Digital leader insights: Bernd Preuschoff on navigating digital transformation

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Bernd Preuschoff is CDO at uvex group. With experience spanning 20 years across various industries, he has worked for companies ranging from Schwan Cosmetics –where he was responsible for building the Schwan Digital Studio – to IBM Interactive Experience – where he served as head of its digital strategy division.

An era of change and digital transformation

In a world that has undergone unprecedented upheaval over the past 18 months, the pace of digital change adopted by business has sky rocketed. As organizations were forced to adapt, they looked to their digital leaders for the skills, knowledge, and expertise to enable them to successfully navigate this transformation.

“The pandemic has not significantly changed my role as a digital leader, but it has put our methods and our leadership style into a new context,” says Preuschoff. Having taken on the role in May last year, he arrived just at a time when COVID-19 was beginning to cause major challenges for organizations across the planet.

While nobody could have predicted the pandemic, Preuschoff admits that the prospect of some kind of major disruption was always a worryingly realistic potential. “Five years ago, we were warning that the VUCA world will come, which was a rather theoretical threat for most listeners. Now it’s a reality, right at our homes and palpable for anyone.”

He adds that during the pandemic, it was incumbent on digital leaders to deliver the change needed to ensure their companies were able to deal with the fallout. “Now we have to show that our toolkit – which is aiming at providing relevant solutions within a short timeframe based on user interaction – is key to successfully moving through this stormy world.”

From B2B to B2C: Customer-focused transformation

As COVID-19 changed the way many organizations operated, they had to increasingly rely on digital technologies to not only enable staff to continue to work collaboratively, but also to interact with their customers, all in a remote fashion. As a digital leader in the German SMB space, Preuschoff shares with us how uvex group was already working broadly on platforms that encouraged some remote working before the pandemic. He confessed that the pandemic was relatively easy to handle in terms of working from home.

“The infrastructure at uvex group will always be a mix of cloud and on-premises services, due to the nature of the different business models in the group. Our BI (Business Intelligence) capability has delivered new solutions and integrations that allow us to monitor all activities in our network, which helped tremendously to establish new online platforms.”

...never forget that real transformation and innovation is done by humans...

Bernd Preuschoff

In addition to managing a greater number of remote staff, this year also saw uvex launch a new multi-brand online store to give B2C customers one-stop shopping access to its range of products including personal protective equipment (PPE). This new addition served to complement its existing B2B sales channels such as specialist retailers, industrial and retail customers, the online store carries all uvex group brands and includes sports and leisure equipment, as well as safety products for the workplace.

The ecommerce project required cooperation at the very top levels of the company. “Coming from a B2B world, this has led to an increasingly close cooperation between all C-suite leaders, providing a seamless customer experience across all channels,” Preuschoff explains. “Successfully launching the shop within approximately one year under corona-conditions has proven that the organization can deliver, even under difficult preconditions.”

It’s people that lead digital change

From the outside looking in, it can be easy to assume successful digital change is all about technology, but for Preuschoff, it’s about people.

“Mastering technology and methods matter in order to deal with the complexity of digital transformation. But never forget that real transformation and innovation is done by humans, with humans, for humans – which means that we as digital leaders, above all, have to be authentic and empathetic to connect with the people we want to lead; and we also need to go beyond ‘just telling what to do’ down to ‘work with me’, to make the people experience what it actually means to do digital work.”

“This, in my opinion, is the best option for our teams and ourselves to create a true movement in our company. Make it an experience to work with us,” he continues.

Building trust within the organization

A vital step on that transformation journey is establishing trust so that members of an organization believe their leaders are capable of delivering on their transformative mission. Preuschoff expresses how an essential part of creating that trust is providing leadership that is both transparent and authentic. At uvex for example, the company has established a broad range of interactive formats where employees can meet their leaders and ask open questions, accompanied by what he called a ‘very intense communication’ about current activities.

“Combined with specific actions, like vaccinations for employees or prolonged projects with partners without budget cuts, this mix builds the trust you need to transform and achieve the goal of our mission,” he tells us.

Sharing the ‘why’

Building that trust and bringing employees along on the digital journey requires digital leaders to share why they are embracing transformation in the first place. Leaders not only have to share the ‘what’ and ‘when’, but just as important, the ‘why’.

Preuschoff says, “it has always been important to create a story that touches and moves people; providing a big ‘why’ for all the transformational work.” Being able to advocate this need for change has become even more crucial at a time where physical contact and communication has been hindered by the pandemic.

“As a leader, you have not only to tell this story, but also live and act up to it,” Preuschoff adds. “This has become even more important when not being able to meet people face-to-face. The human factor of success cannot be treated as a little ‘change’ stream within a project anymore – it has to become a natural part of your daily life and work.”

To hear more from Bernd Preuschoff as well as other CIOs, CDOs and CTOs from around the world, listen to Episode 1 of the Living Enterprise Podcast series now.