Ad 7. Are you planning a complex (strategic) project with significant importance for your enterprise’ future?
Some years ago, a decision was made at a large global power generation enterprise to sustainably enhance collaboration with defined professorships at selected technical (key) universities. At that time, approximately 6.000 engineers were working in R&D and engineering, and it was challenging to continuously attract sufficient numbers of highly talented graduates to our business.
Part of the reason for the challenge was that decisions regarding technology projects and partnerships with universities were made mostly at lower management levels. Program structure, reliability and sustainability were compromised to a large degree because the financial backing and ownership of these programs did not reside at a high enough level in the organization.
To address this issue, I led a change initiative to establish a new “university liaison management” program; this was done in close collaboration with the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), the engineering heads and of course the overall business management team.
Due to my applied role as a team coach and mentor, I was successful in working with multiple executives in different organizations to arrive at a common business approach for the program. Thus, individual interests that did not align with the common vision were able to be minimized. In addition, I was able to ensure that critical topics from each organization were escalated to me openly so that all viewpoints were considered and commonly solved afterwards.
After only two short years, the company was known again among 18 universities across the globe (Germany, USA, China and Russia) as a reliable partner for technology cooperation, as well as an employer of choice. One of the keys to success was the decision to install a company representative at each university. These “university liaison managers” served as key account managers and were empowered to represent our company to the universities in all aspects of our partnership. We also identified key success factors prior to the selection of these managers so that the program had a much greater chance of success. These included having a PhD in highly relevant technology, being an alumnus of the university, and working currently in a management function in our company.
We also defined a common set of measures to be (selectively) used across the program, for example, collaboration on seminars, lectures, and workshops; site visits at our production sites; and company donations of product samples or technical models. This enabled us to compare activities across individual universities, and served as the basis for internal discussion and collaboration. As a result, we were able to further optimize our relationships across the entire university framework.
The empowerment of these key account managers was absolutely crucial for success. They were considered by our company as the single point of contact to harmonize all joint activities. This served to significantly reduce the level of complexity for the universities in dealing with a large global company and all its related infrastructure. Since this role was done in addition to their regular full-time job, it was important to ensure that the role was given priority by the individuals and was shown to be important by the company. To do this, we made it a priority to provide regular exposure of these individuals to top management. This made the role quite valued and very much appreciated by the individuals.
The topic of “university liaison management” was further enhanced through an annual exchange of experiences by company and university representatives. This helped to position the company, not only as a partner, but also a desirable company to work for. During our times of expansion, we were able to roughly double the number of hires with key know how. Even during periods of contraction, we were still able to continue selected hiring.