“Hanna, I’ve screwed this up. But I’ll put things right.” When Benjamin Frohn spoke these words into his phone, he had by mistake just shut down one of the most important applications in the entire company. From one moment to the next, around 1,600 employees were no longer able to work with it. In other words: Red alert!
There’s hardly anything worse that can happen to somebody when they take on a new job. Benjamin Frohn had just started at German HDI Systeme AG, he was still in the trial period and now he had to report the error to his boss.
“Just put things right”
Hanna Beyer was sitting at the other end of the line. She is responsible for “Operations” and – in a nutshell – she and her team ensure that all the programs needed by HDI in the Property division in Germany are stable and run smoothly. As far as she is concerned, red alert means that the phone never stops ringing. There is huge pressure to act immediately. But instead of displaying frenzy, her voice was calm. She said: “Thanks for letting me know.” And then she gave him three pieces of advice: It was absolutely the right thing to do that you quickly informed the production manager and only then told me. Network with your colleagues so that it doesn’t happen again. And: “Just put things right, call me back when you’ve finished.”
Anybody who wants to know how a manager ticks should ask their employees. Benjamin Frohn tells this story because it is extremely important for him. It shows that he was able to take responsibility at an early stage. And it bolsters his confidence that his boss is right behind him even in a situation like this. The 35-year-old hadn’t expected that. And he hasn’t forgotten it: “Hanna’s like that.”
Hanna Beyer’s 4 principles of good leadership
Trending management approach
Hanna Beyer embodies a style of management that is today trending more than ever in agile structures: She is willing to accept errors if her employees are committed to learning from them. She motivates them with freedom and individual responsibility. And she listens to you rather than talking at you. She asks questions and doesn’t hand down answers. This is something that you can learn. Hanna Beyer cottoned on to this early in her life.
Originally, she studied to be a teacher in primary education. She was committed to encouraging children to find out things for themselves. “We help children become independent and make decisions on their own. And then when they grow up and enter professional environments, we discourage them from doing this in their working lives. I believe that’s the wrong approach.” However, her career path ended up not being in teaching but in technology. At university, she was already fascinated by seminars for Artificial Intelligence and she suddenly realised: I can change the world with IT. She changed to project management – and made this her career: for 15 years, she was responsible for managing IT projects worth millions in different sectors.
Employees have a great deal of responsibility
Today, she manages “Operations”, a section with a team of almost 30 people who look after some 30 applications. And quite apart from the fact that she wouldn’t want to: She couldn’t tell any of her employees down to the last detail how they should maintain their applications. “I’m in the happy situation of not being in a position to support any system myself,” she said. “As a result, my colleagues automatically have a high level of responsibility.”
In any case, her function is quite a different one. The 43-year-old combines proven elements of classic management with agile approaches and as a consequence creates a new management style that she has called “hybrid management”. And she can adjust this style to meet different requirements: “Management simply doesn’t come in one size fits all that is appropriate for all employees,” commented Hanna Beyer. “Some people work very independently. There again, I manage some employees in a conventional approach and ask them what they have been doing during the week and discuss the next item on their agenda. I manage each person in an individual way and I approach each person as a human being.”
“This creates a cohesive unit”
She started to use this approach to build a new team last year. She created the current “Operations” section from employees who had previously worked in five different departments, and the team has been continuously expanding in recent months owing to a lot of new hires.
Ronny Paskamp can tell the story of how this happened. He had been part of the team for more than a year, when Hanna Beyer organised a workshop on stress management and resilience in summer. Actually, her intention was for her employees to learn how they could better cope with stressful situations. However, it was a moment that Ronny Paskamp isn’t about to forget in a hurry. This is because Hanna Beyer herself launched the part of the workshop on resilience by openly sharing how she had supported a close relative during their dying days. And it ended with an invitation for others to share situations they had experienced in their lives and events that had significantly influenced them – an important factor in resilience research. “I had never experienced anything like this in my life before,” recalled the 43-year-old. “The workshop was extremely personal. She managed to motivate people to share something about themselves. This really creates a cohesive team.” Other employees found exactly the same thing. After the workshop, many people reported enthusiastically how they had been moved by the shared time together. The general opinion was: the experience brought us closer together as people.
Gradually a bond was created between her and her employees that is strong enough to enable this young team to do their work successfully even when they are physically separated. Hanna Beyer is continuing to invest a lot of effort into ensuring that this active collaboration keeps going. She wants to be there in order to maintain the cohesion of her team and ensure this develops further. “We have colleagues who were working at home with one, two or even three children,” she recalls. “Others were completely on their own. And some of them were worried about their job because they had only recently joined the team.” She regularly talked to each of them and asked questions: How are you? What is working better and what is worse than before? What are you doing to ensure you are in good form? “I have been on my mobile a massive amount of time, the battery on my smartphone needed recharging at midday,” she said.
Her employees pay her back with hard work and loyalty. And they also warned the author with a wink not to include everything that they said. “If we lavish too much praise on her, she’ll be promoted. We want to hold on to her.”