To successfully establish changes in an organization, a trusting relationship and close cooperation between consultant and customer is necessary. However, this is not always the case right from the start, as Julian Pflügl discovered during a digitization project for an automotive supplier. Without the trust of employees and their willingness to embrace something new, change processes are in danger of failing. The young consultant has often demonstrated how he can positively impact the mindset of the workforce through his expertise and empathy. However, using his age to his advantage was a new experience.
Text: Ute Bernhardt
Whenever time and weather allows it, Julian Pflügl loves to go hiking in the mountains with his brother. "Climbing means adventure to me, but above all it means teamwork. Because I rely not only on my own strength and experience, but also on my partner. This involves building mutual trust through intensive exchange during each tour," says the engineering graduate, who joined T.A. Cook in 2020 straight from university.
It's a principle he also takes to heart with every new project. "First, I try to get to know the employees of the company, to understand their work processes and the challenges they face," he explains. However, capitalizing on his youth to aid in this process was rather unusual. "As a young consultant, I often have to work twice as hard to be accepted by the local workforce. Many think I lack experience." But during the digitalization project for a leading German automotive supplier both, his youth and in-depth expertise gave him an advantage.
"Our task was to implement a Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) system at the customer's plant and, as part of that, to introduce the digitization of Work Order Management. Previously, if there was a fault message, the production department would call their colleagues in maintenance or even approach them in passing in the hallway. The messages were recorded in analog form on slips of paper or, at most, in Excel files.
The goal of our project was to consolidate and track all fault messages via a CMMS - in this case SAP - in the future. Uwe Sahl, one of our most experienced consultants in the area of asset performance management and SAP, developed the concepts for this and managed the project. My job was to explain the new processes to the employees on the shopfloor through daily coaching and to ensure that they would be applied in the future." But enthusiasm for the initiative was initially limited among the technicians and mechanics.
Change through digitization often creates doubts and worries among employees
"In change management projects, especially related to digitization, many ask themselves what impact the changes will have on their everyday work. How will my job change? Will I be able to learn how to use it? Will I lose my job? This leads to worries and doubts among employees," shares Julian based on experience with other projects. "For me, building trust is therefore the basis for the joint success of a change project. And for that to happen, the chemistry must also be right on a human level," he is convinced. "Since a large part of the 120 employees were very young, there was a relaxed interaction right away. They quickly realized that I was not a classic 'suit' who had never seen the inside of a plant, but that I understood their work." He won over his older colleagues primarily through interest and technical knowledge. "I asked them questions about the machines and contributed ideas. That's how a productive exchange developed among each other."
For more than 4 months, the Austrian worked closely with the team on site to sustainably implement the new processes. "At the end, the project manager of the company thanked me and said goodbye very nicely," says Julian with a proud smile on his face. The next project is already waiting and a new climbing tour is also being planned: the Donnerkogel in Gosau.