Shop Floor instead of lecture hall
To promote entrepreneurial thinking among its 200 plant managers around the world, technology company Freudenberg established a global development program.
Nearly 50,000 employees in 60 countries, four independent business units, and more than €9.3 billion in sales – Freudenberg is a true global player. The task of developing a uniform “Operations Leadership Program” (OLP) for all managers of the 200 production locations worldwide could very well put you on edge. But not Dr. Makoto Makabe. “Of course, plant managers for sealing technology have other issues on their operational agenda than their colleagues in nonwovens or household products,” says Director Corporate Learning & Development. “But here at Freudenberg, we are convinced that diversity creates added value – for both our customers and our employees. Many individual programs tailored to specific business areas, regions or age groups were therefore out of the question for us.”
The OLP designed for site managers was not to “be an intellectual training session in the lecture hall” but rather directly related to the shop floor, according to Makabe. And since there was no off -the-shelf solution, he set out to find a suitable partner. “During the tender process, many consulting companies struggled with our approach of not only training to match the ideal state prescribed by the head offi ce, but rather to spark continuous self-reflection and curiosity among plant managers,” recalls the Freudenberg Manager. “For us, plant managers have to ask themselves the following questions based on their own motivation: Am I setting the right priorities? Am I driving the right changes? And how do other companies tackle similar challenges?”
The decision to implement the OLP together with Staufen AG was, therefore, not least due to the BestPractice visits, which took place both inside and outside the Freudenberg Group. “Staufen consultants’ many years of experience with this learning method and the large network of BestPractice partners was absolutely convincing,” says Makabe. The program then began with the first group, which has now completed all three OLP modules at Freudenberg plants in the USA and Italy as well as with Staufen partners SEW-EURODRIVE and Trumpf. In addition to the core elements of self-reflection and learning from others, each module focuses on key specialist aspects, ranging from Operational Excellence, HSE (Health, Safety, Environment), and Supply Chain Management to Financial KPIs and Compliance. The topic of leadership plays a central role in all modules.
And how has this approach been received by participants so far? “The deliberate mix of old-timers and newcomers caused some stress in the group,” admits Makabe. But especially those, who were initially the biggest critics, are now absolutely convinced of the concept after completing the program. “It’s completely normal for people not to be particularly thrilled when they hold up a mirror to themselves. Especially since this approach with no template-like learning objective also takes away participants’ outlet to complain about requirements from the head office,” says the Freudenberg Manager. “But the feeling of being part of a ‘community of excellence’ after the program and being prepared to take on your own corporate responsibility makes up for everything.”