Sneaker (t) Human Resources (t) Recruiting (t) Google (t) SAP (t) State Corporation (t) Interview (t) Human Resources (t) Corporate Governance (t) Leadership (t) Digitalised Workplace (t) Deutsche Telekom (t) T-Systems (t) Magyar Telekom (t) Ebay (t) t) Birgit Bohle (t) Timotheus Höttges (t) Claudia Nemat (t) Telecommunications industry


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