Elisa Schön

People Manager at Urban Mobility International

During her studies she worked for companies like Siemens, where she learned about Human Resources. Later she designed personnel structures for several start-ups. Elisa currently works as a People Manager at UMI, which offers electric car sharing in Berlin through WeShare. The Volkswagen subsidiary plans to expand into other European cities. What role do you perform in HR? I am a People Manager at Urban Mobility International GmbH (UMI), also known as “WeShare”. There I am a generalist, responsible for all kinds of things. My background is in business law and I am therefore very strong in both operational and legal matters. However, I am very interested in creating new organisational structures and atmospheres in which people – not workhorses – find their place. How and why did you get into Human Resources? Fairness was a constant driver very early on. That is why I studied business law. Before and during my studies it was clear to me that I would go into business. For no particular reason, I guess I just didn’t see any alternatives at the time. But I often found the business world to be unfair when viewed from the outside – exploitative, highly political, sometimes unethical. I had resolved to change the system from within. From my point of view, this would only be possible in HR. That’s where you influence the people who make up the system. This is exactly the same thing I said in my first interview for a student trainee position. Back then they just smiled at me. But to this day, my goal is to build a culture that is good for people, to create values with which they can relate to, to make decisions that are understandable and to create space for an appreciative and respectful interaction at all levels. What is required of you in your position? I think that I expect the most from myself. Since I have a pretty straightforward vision for myself, my motivation and personal standards are very high. Above all, I am expected to find pragmatic approaches and achieve a reasonable balance between idealism and reality. They expect me to support continuous change and present ideas and possibilities for healthy growth as an organisation. Being able to handle tasks independently, maintain compliance and show integrity are also among the expectations.

“At the beginning of my career, managers and the board were beyond reproach. I had the greatest respect for the role.[…] Over time I have developed strong empathy and understanding: for the loud stressed manager, who apparently has no time for the team and for the manager who is not an expert in the field but still has to lead a team. A manager once said that I have to be aware of how lonely someone at the top is sometimes.”

What was your most exciting project in terms of HR and why? I have had a few exciting projects so far – and I really enjoy them. For me personally, the most exciting thing was the structure and evolution of UMI as an organisation. So far, I have never worked in a company where self-organisation has such high priority and is so deeply rooted in the DNA of the company. A high degree of team and individual self-organisation also means that structures must be flexible, and enabling empowerment through more responsibility, for example in budgets. The company is an organism that lives mainly through people. A place where many very human things happen and where you have to deal with the human being itself. The human ego, interpersonal relationships, intrinsic motivation, team dynamics etc. For me as a HR manager and employee in the organisation, it is incredibly exciting to develop structures that allow such cooperation. We do not distribute titles and live the “no rank, no title” philosophy. In doing so, we are trying to minimise politics and prevent power differentials and selfish motives from arising. All this is a daily and recurring challenge that I find incredibly rewarding. What is your experience with Managing Directors? Diverse. At the beginning of my career, managers and the board were beyond reproach and I had the highest respect for the role. No one tells you what stance to take as a HR manager. But my view has changed somewhat, with time I have developed strong empathy and understanding: for the loud stressed manager who apparently has no time for the team and for the manager who is not an expert in the field but still has to lead a team. A manager once said that I have to be aware of how lonely someone at the top is sometimes and how much pressure they are under. I have learnt to establish trusting relationships with leaders and I see myself as a covert sparring partner. In my role I am neither a competitor nor do I demand anything. For the most part, our discussions feel like those you have with friends. We use them to give feedback or support. This has always been the basis for me to be as productive as possible and to push forward new initiatives.

“To unite international teams, you need innovated leadership methods and distinctive communication – both in virtual and in real life. You also need transparency and working practices that intuitively and naturally work independently of time zones. Furthermore inclusion and understanding of many things that seem “foreign” to you is important. Digitalisation has traditionally been a tool that has unburdened people and built bridges. However, due to the fast paced development and the endless possible forms digitalisation can take on, one “can hardly keep up”, you have to learn to understand a lot of things very quickly”.

In your experience, what do Managing Directors expect from HR? I think that many Managing Directors really appreciate having a Human Resources Manager who is honest and authentic with them. They want someone who has a good sense of the atmosphere in the team and who advises management on how to perceive the needs of the organisation and who can come up with possible initiatives. This can affect many areas – compliance, development perspectives for employees, unclear strategy or lack of vision, lack of transparency or sluggish processes …What realistic needs and requirements do you see being placed on the HR department today? Basically, the HR department responds to the business. We are service providers. If the company needs to expand, we take care of dealing with local salaries and the employment contract. If the company is restructured and the team is confronted with a change of leadership, we advise and guide the organisation through the change and ensure that change does not end in chaos. If it becomes more difficult to retain people in the long term, we examine how people can develop their potential and feel valued. I think a lot is changing, especially in the area of HR. The conventional back-office role and also the role of a “sheriff” are outdated. As a Human Resources professional, you are a specialist, coach, innovator, business partner, confidant, mediator and so much more. What challenges do internationalisation and digitalisation pose for HR? I don’t think I could pick just one or two… Social change, Zeitgeist and values, the political situation, the media and other influences like Instagram or technological facilitators like the smartphone. All of this influences the way we work together and cooperate. “To unite international teams, you need innovated leadership methods and distinctive communication – both in virtual and in real life. You also need transparency and working practices that intuitively and naturally work independently of time zones. Furthermore inclusion and understanding of many things that seem “foreign” to you is important. Digitalisation has traditionally been a tool that has unburdened people and built bridges. However, due to the fast paced development and the endless possible forms digitalisation can take on, one “can hardly keep up”, you have to learn to understand a lot of things very quickly. When it comes to internationalisation and digitisation, I see common ground: Demands on individual social skills and emotional intelligence are increasing. Character development is becoming increasingly more important in order to find stability in a system that is constantly changing. In your opinion what does the perfect Human Resource employee bring to the table? As a Human Resources manager, you should be curious and bring a high level of social competency with you. A strong moral compass is also essential! You often act as a bridge between people and business and must be able to serve both sides. Often you are the one who has to drive change with a positive attitude, so resiliency and open-mindedness are also essential qualities. What did you think of your cooperation with HR Global Consulting? I particularly liked their pragmatic approach, hands-on mentality, broad expertise and fast implementation. At UMI, I worked with Daniel Zinner to select and implement an international payroll service provider in a very short length of time. It was an incredible pleasure to work with him – both on a professional and a personal level. I learned a lot and the project was a resounding success despite the tight deadline!

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