Industry 4.0 demands modern HR and talent management

“Agile teams, spiral-shaped career models, and talent management that allows staff to do the right thing are key for a successful company in the age of Industry 4.0”

Mr. Stoffel, you are CEO of Haufe-umantis, and at the Foreign Trade Forum 2016 you’re going to share your insights into the world of HR. The fourth industrial revolution demands that companies have a good IT infrastructure and advanced product development and that they create new digital services and partner networks etc.

What effects does Industry 4.0 have on HR management?

The current developments are a huge challenge for companies, whether they are SMEs or global players, and require the courage to experiment. The fourth industrial revolution not only influences the way in which we manufacture or achieve things, processes or IT, it also changes the complete organizational structure of companies and therefore our whole working culture. Accompanying this change is definitely an HR management task. HR has the key function of initiating and guiding the break away from outdated corporate cultures or management styles. However, to do so it must first reinvent itself in order to gain from this destruction creative energy for the rebuilding of new contemporary structures, methods and tools. If a change is to be successful at all, it must take place on a digital and cultural level. And it has to get people on board.

What role does Industry 4.0 take in the HR management of internationally active SMEs?

With the digital transformation, classic roles and career paths are falling away, however new ones are also being created. This is exactly where the topic of talent management comes into play. Today already, according to a study from Fall 2015, 41 percent of Swiss companies are complaining of talent shortages, eight percent more than in the previous year. And the number of people who are of an age fit to work is going to rapidly decrease in coming decades due to the demographic change. Combined with the constantly decreasing loyalty to companies, particularly among young employees, the situation is becoming critical for companies trying to win new talents. Especially in an international context with a growing and increasingly multitudinous talent pool, it is extremely important to quickly identify and win over the right candidates. This is why talent management has to become much more flexible. In order to achieve this, HR management must really engage in discussions about Industry 4.0, continually examining the speed of their reactions, their agility and their level of digitization.

You speak about the necessity of an employee centered management approach. What exactly does that look like, and can SMEs also implement it?

Haufe-umantis learned for itself back in 2003 how important it is for the company’s success that personnel are involved in the strategy development. The employees weren’t satisfied with the product portfolio because it wasn’t forward thinking. After intensive discussions, Hermann Arnold the manager at the time and the company founder, followed his employees’ advice. This decision, which I also urged, by the way, required a certain amount of courage from him; ultimately the existing business had to be more or less completely stopped and lots of money invested into the development. From a business perspective it was therefore a highly risky move; in retrospect, however it was completely necessary and the right thing to do. If Arnold and his team hadn’t dared to do it, we wouldn’t still be here today.

However, it’s not just our commitment to involving employees in company decisions that contributes to the success of the company. There is also a need for optimal design of the organization in order to meet the demands of the market, customers and different types of employees. And agility and flexibility are also required. Customers expect a quick flow of information and innovation cycles and new competitors are constantly emerging, as are new customers who bring more new requirements with them. Based on these truths we developed a model in order to be able to better understand organizations and the challenges they face and to develop fitting solutions: The Haufe Quadrant. It demonstrates the interaction between the two decision parameters of every company, the people and the organizational design.

What do you think Swiss SMEs, who are active in international business have to do in order to take advantage of the chances of and meet the challenges posed by Industry 4.0?

Corporate processes, distribution channels and communication within and outside of the organization are becoming more and more digital and networked. When it comes to innovation cycles, for a long time we haven’t been referring to the same kind of time periods as a few years ago. To respond to this, a high level of innovation is necessary. Therefore, companies need to begin departing from rigid structures and organizational designs and become more agile. Employees always stay in focus here. Because they are the ones who work closely with markets and customers and understand their needs. They are the first to notice looming changes and can provide the impulse early on for meeting these with appropriate measures.

Foreign Trade Forum on 04.21.2016 in Zurich.

Don’t miss the opportunity to have a discussion with Marc Stoffel in person at this year’s Foreign Trade Forum. You can view the program and register here.

More information on the topic Industry 4.0 in our


About the company:

The pioneering St. Gallen IT company umantis AG has been part of the German Haufe Group since 2012 and has been Haufe-umantis AG since April 2013. Today it is one of the leading European providers of talent management solutions. The spin-off from the University of St. Gallen and ETH Zurich, founded in 2000 has its headquarters in St. Gallen and has 150 employees. And they are the heart of the company. Because the mantra, “employees lead companies” is lived at all levels at Haufe-umantis, both in its products and in the company itself. Democracy and agreement are important basic values of the company. At Haufe-umantis AG, being an employee means being involved in company decisions. This includes, for example the takeover by the Haufe Group and the annual democratic management elections. Things that affect all of Haufe-umantis are also decided by all the personnel of Haufe-umantis.

About Marc Stoffel:

Marc Stoffel, born in 1982 was democratically elected as manager of Haufe-umantis AG by his 150 colleagues in 2013 and has continued in this position since then. With this unique management election, Haufe-umantis is a trailblazer for a participatory and democratic corporate culture. Stoffel and his team are convinced: People who do the right thing are the largest asset for sustainable company success.

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