Is printing just a man’s job? Certainly not for a long time now! But if you want to be successful in online business in the long term, you don’t need a quota system, you need to be genuinely open to the needs of the new generation of employees, diversity, and yes, digital leadership. The paradigm shifts that all of this entails can be quite challenging for long-established managers. But they are unavoidable when it comes to addressing the skills shortage.
Spread Group is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month – and yet the company, which today operates five brands – Spreadshirt Marketplaces, Spreadshirt Create Your Own, Spreadshop, TeamShirts and SPOD – and has manufacturing operations in five locations in the U.S. and Europe, and employs more than 1,600 people in Peak Seasons, has maintained its start-up mentality over all these years. So, what does it all come down to? That’s what Hanne Dinkel, Chief Customer Delivery Officer at Spread Group, explained at the Online Print Symposium 2022.
Her presentation was actually under the headline “Leadership is becoming female” – however, it was actually about much more than that. Namely, what makes a successful online company like the Spread Group different. The ratio between men and women, the “gender ratio”, is only one small component – albeit one that is a step in the right direction. The company itself sets a positive example in this respect, as more than half of the employees – at the main site in Leipzig alone – are female. In director positions, the split is 50/50, and among managers, the proportion of women is as high as almost 60 percent. At the new production plant in Poland, which was commissioned in April 2021 and thus in the middle of the pandemic, even the entire management team is female.
Diversity in the team and a contemporary mindset
But what counts even more than that, according to Hanne Dinkel, is the diversity that prevails at Spread Group. At its headquarters alone, for example, the company employs people of 49 nationalities. “We are a diverse company because we operate globally,” Dinkel explained at OPS 2022, adding that online business is also digital and thus per se attractive to younger employees in particular. The average age of the Spread Group team is 36/37.
Nevertheless, anyone who now believes that just because they run an online store they are attractive to the skilled workers they so urgently need is mistaken. In view of the cultural change that is sweeping through society as a whole, it takes a lot more than that to find and retain the right people. It is clear that it takes a mindset that is oriented toward the different generations and, above all, a contemporary mindset. And that doesn’t just mean acting openly, flexibly and agilely, enabling remote work, which was already standard at the Spread Group before Corona, being family-centric or promoting the personal development of individuals.
Corporate language English
“A key competitive advantage we have is we are international and our corporate language is English. This gives us the opportunity to acquire skilled workers from abroad. You become attractive as an employer on the global labour market, because people can work for a modern company without having to learn the difficult language of German,” says Dinkel. However, if English is the company language, the world literally opens up in terms of attracting skilled workers.
In addition, companies should also prepare for the “digital nomads” who may only want to work in Germany for a few years. After all, they are precisely the ones who will bring not only a breath of fresh air, but also new perspectives. “You no longer look at a problem with the same, limited glasses, but get a multidimensional perspective. And that makes us much faster as a company,” Hanne Dinkel emphasized.
What digital leadership is all about
There’s no question about it, corporate leadership is a challenging task, especially in times that are not only developing rapidly in terms of technology, but where a lot is also happening in terms of global politics. “I believe we are in the midst of the greatest economic upheaval of all time,” declared Haeme Ulrich, founder of morntag GmbH, from Switzerland and a proven expert on publishing and digital leadership, “but it’s not all bad,” he continued. He launched into his talk at OPS by saying that, as with any upheaval, there are winners and losers – but what makes a company a winner in today’s world? Among other things, there are new forms of collaboration, a new understanding of roles and a new way of dealing with technology, with the emphasis here on dealing!
Free development = high IQ = improved knowledge work
When it comes to the new forms of collaboration, psychological security, for example, plays a major role; the feeling of being part of the team and of trust. After all, says Haeme Ulrich, “If you, as a collaborating person, can’t trust, you can’t develop to your full potential.” This is particularly important, he says, because in today’s modern industries it is no longer repetitive work that prevails, but knowledge-based work, in which IQ is also important. This, in turn, is atrophied, especially in those who work in fear-promoting environments, in hierarchical, “military” management structures. According to Ulrich, learned helplessness is also an inhibitor. “If I learn that I can’t change anything, I won’t change anything,” he said, emphasizing the importance of learning when it comes to leadership, referring to both his own learning and the learning of his employees. “Therefore, as a leader, I have to think about how to build an environment of knowledge culture.”
On the topic of a “new understanding of roles,” the expert posed a powerful quotation from the Kanban project management method: “Manage Work, lead People. Because nobody in this world wants to be managed,” said Haeme Ulrich, “they want to be led, motivated. Being managed is the work. It’s a question of focus.”. He added that the following insight is also important: ” Knowledge work is never about individuals, it’s always about the team.”
Likewise, he dispelled the paradigm that “the customer is king”; after all, a relationship with a king can never be at eye level. Yet, he said, that is precisely what is so important on the joint journey with the customer: meeting at eye level and trust. “The customer is a partner, an accomplice. We have to walk the path together. But condoning everything with ‘the customer is king’ is nothing more than silly manipulation,” he was certain. “The credo ‘the customer is king,’ that only yields short-term relationships in the end – but ‘the customer is partner,’ that yields long-term relationships.”
“Brain Power,” not software
But modern leadership of people and companies also has to consider a number of things in terms of technology, he says: “Classic printing is repetitive work, always at the same pace. But when it comes to personalization and individualization, IT suddenly comes into play. Publishing today is IT, and IT is never repetitive. I can’t install a system that works for one company in the same way for another. That’s not how IT works. IT is agile and IT is a knowledge-based job. This means that the added value is in the ‘brain power’, and not in the software.” Therefore, he recommends, a modern company must position itself in such a way that the focus is on knowledge work, i.e. not only “the maintenance contracts with the manufacturers, but also the maintenance contracts with the knowledge.”