Reflect in an interview with Tim Weckerle
"Agile growth is only possible with continuous cultural change. Cultural change begins with setting an example and must be perceived over time. The main challenge in the near future will be continuously setting an example, no matter how many setbacks are experienced", says Tim Weckerle, managing director of our client, the Auvesy GmbH.
Reflect: You are the managing director of the Auvesy GmbH. AUVESY has developed a version and data management system and is now the technological world market leader for data management systems. What exactly does your company do?
T. Weckerle: We use a software solution in production halls to clarify the following questions: Who changed what in the production plant; why was it changed; and when was it changed. In addition, we also carry out reconciliation: Is the plant running in the last released version. We summarize all these questions under the heading of data management in automated production and focus here in particular on data from PLCs, HMIs, robots and PC systems. Our customers benefit from high plant availability, reduction of downtimes and an integrated strategy for data security and disaster recovery. Digitization and standardization in Industry 4.0 naturally bring great added value for the customer, since complex topics are handled uniformly by our system and are therefore easier to handle.
Reflect: How do you as a company safeguard this continuous technological progress?
T. Weckerle: Auvesy implements the product "Versiondog" as standard software. This means that we deliver the same piece of software to all industries worldwide. No matter if food production or automotive, it is always the same software. There are only different ways in which our features are used in plant engineering. This gives us the perspective to call ourselves a technological leader. We like to compare ourselves to a Microsoft Office package. Office delivers Word and Excel for the office. The end customer uses them to write letters or create tables, no matter what industry he is working in. And we deliver "Versiondog" in a similar way as standard software. The customer can use the required feature to turn off his pain points. It is very important to us that each code is not a special development for a particular customer, but we make sure that each code that goes into the product has the chance to reach at least 20-30% of the customers.
At our company headquarters in Landau in the Palatinate we have 88 employees, 30 of whom are developers. Our customers are large corporations. If we were to adapt to customer requirements, always similar but never the same, we would completely break down in terms of resources. We do not build up our experts in a broad way, we see that an expert is able to take up the subjective problem of the customer. Quite often we already have the solution in the product, the customer just doesn't know it yet, because for example the "wording" is not yet right. Another advantage of standardizing our product is that only 3.5 employees can handle the entire customer support from Germany.
Reflect: Everyone has been talking about agility and digitalization for a long time - how important are these two dimensions for your company?
T. Weckerle: These two dimensions are immensely important for Auvesy. We have converted large parts of Auvesy to agile principles. We invest a lot to build automated processes. That means we analyze what is being done repeatedly and derive what we could automate. We also try to standardize more complex processes in order to develop our product agile.
We also use agile principles in management and make sure that we build up some topics of agility in the whole company e.g. Jour fix, stand-ups are part of it. It is also important to prioritize tasks that do not last longer than three or four days. It doesn't make sense to plan to do something all the time, to take three months and in the end not knowing how important it was because you lost touch. These are issues that occur in our company, which I call agile.
At times we have to react very quickly. Not necessarily to changes in the market, where we are in a stable position with our standard product, but agile in the sense of further development. We are at a point where we have to challenge ourselves. For this it is important to try out new ideas. Out of 1000 ideas, you pick the 20 best ones and simply put them into practice to find out whether we are making progress.
That way not only innovations are created, but also mistakes. We often find that it would work, but we are not yet ready. Our whole management team is set up in such a way that we tend to take smaller steps every day and see if we have made a step towards a vision.
Reflect: You have been working with Reflect for some time now - what was the reason for the cooperation?
T. Weckerle: We have found that we want to change things, first of all independently of Reflect. For example, we introduced agile principles in development with a consultant. That was relatively simple. A small unit of development adapts itself agilely, all others look from the outside and criticize or turn up their noses. But since the introduction was successful, the idea came up that we transfer this. Unfortunately, we then had to realize that we could not simply transpose the principle, which once worked well, to other areas. It either goes a) too fast because you don't understand it anymore or b) the principles don't become clear, but the set of rules becomes more important than what you want to achieve.
We have found that internal motivation can easily put you in an awkward position. Profiling and power games were topics here. That's why we decided on the process of change, to change as a whole company and face the future. Reflect advised us that it would help us to develop a new culture in the long run. That is, not only to think about methodologies, tools, that would go relatively quickly, but to change the entire Auvesy unit to a vision and ultimately a culture.
We wanted to create an Auvesy culture, because in many places the initiative culture of the founding suddenly stood in our way. We used to be able to shout anything to ourselves because we were so small. Now we have an established product, we have increased tenfold. Now the question was: How do we manage to make sure that everyone is using their strengths to move the Auvesy company forward?
I wished that the cooperation with Reflect would be finished after three months. But now I'm at a point where I know it will take years before the social fabric changes to a culture. Cultural change begins with a past life and must be perceived over time. This is very different for each individual. It's also about picking up fears and people.
We have established principles, we have defined values, we have a "claim" and a vision. All great, but now comes the difficult part. Stress causes a relapse into old behavior patterns very quickly. The continuous living of the past, no matter how many setbacks are experienced, will be the challenge in the near future. This consideration of continuity is certainly new and has also been shaped by Reflect in recent months.
Reflect: What was the most difficult part of the cultural change for you?
T. Weckerle: The hardest thing was that the company never felt bad. That means, we actually started the changeover only out of a wish and not out of necessity. Basically, the company was always successful. We embarked on the culture change at a time when we said it would get complicated as we grew bigger and bigger. We started the changeover without time pressure, so to speak. That made it easy on the one hand, but also made it difficult again because there was no pressure. In our case, for example, few people wanted to meet because there was no obvious problem. The challenge was and still is to continuously adapt the culture to our rapid growth.
Reflect: How do you experience the cooperation with Reflect? And which results could you achieve so far?
T. Weckerle: After one year I notice clearly positive developments. There is a different basic understanding of how we can and want to support each other. There is also a different understanding of the error culture. Because, if you want to lead the way, mistakes happen. If you come from a well-rehearsed area, mistakes are immediately noticeable and you point your finger at them. What we have now succeeded in doing is to develop a culture in which change means trying out and making mistakes. Mistakes are not bad, but a cause of conflict and this conflict makes us better and moves us forward. This understanding causes people to move forward with responsibility because they already realize that taking responsibility has a positive effect on their own work but also a positive effect in terms of feedback and added value.
I therefore see the next challenge as developing a positive error culture. This is where we have to continue. If all you have are people who are afraid as soon as things get stressful and tough, you won't get anywhere. This is where you have to keep reminding yourself that you're in the same boat, even if it's a bit stormy right now.
Reflect: Looking ahead - where do you see Auvesy in the coming years and what are the most important levers for success to achieve this?
T. Weckerle: For me, process automation and digitalization are tools to avoid overburdening people. We may be building up people, but the complexity of our field of activity is increasing rapidly. We want to automate simple and recurring tasks as a measure to protect the team from overwork.
As a second lever for success, people should see a sense in their work in the long run, to stay mentally and physically healthy. We can only go into the future if we keep our resources and expand them positively. I don't need a forced collective, I need employees who are voluntarily in the collective, this only happens through meaningfulness.
The third and hardest point I see is that if I have healthy people who enjoy their work, then I want to keep it. We have to achieve that Auvesy is perceived as more attractive than the big software companies, for example in Walldorf.
Our employees are our most important capital. Many companies are currently cutting jobs and at the same time there is a shortage of skilled workers, we are also affected by this. Every employee we "onboard" must be introduced to our culture. If we notice, however, that this person is acting very hierarchically, for example, we have to part company again quickly. We can only stay on the growth track if we can keep people. As soon as arrogance or hierarchical habits come along, we have to realize quickly that it is not about us, but about the matter in hand and react quickly.
We have to remain authentic in growth and we have to learn that we will probably never be able to cope with change. Change frightens. Feedback, reflection, and retrospective in culture are therefore very important and must not be suppressed.
Reflect: I wish you continued success and many thanks for the interview.
The interview was conducted by Jutta Merkel, Reflect