Flexibility is the key to success - Innovation seminar with Anton Schrofner

Flexibility is the key to success

Our openness to new and innovative approaches constantly spurs us to apply the latest technology creatively and leverage our deep knowledge of our customers’ needs – and by doing so, make them even more successful in their day-to-day work. Moreover, our insights into the technical possibilities and requirements of the future open completely new perspectives for our customers. With our drive to innovate, we set standards and actively shape our markets, time and again. 

Flexibility is the key to success - Anton Schrofner interview

Interview with Toni Schrofner: Anyone can have good ideas

The way companies innovate and generate new ideas is changing. Fundamentally rethinking the way we do things takes courage. Toni Schrofner is the Executive Board member for the Medical Division, where he drives innovation. For some time now, this division has been focused on flexible organisational models, high-performance teams and individual responsibility. Read the interview to find out what this means in concrete terms.

How is the Innovation division at Dräger structured?

Dräger is a family-run company with a tradition and structure that has grown over 130 years—with all the advantages and disadvantages this entails. Many employees appreciate the security that such a long presence in the market brings with it. The traditional waterfall structures, processes and methods that have proven themselves across many divisions of the company are one expression of this security. These structures work well up to a certain point, but in a technology-driven company like Dräger, it is vital today to be able to react flexibly and quickly to market requirements and trends. Increasingly complex solutions and shorter product cycles require us to venture off the beaten track, think and act outside the box, network in new ways and make optimal use of existing knowledge across departmental and project boundaries.

What does that mean, concretely speaking?

In concrete terms, this means releasing our employees from the existing structural framework of the company and giving them the freedom to tackle new, high-priority issues in teams that are precisely tailored to their needs. This means that on the one hand, we have to allow Dräger to retain its traditional organisational structure, which certainly has its raison d’être. At the same time, however, and in parallel to that structure, we need to be able to set up new, temporary networks as they are required, and to let them thrive.

That sounds like it calls for cultural change. Where does the company stand on that?

We are still in the process and will be for a while. We can only achieve this kind of cultural change step by step, and we have to bring all employees along in the process. In fact, there have always been colleagues who had their own networks for acquiring the necessary expertise and experience. What we are doing now is nothing more than empowering these colleagues and giving them a platform to perfect this way of working. For example, when we used to look for pneumatics specialists at Dräger, it was difficult to identify them and draw on their expertise for a project. The way we are set up today, we know exactly where the pneumatics specialists in respiratory care or compressed air breathing apparatus are located worldwide. They have similar expertise, but operate in completely different playing fields. The different perspectives they bring to joint projects can have a very positive impact.

The question is, how do we encourage people to change the way they think so that they accept the new methods?

To unlock this added value for our company, we need to build trust in these new agile ways of working, which are sometimes still unfamiliar. We need to convince people that flexibility is not synonymous with uncertainty, that the value of the individual is not lost, but on the contrary, increases. Because in agile networks, everyone does what they do best and draws their self-image from that, even if they don’t have a home in an organisation. But this trust can only come from experience. The more projects we successfully complete in this way, and the clearer the benefits that accrue to Dräger and its employees as a result become, the more other areas of the business will become courageous and follow this path. Many pieces of the puzzle need to fit together to achieve this goal. This also includes learning to take a new perspective on things, which we have initiated through internal campaigns, for example. Because only those who are fundamentally willing and able to do so can successfully create something new.

How should a good team function, what marks out its individual members?

For us, it’s important that not everyone has to know everything. Instead, team members should be extremely well trained in two to three areas, which will then clearly define their place in the team. A good team member knows their strengths and those of others without feeling reserved. This enables us to set up high-performance teams whose members bring the highest level of expertise to the task at hand. For this, we need both people with cutting-edge expertise and those who bring many years of experience to the table; the chaotic-creative as well as the careful planner. They are all united by the common project goal, and work hard and with focus on their individual tasks to achieve it. 

For this purpose, every employee must be able to divide their own working time between their specialist area of responsibility and the high-priority issues. And from our experience this works very well, no rigid regulations are needed.

Where do teams get their motivation from? And how do they maintain it over time?

What’s essential for motivation is that all team members internalise their common goal and have a clear picture of their role in pursuing it. First and foremost, of course, are the project goals, and here teams often spur themselves on to ever higher levels of performance, trying to test their limits and see what they can achieve together. Above all, however, we are united by one common goal, which is to make sure Dräger has a leading position in our markets. We have the expertise for this in our ranks, we just have to use it optimally.

How do you promote innovation in the narrower sense? Do you rely on certain methods? Do you create a particular climate?

First of all, we have to get rid of the idea that only the typical development employee is capable of working out and implementing new ideas. Anyone can have good ideas, we just have to provide colleagues with the ways and means of presenting and further developing their ideas. Our goal is to make Dräger fit for tomorrow’s market, to achieve a faster time-to-market and, in return, to give our employees room to develop their capacity for innovation.

What happens when the project team gets stuck?

That can always happen, and in that case you have to be able to let go, clear your head. This applies to the entire team as well as to the individual: in cases like that, everyone needs their own strategies to recharge and get out of the rut. My personal experience of what works best is getting away completely and switching off, preferably for a whole weekend. And without taking the laptop and without quickly answering a few mails! For example, my hobby is motorcycle racing. When I’m on the racetrack, the absolute concentration it demands of me pushes all thoughts of work out of my mind. Or I go for a long walk in the fresh air with my two dogs. This frees me up and has already released many a blockage in thinking when I returned to my desk fresh afterwards.

Our digital spirit

Innovation Management helps organisations find new ways to respond more quickly to external influences. The Garage has been doing this for us since 2016. The Garage promotes networking internally and externally, brings people together and creates the space to think freely and learn quickly. The Hackathon 2019 is an example of our digital spirit.

Hackathon 2019

We are breaking new ground to implement innovative solutions. This is illustrated by the use of gas detection technology with interfaces for external applications such as drones.

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