Reflect in an interview with Dr. Hofmann - CEO of MHP
Dr. Ralf Hofmann, co-founder, shareholder and CEO of MHP Management- und IT-Beratung GmbH, founded in 1996, heads one of the leading consulting companies in the automotive, mobility and manufacturing sectors.
After studying industrial engineering at the University of Karlsruhe, the Heilbronn native (born 1963) worked as a consultant for leading consulting firms (including IBM and Accenture) until 1996. In 1996, he became self-employed when he founded Mieschke Hofmann und Partner (MHP). In 2004 he received his doctorate from the University of Duisburg/Essen.
REFLECT: What exactly does MHP do and how do you see your role as CEO?
Dr. Ralf Hofmann: MHP is the leading business and technology partner for shaping the future of mobility and manufacturing. We give our customers and business partners strategic impulses, integrate intelligent technologies and communicate innovative methods. From 16 locations, more than 3,000 employees worldwide will soon be supporting customers from medium-sized companies to OEMs. I am a co-founder of MHP and have led the company from the very beginning. We are very people-oriented. We do not have any machines, materials, factory buildings or the like as consultants. The only and at the same time most valuable capital we have are our employees and that is why the topic of leadership is so important to us. Mistakes in leadership lead to a high fluctuation, which of course we do not want. We are very proud of the fact that we have a below-average fluctuation rate compared to the rest of the industry. This is the result of sensible management and that is also what makes MHP so special.
REFLECT: How do you personally experience the corona crisis?
Dr. Ralf Hofmann: Personally, I miss social contacts, and I am looking forward to going to a beer garden again soon. Of course, I also have some concern about the continued existence of the economic world, irrespective of MHP.
REFLECT: What effects does this crisis have on MHP's business development?
Dr. Ralf Hofmann: We started early and in good time to switch projects to remote. This works excellently, we are in a stable crisis mode. It is important to maintain this. At the moment we are still living off the order backlog. Of course, the scale of expectations has moved significantly downwards and nobody knows when the crisis will end and how everything will turn out.
We are doing everything we can to ensure that the effects on our employees are minimal and take the future of MHP into account in all decisions. All the measures we are currently taking have our leadership principle "We Love People" as their guiding principle. We aim to bring the entire MHP team out of the crisis and to be able to get by without short-time work. In the crisis, communication is vital for us. We learned this from the crisis in 2009. Back then, we were criticised for the lack of communication. Today we have excellent communication within MHP. From the very beginning, we were very transparent, open and prompt in our crisis communication. For example, I have already shot six videos and always say something when there is something to say.
What I will take with me from this time is that we have experienced a very high level of solidarity within the company. Everyone supports where they can. Really everyone makes their contribution. I have never had the feeling that we are all pulling together in such a way. I am very impressed by the solidarity of the employees' understanding of the measures.
REFLECT: Crises always offer opportunities: What positive effects could arise from them?
Dr. Ralf Hofmann: On the contrary, we have not lost our claim to excellence even in the corona era. After corona, we do not want a new normality, but an even better normality. And we have to prepare ourselves for this as well as possible. That is what we are doing. We are working on the plan to return to the new normality at time X. For this we have set up a ramp-up project.
What we already know today, we will not revive 1:1 what we did before corona. One thing is certain: a combination of remote work and on site. The remote work is just establishing itself. This is where we will start. Currently, we can do highly more effective meetings, because there is no travel time. In addition, our efficiency in remote meetings is great, we get through our agendas much better.
We also want to use the time now to drive internal projects forward and then of course implement training measures for the employees.
We are preparing for the new normality and of course we are also looking at the customer side. What does corona mean for customers and for IT? I am convinced that the crisis will give a further boost to digitization. The retail sector in particular is suffering badly; on the other hand, people are also getting used to online shopping. There are certainly changes here. Changes of any kind have an impact on the digital world, we are positioned here, I see that as a great opportunity. But our major customers in the automotive industry are also worried about their future. With a view to our portfolio, we are identifying, especially today, the issues that our customers need in the crisis, that they may need when they are ramping up and that may be at the forefront in a changed world after corona. This is actually nothing special for us, we have always done it. But today it is more relevant than ever. We, our customers, the economy, simply all of us, will go over to corona into an everyday life that has changed. I am convinced of that.
REFLECT: With REFLECT you have developed a leadership model for MHP. How did this idea come about and what benefits do you expect from it?
Dr. Ralf Hofmann: We have grown intensively and economically very successfully in recent years. Since 2010, our team has increased sixfold. Let's be honest - with so much dynamism at MHP and in the industry, we have never really taken the time to pause, to write down our aspirations, to further sharpen our leadership profile. This is how person-dependent and heterogeneous management cultures have developed within MHP over the last 24 years. Today, due to our size and our demand for professionalism and excellence, this is no longer possible. We need stable guard rails that help us to remain successful in the future. Because our purpose must also be valid for ourselves. Who among us does not think of improving the world. Only the world starts with ourselves: We are a people organization, and our focus is on people. Leadership means not only demanding performance, but also fostering potential, encouraging people to rise above themselves. We want to continue to ensure this. To ensure that it stays that way, it was literally a matter of the heart for us - the MHP board and the partnership - to get to the heart of this success and keep it beating in the future: Leadership. When we talk about leadership, of course we also talk about values, they form the basis. It is therefore important that managers act in our interests and uphold the values in leadership that are important to us. This is why we have developed a leadership model with REFLECT.
REFLECT: Central to this mission statement is the purpose of MHP. Why was the purpose so important for your company?
Dr. Ralf Hofmann: We have a very young team, if you look at the average age. Every year we hire around 300 university graduates fresh from university. Generation Y is more concerned with making sense than making a monthly living. For us, it is important that employees know why they are getting up - away from the sheer material. I feel the same way, by the way.
We have eight corporate values. One, for example, is value creation. We also want to create value for our customers. This sense of purpose with regard to the customer has always been there. With over 90% of our sales in Germany, we are strongly Germany-based. We work 85% in the automotive industry. An industry that has a great need for change, especially in view of climate change and the discussion about it. The drive, the number, the CO2 emissions, urban mobility, these are all issues, which means the automotive industry must change. Germany lives from the automotive industry. If the automotive industry in Germany gets a blow, the whole economy in Germany gets a blow, as we are seeing in the corona crisis. We feel part of this industry and we have the ambition to help our customers to create a better tomorrow.
To define this corporate purpose and to summarize it in a single sentence, we then developed with REFLECT: "Enabling you to shape a better tomorrow" summarizes exactly what we want. The sentence gets better every time I read it, there is a lot in it. At MHP we introduced the "purpose" half a year ago and the feedback is incredibly good. We find purpose very important because it shapes our culture, especially since we have had a strong corporate culture for 24 years. For us, the purpose is the cover of our culture, so to speak. Ultimately, we are united behind one purpose, we find that important and we notice this strongly in our employees.
REFLECT: In our view, the role of leadership has changed more and more in recent years. In your view, what makes a manager of today?
Dr. Ralf Hofmann: The expectations of employees have definitely changed. When a 25-year-old starts work here today, they bring with them a high level of expectations of their employer and, of course, individual leadership requirements. A manager must naturally be able to handle this self-confidence or learn to do so. For us, the topic of responsibility as a manager has always been the key. Good managers have confidence in their employees. We are firmly convinced that they want to achieve something with and for us.
As a company, we want every employee to feel comfortable in the company and to define themselves in terms of values and orientation. We are a very transparent and communicative company. Managers at MHP must be strong communicators. Announcing decisions in the spirit of MHP, explaining facts to employees, speaking with one voice, upholding the values of leadership - that is important to us. This also explains the emphasis on community in our principles: We act in the interests of MHP. It Is Our Company, We Love People, Time to Share, One Voice - Clear "Why" - ... It is precisely the why that has an enormous effect on motivation. We want our employees to know why decisions are the way they are, to understand our decisions. Of course, a decision will sometimes have individual disadvantages for someone. But explaining to him or her how the decision was made and why it was made in this way creates understanding, not frustration. I am and have never been too ashamed to explain all decisions to anyone who asks, and now we've got it straight to the point: One Voice - Clear "Why".
REFLECT: Many companies have mission statements. Often these are not lived out, but are only displayed as posters in the meeting rooms or on the company website. What concrete plans do you have to anchor the mission statement in everyday work?
Dr. Ralf Hofmann: Our management principles sum up how we manage and want to be managed at MHP. They only make sense if we set an example and if our employees demand precisely this leadership. We want them to be addressed. We want to take the time to do this. With our developed leadership mission statement, we will now provide training for all 900 managers. This will not happen overnight, we have planned the next two years for training with REFLECT. Of course we still have a little break due to corona, but we want to start as soon as possible.
The leadership topic is directly attached to my website, I have also initiated this topic. That's why it won't fall behind because of the crisis. It is a very important topic for us. We have deliberately communicated the topic of leadership very strongly and brought it into the organization.
REFLECT: Finally: How do you experience the joint process with REFLECT as an external partner?
Dr. Ralf Hofmann: We are very satisfied with how the whole process with REFLECT went. We worked out the leadership principles together and of course defined our purpose: Enabling you to shape a better tomorrow. We are convinced of the REFLECT team and also in combination with Jan Teunen, who brought in a language that we have now internalized. When consultants bring in consultants, it is not always easy. Leadership is a heart topic for MHP, that's why it was so important for us to have a consultant who understands us quickly, that was the case with REFLECT. With eight leadership principles, the formulation is of course incredibly important. We have found excellent formulations and interpretations. Together we have managed to find our way back into our leadership guidelines, but at the same time we have also managed to live up to our claim of excellence.
Reflect: Thank you very much for the interview and all the best for the coming period.
The interview was conducted by Jutta Merkel, REFLECT.