In the symphony of business evolution, change management sets the tempo for success. In this episode, host Elizabeth Bachman discusses the process of managing change with guest Fiona Liebehenz, a seasoned professional with over 16 years of experience in consumer goods and technology. Fiona compares change management to playing the drums, where one must manage the rhythmic complexities of convincing human beings to accept something new. The discussion explores the importance of setting the right pace of change. Timing and a grasp of the overall strategy are vital to an organization’s successful transformation. Fiona also explains how to handle cultural changes, build trust, and get teams working well together in a constantly changing business world. Join them as they uncover the beat of change management, where leadership, communication, and adaptability must combine. You will gain valuable insights for progress in your own professional journey. Tune in now!
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Setting The Pace In Game-Changing Management With Fiona Liebehenz
My guest is Fiona Liebehenz who originally speaks German but was kind enough to do a conversation in English. Before I get to that, I’d like to invite you to see where your presentation skills are strong by taking our free four-minute quiz at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support could get you the recognition you deserve and the results that you need.
My guest is Fiona Liebehenz. She works for Bosch based in Stuttgart, Germany. Her motto is, “If you dream it, you can do it,” from Disney. She’s an entrepreneurial and passionate Consumer Goods and Technology leader, who has always been motivated to actively shape the future and make a difference. Nowadays, she’s been in Consumer Goods and Technology for over sixteen years. She’s been on the manufacturing and retail side, also with leadership responsibility in general management, strategy, purchasing, marketing, and sales.
Her enthusiasm for strategy, holistic thinking of the sales and marketing function, and innovation sparked off early. She also was early interested in the issues of digitalization, artificial intelligence, and eCommerce. Holistic for Fiona means that her impact on society and the environment is also considered and that one’s own engine is running to get a little better every day. Her motto is, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” It’s always with the goal of creating progress that creates value and meaning, and for which diversity and people are essential factors.
In addition, it’s not in her official bio, but Fiona Liebehenz is a drummer. She’s been playing the drums for many years. She did a speech about how playing the drums connects to business. Wait until you hear and she tells you what the symbol is for. Onto the conversation with Fiona Liebehenz. Fiona Liebehenz, welcome to Speakers Who Get Results.
Great to be here, Elizabeth.
I’m delighted to have you and I have lots of questions because you have such an interesting background. Before I start though, let me ask you, who would be your dream interview? If you could interview somebody that you wouldn’t normally be able to reach, who would it be, what would you ask them, and who should be listening?
It’s a very tough question because there are quite some I would love to interview. One would be Indra Nooyi, who was the Pepsi CEO and now serves on several supervisory boards. I would like to ask her about her three key learnings throughout her career. What is her vision for the future? What she still has on her mind? What keeps her going to get up every day? I want to learn a bit more about her motivation and her drivers. That’s interesting for everybody who is in business and wants to learn from such a great model who worked her way from India to one of the largest American corporations which is a very inspiring story from my perspective.
Who should be listening?
Everybody who is tuning in now. It could be interesting for them, but it’s interesting for every female leader. For everybody who wants to also strive in another environment in another culture. Also, in general for business leaders in the present global world where it’s so much about developing good skills to also adapt to new environments. She did it in a very good way.
When you do this, I’m going to be in the audience. Let’s invite young and rising leaders because that’s always useful for those who aren’t there yet to see what the possibilities are. I used to say that if you step forward and claim your place and power, it’s good for the organization and for the young women who follow you. More and more, it’s also good for young men to see a powerful woman to the point where it stops being unusual.
I completely agree.
I remember when I was growing up, they were still talking about lady drivers. When I was growing up, I am considerably older than you are, the men couldn’t believe that the women knew how to drive without doing something crazy, stupid, or so forth. You hear the same thing now with the same words even. Whatever they’re doing that men thought was just their prerogative, is a new thing.
Fiona, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is because we are in such a global business world. You have worked in companies. You’ve worked in British-Dutch companies. You’ve worked in American companies and German companies. Now, you are in one of the old established German companies with a long history in manufacturing and technology. What is it like to step forward as a female leader in a German-based company?
Indeed, very often, I get to compare also the different environments and how it is like to act and interact in these different cultures. Before I come straight to your question, it might be just for context for everybody who has explored just one company culture so far. My experience is that the original culture of the organization always plays a little role. Even if it would be nice that in a global organization, it would be a global culture, experience shows that it’s always connected to the country’s original culture. Especially in German culture, it’s still a bit more male-dominated and a bit more from a hierarchy standpoint structured more traditionally.
It’s also a bit more political than in American or British-Dutch culture. Usually, it’s faster about performance, about driving topics forward without losing too much time for internal discussions. That means working in a German culture needs very good awareness to analyze the connections between the people and the departments, to understand also how to position oneself, to position topics, and then also strive in this environment. For me, it’s a little bit of being on a playground where you have a labyrinth to navigate through. In the other cultures, it was a bit more informal, relaxed, and fast when I compare that.
It’s always about people. It’s always about the culture of the company. I live half the year in Austria and I remember going to Vienna to try to work with some people in some of the ministries in Vienna, the bureaucrats. They are more formal than formal. They were not at all interested in talking to a girl and they were particularly not interested in talking to an American girl who had a company. This is when I ran the opera company. We had applied for some funding from the government.
Navigating through that bureaucracy, they say the French invented bureaucracy, but the Viennese have their special version of it. Stepping forth as a woman, it’s always about politics. It’s always about people. What has been useful to you as you rise as a woman in a long-established German company and what do you wish was different?
What’s useful is to take the time, in the beginning, to get a good understanding of the connections and the company, who is meeting with whom, and how decisions are being taken. That’s important because that helps later to also be successful in driving their own business and transformation. My experience is that it always pays off to over-invest in this topic at the beginning.
When I started at Bosch, which is the large corporation we are talking about, I took around six weeks to meet with everybody. I already had a quite comprehensive onboarding calendar with about 30 meetings or 30 get-to-knows, and I expanded it to double it to ensure I also get a bit broader in departments and also service functions to understand who is doing what and who is also well-connected with whom. That is something that pays off because it does not only tell you about what’s visible from the structure or the process. Even more important, what’s not visible when it’s getting clearer and what is also happening underneath the surface.
That’s something not to underestimate, then also takes the time for networking. For me, it’s something I like. It’s a natural thing that I want to get to know people and spend time with them. That’s also an important one because as you said, it’s about people and politics, but everything starts with people. In order to move on, you need to build trust. Trust usually develops with time. You have to interact with people 6 to 7 times before you get to a level where people can also understand the way you take and can predict what actions they have to also expect from you. That’s important because that makes things much easier when there are questions to get support for a specific project or budget approval.Everything starts with people, and in order to move on, you need to build trust. Click To Tweet
What is your specialty? What are you particularly good at?
I’m particularly good at transforming business on a large scale and with a systematic approach. Usually, when I have one area of responsibility, I want to approach it in a holistic way. I took over the eCommerce channel, which was about sales and marketing in the first stage, but it’s impossible to develop a business on a high-speed track and in a holistic way. We’re not doing it together with logistics, finance, and production. I always go for the big approach. What I also experienced to be the most sustainable and successful one in the short and the long run.
Please talk more about that. What’s successful in the short run and the long run? Are there two different approaches?
It’s the same approach, but I often see that it’s not designed in a way that it can survive in the long run. In my perspective, to be successful in the short run, you can take the example of being responsible for growing sites in an eCommerce channel. You could do that very well by restructuring the team in sales and marketing functions in a way that you are closer to the market and drive actions in the increasing distribution or advertising span to get more visibility and sales.
You can have good results very fast, but it will naturally reach a growth barrier in traditional companies like ones that are now 50, 60 years, or even longer on the market. Usually, the entire value chain is designed for a traditional way of doing business. You have a business that is more plannable. You might have brick-and-mortar customers that order large ones.
Meaning, a business that you can plan ahead and you know. It’s more predictable maybe.
Also, less dynamic. While now, a business like eCommerce is very dynamic. You’ll have the opportunity to scale business faster because usually, order rhythms are shorter. It also means you have to be more dynamic in all your processes. It’s not only about sales and marketing. Before you have to ensure that these volumes are produced, delivered on time in full, and then you can also explore the entire opportunities. Even better, you also know what to do with all the data. You usually generate, so you need smart AI to analyze the data, generate insights, and learn from it.
That means if you want to excel in the long run, you have to think on a larger scale and ensure that if you change the sales and marketing function for eCommerce, you change everything that’s around as well. You can then go hand-in-hand and get your supply chain, your production, and everything as well on the new speed level. That’s, for me, the approach in the long run because then you have made the entire organization fit for the future and you ensure that these growth barriers are not coming up. That’s what is, especially nowadays, important. The speed of development in trade and marketing channels is quite high. These are ones with convenience. Technology can more provide convenience. By that, the complexity of channels is rising.
This is something from many years ago, not just a few years ago. Do you find an established manufacturing company? You sell products. Do you find resistance from the engineers and the people who are involved in building the product? You’re trying to move things forward and faster.
I wouldn’t call it resistance. I would call it more that the importance is often neglected. You have to see, in a typical engineering-driven company, the thinking in the past was that when you have great products that have great quality, usually, they should be bought because they’re great products and everybody aware of that as well would buy them.
Nowadays, in the last several years, more marketing came up, more brands, and more competition due to also more global competitive environment. By that, also marketing became more important because if you are not the only brand on shelves or even in eCommerce, not on page one, nobody will see you. There’s a need to get more visibility and change all the processes around.
If it’s explained like that, I also see that it’s recognized and valued, but very often, it’s still not seen. When you are focused more on the product, you often don’t have this direct response from the market because you don’t look at that that often. That’s a big pitfall that’s visible in many companies still. I see that once the value is more tangible to them, it’s seen, then it’s more the question of where to spend the money because nowadays it means that more budget has to go to marketing. What ultimately means that there’s less budget might be for product development and engineering.
I remember very early in my opera career when I was the fourth assistant from the left at the San Francisco Opera way back. I was just starting out. For those of us who were working on stage backstage in my department, there were twelve of us and we were squeezed into a little tiny room because the marketing department and the fundraising department kept having more people. Opera companies in America are nonprofits. People have to be spending a lot of time cultivating the donors.
I complained about that once. One of the fundraisers heard it. She turned around, caught me, we were both standing at the coffee pot, and she said,” I am raising the money for your salary.” I said, “I hadn’t thought of it that way.” The work that she was doing was paying my salary, so I shut up after that. It was a very useful lesson when I was 25. I already knew everything, as one does when one is 25. Fiona, you’ve spoken a little bit about the pace of change management and managing the timing and the pace. Can you expand on that a little bit? What are your thoughts about pacing yourself and the rate of change?
It’s a very important question from my perspective. What’s important and where it’s also relevant to use sufficient time is to analyze the situation. Change is very much about making it feel for the people that are involved and it’s not a change that is put on top of them, but it’s something developed together. Here, it’s important to understand first, if there’s a specific target or new status in mind, to understand well where the majority of the team is right now. Also, develop a strategy together on how this can be achieved. To understand first why we have to change, what we want to do, and who is doing what in this process.Change management is about making people feel that they are involved. It shouldn’t be like a change is put on top of them. Click To Tweet
Once this is defined and that can take some time, my experience is it should be fast. The more time you have in this process, the more it starts not being a focus anymore. Especially at the beginning, I’ve learned that it’s good to create situations. You can feel also the positive impact of change. It can happen very fast because usually, people are not patient. They want to learn fast if they give energy into a process and it pays back.
I can recommend having a quite high drumbeat at the beginning and ensuring that there are tangible positive experiences that give a glimpse of how the new situation is paying back and how that feels to celebrate this. It’s much faster to be in a situation where it becomes more natural to act in a new setup. I also implemented a new kind of agile working system and agile governance model. It’s becoming also more the case that people ask for it and might be also the ones that haven’t been included in the first wave of transformation want to come in.
Being very close to that development and also as a leader ensuring to understand what is happening, who is already completely in the new system who might need some support, and who needs some also assistance with it is very important. Once it’s more becoming a natural behavior, it’s also easier to step a bit more back and also increase the time amount between check-in points and milestones.
My experience is, if there’s a very tight drumbeat the first three months, it’s so much easier afterwards. While I saw change processes that have a very long timeframe, over the entire process, there are coming up questions. Should we do that? Shouldn’t we try out another approach without having tried one sufficiently? That’s, from my perspective, the biggest risk that such processes can also fail.
How much time do you spend getting to a consensus before taking action?
It’s always different depending on the size of the organization and the magnitude of change. Usually, I would take around 4 to 6 weeks. Often, there is a need to change. What is also important is, change is nothing where we start now and the project is over in three months. My perspective is that, as a leader, you have to develop the organization and the teams into a mindset over change because it’s a process. It’s not something that’s completed at any point in time because everything is still in frequent change.
That means it has more to become a habit of steady change. Ideally, once a year, there’s a rolling plan update where it’s about these 4 to 6 weeks where you see what has to be adapted and what should be rolled out further because it worked out very well. That’s more like my mental model that it sees this development toward change.
You’ve done a TED-style Talk where you were playing the drums and you’re talking about the drumbeat of managing change. How does that fit in?
I’m playing the drums for many years. It’s very close to my heart and I see a lot of parallels to the business world and specifically to change management. When you look at the drum set, you see the different toms and crashes. You see it’s a set out of 11 or 12 separate instruments. I want to call it that. What I used the drum set for in my TED Talk was to also compare the previous world with the present world. You also said it earlier in this show that in the old world, the main task of a manufacturing company was to sell great-quality products.
To produce great quality products and then sell them, and because it was a well-known brand, people would of course buy that brand.
It’s a very simple beat. You could play it with one of these instruments of the drum set in a very steady beat. That was what I also performed on stage. Nowadays, it’s not sufficient because imagine now, this still great quality product is sold on shelf in a store. People might see it and buy it, but then it’s also online. If it’s not on page 1 but on page 4 or 5, nobody will ever see it.
Nobody goes to page two.
It’s also sold by influencers. They even have one product they try from a category. Even there, if you’re not visible, you’re not seen, and then you might have the products visible, but your supply chain is not dynamic enough to also serve all of these channels. That means you have more channels and more touch points in marketing and sales. Also, you have more tasks within these channels that you as a company have to fulfill. That means the beat is much more complex. That means, to use the drum set again, it was a necessity to use all of these eleven instruments and play a very dynamic beat. What I wanted to highlight with that is that you can hear and feel how the world has changed from a simple one to a complex one from the perspective of a company.
What I also wanted to highlight with that is that change is getting people into motion. That’s not all about explaining the situation that there was a change in the world of trade. It’s also about feeling it because that ultimately gets people into motion. If you talk about a beat, usually, humans get into motion. They want to move. They want to dance if they hear music. It’s also a nice trigger to start a change process.
What a wonderful metaphor. Fiona, this is so much fun and I love it that you added the drum set to your talk. Do you have a metaphor where each drum is a different part or each beat has an equivalent in business?
Every drum has one function of the business, and then there was also a different beat on it. For example, the bass drum was the sales function. It’s a very steady beat because you have to sell, it’s powerful, and it’s also driving things forward. When you now imagine a drum set, you use your feet and you are pushing the sales forward.
It’s also the foundation of everything. A bass singer is the root of the chord.
It’s also constant over the entire beat in connection with every other drum that is coming afterward. The hi-hat, for instance, was the leader because there, you have very different styles. As it is in a leadership situation, you have to use different styles. It will depend if it’s closed or if it’s open. You can also use your feet, but you also can use both your drumsticks. That’s also to orchestrate the other drums well to ensure that they play in one direction successfully together.
Where’s the cymbal?
It’s getting a bit more tricky because I use a very rich drum set. There have been four cymbals. There was distribution planning and logistic, which have been played in a connected way because you need both to get the products in time in full to the customer. Another cymbal was the business development and data engineers because they can have all the 0s and 1s in the IT language. You can play that in a very fast way there. The last one was business operations and back office because there, you have to be on the point, and then you see how you can play the drum. You can play on it and then also use your hand to stop it immediately. What’s an important characteristic of the back office is that you need fast interventions often.
Fiona Liebehenz, thank you so much for being a guest. I love that we got a chance to explore the metaphor of the drum set in business. I never had a guest do that before, so that’s going to be fun. Thank you so much for having been a guest here.
Thanks a lot. It was a big pleasure.
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- Fiona Liebehenz – LinkedIn
- Indra Nooyi
- YouTube – Elizabeth Bachman, Strategic Speaking for Results
- Apple Podcasts – Speakers Who Get Results
About Fiona Liebehenz
“If you can dream it, you can do it” (Disney) I am an entrepreneurial and passionate Consumer Goods and Technology leader, who has always been motivated to actively shape the future and make a difference – nowadays for over 16 years in the Consumer Goods and Technology industry, on the manufacturer and retail side, with leadership responsibility in general management, strategy, purchasing, marketing and sales.
My enthusiasm for strategy, the holistic thinking of the sales and marketing function, and innovation, sparked off early as well as the issues of digitalization, artificial intelligence, and eCommerce. Holistic for me means that the impact on society and the environment is also considered and that “one’s own engine” is running to get a little better every day. My motto: “If you can dream it, you can do it” – always with the goal of creating progress that creates value and meaning, and for which diversity and people are an essential factor.