Interview with Gerold Hasel

By Maximilian Junck Tobias Becker

Gerold Hasel is Vice President Human Resources for the long-established family-owned company Conrad Electronic in Hirschau. There, he and his HR team support the functional departments in the expansion of the Europe-wide B2B procurement platform for technical needs. The digitisation of processes with the help of a cloud-based HR platform, close cooperation with the departments in the recruiting process and the further development of the workplace culture are some of the most important task in the companywide change process. We spoke with Gerold about future trends and self-managing HR organisations. Read for yourself.

I am convinced that good HR work has a bright future

Mercuri Urval: At Conrad Electronic, you have designed a long-term HR target picture. Can you explain it to us in a few words?

Gerold: Not only we as HR, but also all other departments have drafted long-term target pictures with a clear vision for 2025, which support the company's goals. Just like annual goals, target pictures are nothing new in principle. However, we have a new pace and think more strongly from the target state, i.e. the long-term vision. In addition, we have divided the target picture thematically into individual pillars. Within each pillar, we have compared the vision with the status quo and defined strategic gaps that need to be closed. We use these strategic gaps as a basis for defining quarterly targets and thus bring a completely different momentum to the development than with annual figures. The individual HR teams exchange ideas more closely so that each knows what the other is working on. And they support each other. We have now defined quarterly targets for the four times and are very happy with them.

I see the role of HR primarily as an enabler, providing good platforms and tools so that the departments can do the recruiting almost on their own.

Mercuri Urval: What is an example of such a strategic pillar?

Gerold: For example, we have the pillar of recruiting according to the guiding principle "Hire for Attitude - Train for Skills". So far, the recruitment process has been that HR provides a selection of candidates from which the departments then choose someone. We have identified this service mentality as a weak point, which we would like to eliminate through stronger cooperation with the departments. For this purpose, we have trained hiring managers in an intensive online training course and familiarised them with all elements of the recruitment process. Hiring managers are decision-makers in the selection process and will be better integrated into the recruitment process in the future. Overall, the selection of new employees will become a joint effort between HR and the functional departments.

Mercuri Urval: How is this new process received by the candidates?

Gerold: We receive very good ratings for our recruitment and onboarding processes on employer rating portals. We not only want to maintain this level but improve it further. I also get the feedback when talking to new employees that we are professional, fair and, above all, fast. 

Mercuri Urval: How has the role of HR changed in recent years compared to the past?

Gerold: HR is no longer solely responsible for recruitment and people development. I see the role of HR primarily as an enabler, providing good platforms and tools so that the departments can do the recruiting almost on their own. In people development, too, those responsible in the departments must be identified and empowered to find helpful training measures and proactively initiate them. Our internal customers often know best themselves what content and what programmes will help them.  In my view, HR should contribute here by checking the quality of the measures, establishing evaluation and feedback systems and ensuring that programmes that work are repeated, and unhelpful measures are weeded out.  

Digitalisation as well as flexibility and change are the top issues for the entire company and thus also for the HR department. HR must implement what it demands from employees.

Mercuri Urval: Which major trends influence HR work the most?

Gerold: Digitalisation as well as flexibility and change are the top issues for the entire company and the HR department. HR has to implement what it demands from employees company wide. For example, we have set up a cloud-based platform for HR work in the DACH area. In it, we are already digitising many of our processes, but there is still work to be done. The speed of change has also increased. For us, this means saying goodbye to thinking that everything perfect. By the time you have planned and designed everything perfectly today, technology has already moved on again.

Mercuri Urval: This change does not happen without learning from mistakes. What mistake have you made recently that you would not repeat?

Gerold: Last summer, we issued an attendance quota of 50 per cent. Shortly afterwards, the Corona situation in Germany significantly changed for the worse due to the season, so that we had to postpone the target again in order not to harm the employees. This caused unrest, which is why, in retrospect, we would have been better off leaving it.

Mercuri Urval: And what positive experience have you gained from recently?

Gerold: We asked the employees from the "Digital Platform" department about the workplace culture. We wanted to know what they thought was going well and what we could still improve. In the workshops that followed, my role was both that of moderator and that of HR manager. I learned a lot from the feedback, which is why we now plan to conduct such a survey annually for all employees in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Mercuri Urval: What was or still is the aim of the survey?

Gerold: We want to increase employee engagement and improve workplace culture. You can philosophise a lot at your desk about the problems and wishes of employees. But if you want to define concrete fields of action for improvement, you have to conduct a professional and anonymous survey and put the facts on the table. A very large number of employees took part in the survey, which confirmed the quality of the process. One point of criticism, for example, was that internal staff communication was perceived as too irregular. Now the CEO holds a so-called townhall meeting once a quarter, where the course of business, milestones and learnings are communicated transparently, and employees have the opportunity to ask questions.

Mercuri Urval: What would perfect HR work look like for you if budget and headcount were not limiting factors?

Gerold: Not much different from what we are already doing. I would keep the HR organisation lean, because the danger of expanding the number of employees is that at some point it will only manage itself. A clear division of roles between HR and the functional departments is important.  Of course, more budget for employer branding and further development is never wrong. Overall, however, it comes down to the right mix of "build & buy".

I would keep the HR organisation lean, because the danger of expanding the number of employees is that at some point it will only manage itself.

Mercuri Urval: In business magazines, one reads more and more frequently the statement that companies could do without HR. What would you answer these voices?

Gerold: An HR department that only manages itself and explains to the departments why this or that is not possible is indeed dispensable. Good HR work knows the needs in the company and supports the departments in meeting them. I have been working in HR functions for 32 years and I am convinced that good HR work has a future. This is also due to the young people who approach HR with a completely different spirit than the boomer generation. Nothing against lawyers and administrators, but young HR professionals go into the departments to deliver added value.

Mercuri Urval: Sometimes, however, the expectations in the departments do not match the situation on the labour market. What can HR do then?

Gerold: In a way, the HR department is a bridge builder. On the one hand, it must provide the functional departments with a clear picture of the market, which is characterised by demographic change and a shortage of skilled workers in certain areas. So, it would be wrong to fuel unrealistic expectations. On the other hand, HR managers can point out ways to fill vacancies.

Mercuri Urval: There are managers who do not compromise and reject candidates who do not meet all the requirements. How can an organisation absorb this?

Gerold: We are trying to increase the quota of internal appointments. After all, salvation does not only lie in external candidates. One advantage of people who have developed within the company is that the so-called cultural fit is much more likely than with people who are new to the company. That's why recruiting and cultural topics such as hybrid working as a mixture of mobile working and presence are among the most important topics in my discussions with the management. We currently have 90 vacancies to fill and are striving for changes in the company. You need a functioning recruiting system.

Mercuri Urval: What exactly are these changes?

Gerold: For example, we want to expand the Marketplace internationally as an integral part of our B2B procurement platform. That is why we support our international subsidiaries in their HR work with the know-how we have gained in setting them up.

Mercuri Urval: What are the most important lessons you pass on in the process?

Gerold: Speed, truthfulness and authenticity are particularly important when dealing with candidates. In addition, you have to listen to internal clients and be prepared to cut out old habits. For me, this includes, for example, the often-ritualised annual reviews with employees. If you can't explain a measure's positive contribution to the value chain, then get rid of it. In the further people development, one should rely on a mixture of modern and proven elements. Two keywords would be gamification in online training and classic mentoring, which still has its advantages.

Mercuri Urval: Dear Gerold, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

Executive Summary

In view of the rapid and profound changes due to digitalisation as well as the upcoming generations on the labour market, HR work is increasingly under critical observation. According to Gerold Hasel, Vice President Human Resources at Conrad Electronic Group, it must above all deliver demonstrable added value. This requires close exchange with the functional departments to know their exact needs. At the same time, a realistic picture of the labour market must be drawn, and solutions developed. Internal employee development and the creation of transparency and employee satisfaction are part of the solution, for example.