Innovative management

Supporting clever minds.

In the world of work today, tomorrow and in the future.

The BPW Group enjoys a good reputation: far beyond Germany, the company is known as one of the top employers in the industry. The reasons behind this, the new paths being taken, and how BPW inspires young talent for the company and the industry are just some of the topics discussed with Barbara Höfel, head of human resources and member of the board of management.

Innovative management
Teamwork is successful because creativity is infectious.
Innovative management - Interview with Barbara Höfel
Interview with Barbara Höfel

BPW has created an internal climate of innovation. How should we picture this?

Barbara Höfel: In 2015 we restructured our Group of companies and adopted a common human resources policy for all subsidiaries. Taking a cooperative approach, we laid down the management guidelines that define how we deal with one another. At the same time, a focus on our customers and a clear future orientation emerged. We have launched a whole set of measures aimed at adding more content to the innovation process internally and depicting it in a more resultsoriented manner. Regular training, joint workshops and, above all, greater freedom of action and self-determination are key building blocks in this regard. Among the other elements are the specific integration of employees into our innovation management and the establishment of an innovation lab and an ideas workshop.

Are these measures fulfilling the expectations of the employees?

Barbara Höfel: Thanks to regular surveys, we have a pretty good idea of the needs of our employees. Creative leeway, a sense of belonging and the development of competencies are all high up on the list. We provide all of that. These requirements on the part of employees are consistent with our values and very precisely aligned with our future orientation.

How well do these classic values go together with innovation?

Barbara Höfel: We can look back on a company history of almost 120 years. Our corporate culture is founded on numerous traditional values, such as social responsibility and a sense of belonging. The feel-good factor and knowledge transfer are also of great importance in the BPW Group. Building on these strong foundations, we can easily take new paths. Involving employees in the innovation process, giving them new opportunities and granting them more responsibility go well together with our overall orientation. At BPW, innovation is chiefly a management responsibility.

Are there any overarching concepts that call for the participation of employees?

Barbara Höfel: Together with the board of management, young talent from within the Group and outside experts, we recently held a workshop on electromobility, a vision of the city in 2030, and the implications for logistics. The workshop deliberately took place outside of existing structures. As a result, participants approached the topics with a great deal of freedom and brought together numerous insights and ideas. Many innovative ideas also arise from our day-to-day experiencee of individual topics in the various specialist departments. That’s why Dr. Markus Kliffken, who heads our innovation management, works so closely with many different teams. We actively encourage and support this exchange.

In 2016, you opened an ideas workshop. Is this where the desired exchange takes place?

Barbara Höfel: In the form of the ideas workshop, we have intentionally created a place that is aimed at stimulating creativity outside of the work routine, and at breaking down inflexible structures. Discussion rooms, lounge corners and even play areas create a space for inspiration as well as for dialogue. Colleagues from all areas of the Group come here for meetings and workshops. Some even use the space as a retreat to do some quiet thinking. The ideas workshop is well received: the space is almost always occupied. In addition to this special open space, we have established an innovation lab in Siegburg and a site – outside of the company – dedicated to electromobility. These are independent competence centres where developments are pursued in cross-functional teams in an agile and creative manner, similar to a start-up. Here, the innovation process is not something alongside the usual work routine, but is filled with life virtually around the clock.

[Translate to English:] Innovatives Management - Interview mit Barbara Höfel

These are innovative approaches that demand clever minds. What measures do you take to support your employees?

Barbara Höfel: A guiding principle that we have firmly anchored in our management guidelines is ‘to support and to challenge’. This describes our personnel policy very well. We regard our managers as coaches. The internal support programmes are extensive and very much geared towards individual needs. Moreover, BPW has launched its own programme for the selective advancement of young talent. As a general principle, all employees are given opportunities to develop, whether through targeted training, language support or exchange programmes within the Group. We also actively involve our employees in innovation management, which includes giving them access to development methods such as design thinking.

Are these programmes also of benefit for trainees?

Barbara Höfel: The advancement of young talent has its own requirements, but here, too, we are taking new paths. For example with political education programmes that are aimed at encouraging our trainees to actively participate in regional politics and in this way to assume a measure of responsibility. The offer is wide-ranging – from health care to questions of etiquette. We want to pass on competencies to our young talent that extend beyond the needs of regular professional life. This approach has already garnered us a number of awards as a training company, but much more importantly, it works extremely well for us. Most of our recent trainees have been offered jobs as specialists within the company.

Does this mean, then, that your personnel policy has so far spared you from experiencing a shortage of skilled workers?

Barbara Höfel: Of course, we are also confronted by the general shortage of specialists, but until now, we haven’t been affected as much as other companies. Indeed, our scheme for the advancement of young talent is so effective that we only turn to external assistance if we require specific competencies in highly specialised fields.

Overall, this is a comfortable situation. Are there any gaps in the system or elements of personnel policy on which you are currently working?

Barbara Höfel: We want to put more emphasis on international exchange. As a Group, we are represented in more than 30 countries. We will take greater advantage of this in the future in order to foster mutual competencies and learn from each other. Another point, which is very important to me personally, is to cultivate conflict resolution and to allow mistakes. That is to say, to recognise friction points as an approach for ongoing development. Otherwise, the harmonious comfort zone will very soon harbour a certain degree of complacency. This doesn’t necessarily result in a gap, but it brings us back to the matter of supporting and challenging.

What is the long-term objective behind all these efforts to support and challenge your employees?

Barbara Höfel: Our lasting goal is to maintain the enthusiasm and curiosity of every employee at a high level. If we achieve this, and if we succeed in continually reinventing ourselves to some extent, we will be in an excellent position to live up to our reputation as a good employer in the coming decade and beyond.


“We are specifically searching for creative minds, because not even knowledge and experience are a guarantee of innovation.”

Barbara Höfel Head of human resources and member of the board of management
Innovative management