In an interview, Strametz Managing Director Michael Kühner looks back on one of the most successful financial years since the company was founded and gives an outlook on opportunities and new products.
Strametz [&] Associates is one of the most successful HR consultancies in the areas of executive development, talent management and personnel diagnostics on the German market. From start-ups to global corporations, HR decision-makers rely on the expertise of the 30-strong team, which specializes in modern HR and organizational development. Dieter Strametz, founder and namesake of the management consultancy, revolutionized human resources development with his behavior-oriented training approach. Our online editorial team spoke with long-time Managing Director Michael Kühner about the major challenges in people management, a new leadership culture in companies and the concrete plans for 2022.
They have been on the market for more than 40 years. The company looks back on a very successful 2021 and has big plans for the future. Well-known corporations and medium-sized companies are among your clientele. What sets you apart from the competition?
Michael Kühner: Clearly our active learning approach. Nothing leaves a more lasting impression than one’s own experience. In the past, knowledge was imparted primarily in classical seminars. Digitization has flushed new formats such as e-learning programs or video training onto the market, making knowledge transfer much more efficient. But knowing things does not necessarily mean being able to do them. And that’s where our holistic approach comes in. Using behavior-oriented training, we bring managers and employees into activity. They can try things out and reflect on behavior in focused formats. Our simulations form the basis for successful learning. Knowledge is fleeting. By linking experience with real emotions, measures have a much more lasting effect and can efficiently bring about long-term behavioral change.
“Standing still is not an option for us.”
There is no provider in Germany that provides simulations of this complexity as you do. What is the secret?
Michael Kühner: We were the first on the market to deal with behavior-oriented business games in personnel development. This has given us a knowledge edge that is not so easy to catch up on. We simulate real work environments, close to everyday life and realistic, and with the typical challenges that managers and employees are regularly confronted with. We like to compare our corporate settings to a flight simulator or driver safety training. The team leaves the comfort zone of its own habit by engaging in unfamiliar, new processes. In the context that is unfamiliar to them, managers can become more involved in the topic of leadership because they experience and perceive situations more consciously. In addition, we can draw on our many years of experience and a first-class team of consultants. Our consultants come from management themselves or have a background in psychology. They know what they are talking about. Standing still is not an option for us. Our simulations are constantly adapted to the latest requirements. This makes them fit for the future.
In a flight simulator, prospective and trained pilots practice a wide variety of flight maneuvers. What does that look like in leadership training?
Michael Kühner: The managers and employees first start their day-to-day work in a fictitious company as usual. They discuss the tasks at hand, the specific concerns of the employees. Over time, a certain level of stress is created: urgent projects intervene, plans have to be changed and conflicts resolved. All that happens in a normal company’s everyday life takes place in a much higher density and concentration. In this way, managers can better reflect on their own actions. There is often a discrepancy between one’s own perception and the effect on others, so that we subsequently have good starting points for targeted further development.
“Agility is the order of the day.”
Does that mean that every simulation is also a personal assessment of where you stand?
Michael Kühner: Correct. Critical Incidents, sudden, critical events that require conversation and clear action, give managers concrete evidence of their competencies. Where do I currently stand? Which competencies are already working well? Where do I need to become more variable in my behavior? Leaders often have a familiar style, but it may not always fit. Agility is the order of the day. In today’s dynamic, more complex work environment, managers must adapt to situations even more quickly. Our simulations are the optimal training ground to practice the required skills, flexible thinking and resilience.
The change of perspective also plays an important role.
Michael Kühner: The special thing about our approach is that every participant is actively involved. Employees and managers constantly change roles in the process. For managers, the change in perspective has enormous added value. They can put themselves in the shoes of the employee, who does not always have all the insights at hand in the day-to-day running of the company and who often lacks the big picture. In this way, we promote understanding for our own team. The simulation is also an excellent opportunity for young talents to try out their leadership skills in a protected setting, even without having the necessary knowledge.
And feedback is given after each simulation round?
Michael Kühner: The participants go through different areas of the company and after each simulation round there is a feedback and reflection process. Managers receive direct feedback from their employees in the first step and from our qualified consultants in the second step. The feedback is the basis for the further simulation rounds.
We often observe the first learning effects as early as the second training round. The qualified feedback can directly lead to a change in behavior, which has a positive impact on leadership processes and results. The participant directly takes away new insights for him/herself, which he/she can then also apply to his/her own everyday business. This is what makes our offer so unique and ultimately the difference to other learning concepts.
“The best price-benefit ratio counts.”
Have the demands on personnel development and talent management increased?
Michael Kühner: Today, decision-makers are taking a much more critical look at training and seminar offerings. The budget is not simply poured out according to the watering can principle. What counts is the best price-benefit ratio. And that’s what we want to offer with our product range. Training must be purposeful, focused, impactful, and provide long-term direction to be profitable. We are meeting this growing demand with our range of products and services.
Who specifically do you work with?
Michael Kühner: Our target group is the decision-makers in the personnel development departments of companies, responsible persons from talent management or from “Learning and Development” departments. Whether for a freshly founded company or for a large corporation, our product portfolio meets all needs related to leadership development and talent identification. We also meet intercultural requirements across national borders by developing specific settings for them. Customizing is not an empty buzzword for us, but part of our corporate philosophy. We want to offer our customers tangible benefits. To this end, we make them the focus of our activities.
We particularly enjoy working with junior staff who are curious, hungry to learn and have an unbiased view of leadership. They usually go into the simulations with great commitment and soak up every minute. But even for experienced managers, self-reflection and the opportunity to take stock of where they stand are becoming more and more self-evident. They often have a wealth of experience and can deal with many situations in a more reflective manner because they have already experienced corresponding challenges. On the other hand, they are often more entrenched in certain behavioral patterns. From us they get the necessary impulses to expand their behavioral repertoire and to set the course for the future.
Why should companies address the issue of leadership now?
Michael Kühner: Requirements have changed, and many companies are in a state of upheaval. It is also about remaining stable in complex, dynamic contexts. Managers have to learn again and again how to deal with changing conditions. In the course of social change, leadership must be understood more and more as a service. A service to those talents that you would like to retain.
The main reason for termination is still the supervisor. Talented applicants have many more alternatives than in the past, so sense and leadership play a big role in companies. There are still companies that claim they don’t need systematic management development. For decades, they have been able to rely on unique selling points such as their unique products. However, anyone who permanently ignores issues such as corporate culture and working atmosphere will no longer be able to attract suitable talent in the long term and will not be able to compete successfully in the market. Even in the digital transformation, people remain the most valuable resource. Unfortunately, not all companies have understood this yet.
“We have taken advantage of the opportunities presented by digitization.”
Let’s take a look at the prevailing theme in 2020/2021: the Corona pandemic. How did you face the crisis?
Michael Kühner: 2020 was a difficult year for us, as almost our entire training offering was based on classroom events. Added to this was the uncertainty of customers. With the second Corona wave and the associated lockdown in the fall, we had to react as quickly as possible. We made a virtue out of necessity, took advantage of the opportunities offered by digitization [nbsp]and converted our training courses, which were previously held as face-to-face meetings, to remote.
Our Active Learning offerings are now available digitally. To do this, we rely on interactive platforms that allow us to digitally recreate business processes. The virtual trainings have been very well received. We have been able to gain some major customers, which makes us particularly proud. [nbsp]It’s important to remember: The Corona pandemic catapulted employees into the home office overnight. Managers, too, must first adapt to the new requirements in a digitized working world. We can effectively support them in this learning process.
Looking back, we can happily say that we have taken advantage of the opportunities presented by digitization, so we can look back on a very successful 2021.
What does this mean for the future? Will you be focusing more on digitization in 2022?
Michael Kühner: We have set our sights high this year. 2022 is all about qualitative growth. We are currently working on our own digital platform that will enable us to make our simulations even more realistic. Active Learning will remain our focus, but in the future we will pay even more attention to processes in order to cast our products in holistic development concepts. Within the framework of blended learning[nbsp] or integrated learning, as it is called in German, we want to combine online and classroom components to a greater extent.
Different modules are designed to provide a good mix of preparatory online impulses, application in real-life scenarios, reflection and follow-up on personal issues. In this way, managers have the opportunity to grow not only on a horizontal level, i.e. the skillset, but also on a vertical level in terms of the whole personality and to benefit from this in the long term. Especially the need for personal issues is growing and we can offer accompaniment in this area as well.
We will also continue to sharpen our diagnostic procedures. After all, Strametz is not only focused on management and talent development, but also on identifying high potentials. Here, we have already been using a broad spectrum of methods for years and can quickly put together modular solutions for our customers that meet their needs.
We will also continue to invest in our sales and marketing activities and strengthen our online presence. We know what we can do. Now everyone just needs to know about it.
That sounds like a promising future. What can companies that want to tackle the topic of leadership development and talent management with you look forward to?
Michael Kühner: Our customers can look forward to a mix of effective learning and high interactivity with a fun factor. We see ourselves as appreciative, inspiring, engaging and encouraging. Participants get a chance to learn about themselves and their impact. This is challenging and exciting at the same time.
Managers and employees also learn to know their limits and to overcome them. We allow a deeper examination of our own person and role. The handling of feedback is trained. We set reflection processes in motion. And in a playful way. Often our participants forget about time and space. This is the best compliment for us. We have been working with some companies for 20 years or more. When a customer tells us, “This is the best training we’ve ever had in our company,” we know we’re doing a lot right. And that it’s worth reinventing yourself again and again.
I would like to work with Strametz. How do we get started?
Michael Kühner: Quite simple. You can reach us by phone at +49 (0)5641 77 64 0 – 0. You are also welcome to send me an email personally with your request to email@example.com or connect with me via the well-known networks like LinkedIn and Xing. In the first step we analyze your situation and your needs. Based on our years of experience, we know what questions to ask and then, based on the defined goals, quickly and efficiently develop a customized concept.
Our customers are our focus, we are close to the companies, take a lot of time for their concerns and also keep an eye on the budget. We are passionate about strengthening leadership and developing talent, creating a win-win situation for everyone involved. In the end, it is precisely the two attributes of quality and passion that make the difference.
*For reasons of readability, the male variant is predominantly used uniformly for m/f/d.
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Your Strametz Team