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Ingo Kallenbach

REFLECT in an interview with Claus Fleischer of Bosch eBike Systems

"The cyclists' smile is the reason why we all come to the office every morning."

Claus Fleischer has been managing director of Bosch eBike Systems since July 2012. The mechanical engineer looks back on more than 25 years of experience in the Bosch Group, including 15 years in the automotive sector in Germany and abroad. From the beginning of 2007 to the end of 2009, he was head of development for braking systems in Farmington Hills, Michigan (USA). In 2011 and 2012, he served as assistant to the then chairman of the Bosch Group board of management, Franz Fehrenbach, responsible for technical issues in the area of corporate planning. Under his leadership, Bosch eBike Systems has developed from a start-up to one of the leading manufacturers for eBike drive systems in the premium segment. Fleischer is an enthusiastic mountain biker, road cyclist and has a particular soft spot for mountain sports.


bosch-ebike_claus_fleischerImage source: Bosch Press Portal

REFLECT: How do you at Bosch eBike Systems experience the corona pandemic in general and the lock-down light in particular?

Claus Fleischer: For us, there were three main things: the employee perspective, the economic situation in the industry, and the personal experience of each individual.

We experienced a high level of willingness among employees to embrace the new working conditions. In other words, more mobile working, home offices and the increased use of digital systems such as Skype or Teams. Everyone was really quick to get on board. We regularly reported on the current status of the pandemic and its effect on us in newsletters, e-mails and small videos. So employees were also informed at home in the home office. We shot many more videos and communicated via livestreams than before. That has given another powerful push forward. The digital formats have been really well received.

We proactively promoted and demanded mobile working, and of course also took individual needs into account, especially during the initial lockdown phase. Many employees asked whether they could take a monitor or keyboard with them. We made sure that everyone was able to work at home and had the appropriate equipment. As a company, you simply have to react flexibly. We managed that well.

Economically, the bicycle industry has been more of a winner in the crisis. We reacted very quickly and with the opening after the first lockdown there was a very high demand in the bicycle industry. All of a sudden, eBikes were sold out in bike stores. We are in the field of healthy mobility and we are focusing on the social trends. So the most important thing for us was to keep the entire bicycle industry - with our suppliers, production and logistics - running. We had the special situation that all plants had to run and at the same time all employees were in their home offices. We managed that well, too.

My personal insight from the last six months was that all challenges can be overcome with optimism and a positive view of people. The mixture of mobile working and presence in the office is so good. Everything has its advantages and disadvantages. We also took a few things away from these insights for the future working environment in our new building, which we will be moving into in the first quarter of next year. We were particularly concerned with issues around hybrid working, i.e. how many employees are in the home office and work on the move, how many are in the office space, how do we organize virtual meetings and digital events.

REFLECT: Especially in times of crisis, people talk about companies needing a resilient culture that makes them resistant and robust in the face of dynamic and volatile market conditions. What constitutes culture for you and what importance do you attach to it?

Claus Fleischer: By definition, culture is the unconscious daily living of values. Values that one has consciously or unconsciously agreed upon, i.e., that have emerged over time or because one has written them down. The important thing is that once you have written down your values, you also link them to your everyday work. This creates a culture that is lived out, which also has an effect on the subconscious and provides direction for action. This agreement on a common set of values creates trust and cohesion in the organization.

We were a small start-up and then grew very quickly, gaining many new employees in a short time. We took ourselves back to that time and asked ourselves what made the start-up phase so special. It's hard for us to cultivate that start-up culture when we grow up, but we tried. We are now a medium-sized company, but we still want to be allowed to behave like a start-up.

REFLECT: About 2 years ago, you started to develop a mission statement for eBike together with the management team and the staff. We were allowed to support you in this process. How effective have you found this development for cooperation and culture so far?

Claus Fleischer: The mission statement is important because we have a strategy as a company. The strategy creates the framework for action in the future. We also wanted to fill this framework for action with life. For us, the life and meaning of the strategy is now the mission statement with purpose, mission, vision and values.

Of course, this starts with the purpose, this question of meaning: why do I come to the office every morning and make my contribution? We have chosen a strongly emotional purpose: We make cyclists smile. This emotional purpose - to make cyclists smile with our ebike systems - is an aspiration we have for ourselves. This smile of cyclists is the reason why everyone comes to the office every morning. That is why we have consciously chosen an emotional and not a rational Purpose.

So the purpose is above everything and underneath comes our vision: we are shaping the future of cycling. Actively shaping this future of bicycling with our products and solutions is then discussed in the mission statement. Below that are our values. We developed the mission statement with employees and managers and incorporated participation elements, rolled it out, do employee surveys, skip-level meetings, and solicit feedback

It is well received because it is authentic. Employees feel that they are being listened to and say, "Yes, this suits us. We've done a pretty good job with Reflect, and I personally use the mission statement in almost every presentation. I use the purpose and the vision, we go into the values. It's not something that's been artificially imposed on us, but rather we've written down what has made us special over the last 10 years and what we want to cultivate for the future.

REFLECT: Your management team was always involved in the development process. In your view, how important was this involvement with regard to the effectiveness of the overall process?

Claus Fleischer: The involvement of top management is very important. We grew strongly, reorganized and expanded from 4 to 8 colleagues in the top management circle. Conveniently, the colleagues arrived at exactly the time when we defined the mission statement, purpose, vision and values. This discussion gave them a direct insight into what has made us tick over the last 10 years - they didn't know the history themselves. They were therefore able to quickly understand and help shape the culture, and were able to help roll it out and live it.

The managers are the most important multipliers for the mission statement and culture, for the employees. I am very pleased that all our managers actively identify with it and that we have also defined value sponsors. This has almost automatically resulted in "I stand for the value in the company, I have a story to tell about it." That makes it very authentic and honest again for the employees, and that is crucial for success. We encouraged that, of course, we made backgrounds and little digital stickers for powerpoints, for example. Everywhere in the company, the values are now popping up in all sorts of places. The teams now also use elements of the mission statement completely independently. For example, you can now find the Purpose and the value "Setting the benchmark" in a presentation for a new product, because we want to use it to make cyclists smile. We now realize the values are being used playfully, even by colleagues and teams.

From the conscious via rehearsing we get into the subconscious. We are about to move into our new building and are naturally planning how to visualize the mission statement and the values. We want to place them playfully, for example as graffiti in the stairwell, and not just hang a poster somewhere.

REFLECT: If you have three attributes to choose from - what really constitutes leadership for you personally and why?

Claus Fleischer: For me, the most important attributes of leadership are strategy, trust and motivation.

Why strategy: Because the strategy, together with the vision, provides a framework. Then everyone is heading for the same goal. If I, as a leader, don't set that out with an inspiring vision, "that's where we want to go," then the organization runs wild. It's important to emphasize and communicate that.

Trust: Trust is based on openness, of course, and when you're growing, working agilely and in self-organized teams, a culture of trust is quite important. Especially when you develop quickly, make decisions quickly, and don't always know which decision is the right one right now. You need openness to talk about difficult things, critical issues and mistakes. You have to work a lot on yourself, but you also have to work with your managers and teams to really achieve this openness.

The third point is motivation: For me, motivation is positive reinforcement for performance, creativity, innovation and personal commitment. It's easier, of course, if it's intrinsic motivation, and that usually comes from Purpose. If I am intrinsically motivated because I have internalized the Purpose, it is easier for me than if I have to be extrinsically motivated via incentives or a bonus.

These are my three leadership priorities that I pay particular attention to.

REFLECT: Finally, a personal question: I can imagine that this year has also been a challenge for you personally to bring eBike successfully through the crisis. What is your personal guiding principle or principle that has helped you to nevertheless keep your head up here?

Claus Fleischer: This year, three of my favorite guiding principles fit quite well:
"Keep your promise" - that is, reliability in the promises we make to our customers and partners.
"One problem at a time" - in other words, approaching challenges prudently, with priority, but without rushing.
"Never lose your sense of humor" - my grandmother gave me this motto, which always helps when things get really bad.

REFLECT: Thank you very much for the insights into your company Bosch eBike Systems and good luck on your way to make cyclists smile.

The interview was conducted by Jutta Merkel.

Find out here how you can establish a collaborative culture in your company.



Also read our other interviews:

REFLECT in an interview with Raphael Gielgen

REFLECT in an interview with Dr. Hofmann - CEO of MHP

REFLECT in an interview with Dr.-Ing. Tim Weckerle

REFLECT in an interview with Jörg Eckstädt

REFLECT in an interview with Prof. Jan Teunen

Interview with Ingo Kallenbach