Out of our comfort zone: how Audi lives digitalisation

How we deal with digital tools, use them productively in our everyday work and develop a collaborative culture: with the z20DigiKon digital conference, a totally new format, Audi is setting new standards and demonstrating that we don’t just talk about digitalisation in the company, we live it too.

05/05/2021 Illustrations: Susanne Vehreschild and Michaela Depta Reading Time: 5 min

We live “Vorsprung” – that’s not just a meaningless phrase at Audi. Just do it. Take a chance on something new. These are the ideal conditions for cooperation in the future.

The coronavirus pandemic has turned the world of work upside down and accelerated digitalisation: flexible working conditions, virtual meetings and agile working methods are now part of the normal routine in many companies. But a few new tools are not enough: for cooperation to really work and be efficient in the future will require not only digital tools but also new structures, new methods and a new mindset. This holistic transformation will succeed if established processes are questioned and rethought – by both the company and its employees.

Exploration and learning at z20DigiKon

This is exactly where z20DigiKon comes in. The internal digital conference ‘Working together 2.0’, or ‘z20DigiKon’ for short, was set up by the so-called ‘#z20guides’ in just four weeks – quite independently and without any red tape. These 200 or so dedicated Audi employees support their colleagues on a daily basis in becoming familiar with digital tools and methods that facilitate collaboration, such as communication tools and project management and project task tools, thus contributing to Audi’s corporate culture and future viability. With z20DigiKon they really struck a chord: the digital conference was a resounding success and the response overwhelming.

“z20DigiKon and the #z20guides are unique in the industry. The fact that users swap ideas about tools and learn how to use them and become productive through digitalisation – that’s what makes Audi a pioneer.”

“z20DigiKon and the #z20guides are unique in the industry. The fact that users swap ideas about tools and learn how to use them and become productive through digitalisation – that’s what makes Audi a pioneer.”

― Dr Stefan Lenz (Employee IT / Core IT Technologies and sponsor of z20DigiKon)

The potential of the network: by employees, for employees

The format of z20DigiKon is completely new: for one week, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., every hour on the hour, one, two or sometimes even a third session began. In a total of nearly 100 digital sessions which could be integrated into everyday work and attended without the need to register, interested employees were able to find out about new methods and digital tools for a collaborative future – from their colleagues. The aims: to make the network’s knowledge and potential accessible to all, to make everyday work easier and to improve communication. And just to try something. The programme covered the trio of mindset, tools and methods perfectly and offered topics for every level from beginner to expert.

z20DigiKon in figures

96

sessions in 1 week

(each 50 minutes long without registration)

12.728

participants

133

participants per session

(on average)

Topics on offer included experiential reports, best practice, interviews and crash courses from ‘Designing digital and interactive workshops’ and ‘Agile cooperation – how it works in practice’ through to ‘Happy work hacks for my everyday work’. Managers also shared their tips and tricks, for example on the subjects of ‘Successful digital leadership’ and ‘Opportunities and challenges for women in management’.

New work: a new way of working together

Courage, openness and the desire for continued development and to break new ground together: z20DigiKon is the perfect example of what this new mindset can achieve and how this new way of thinking can drive Audi forward as a company. This change in corporate culture is an important process in its transformation. Remaining viable in the future and driving innovation requires flexibility, autonomy, agile working methods and new leadership and organisational approaches: Audi employees mostly work in an agile way in self-organised teams independent of position and place of work, e.g. from home with the help of collaborative tools. This gives them more self-determination and freedom, but at the same time also requires more individual responsibility and self-organisation. In practice, this means that it doesn’t matter now whether you are sitting in the office, on the sofa or in the park – what counts is the result.

“Right across the company the coronavirus has shown us that mobile working works. And that people who work from home can perform just as well.”

― Dr Anna Ehret (Corporate culture)

A change in thinking at management level

A consequence of this change in corporate culture is that flat organisational structures replace the traditional hierarchies: for managers at Audi this means relinquishing control and having more trust. The key lies in employee empowerment: employees who are involved in decision-making processes and are allowed to take on greater responsibility are not only more motivated, but also significantly more satisfied.

In our interview, Dr Anna Ehret (Head of Corporate Culture) and Dr Stefan Lenz (Head of Employee IT/Core IT Technology) reveal more about the interaction between mindset and tools at Audi and about having the courage to break new ground.

What does the corporate culture need for digitalisation to succeed?

Dr Anna Ehret: The issues of trust, openness and courage are key, and we need this mindset throughout the company. It’s not necessary to have a form of working that suits everyone. We need a common mindset. How it is implemented in practice may and must be different, but the mindset has to be the same.
 

Dr Stefan Lenz: A culture that is free from fear, where the respect others have for me does not depend on whether I have now made some small mistakes or a faux pas, a culture in which I, as an employee, can also try out something without fear and then learn from it… that is the culture we need for digitalisation.

What does this new mindset mean for modern management culture?

Dr Stefan Lenz: With managers, respect and reputation play a big role. Showing weakness and admitting mistakes is important: as a manager, I must be able to say, without losing face, that things aren’t going so well at the moment, what can we do differently? This duality, on the one hand of having courage, but also of promoting openness and honesty and accepting personal feedback, that is decisive. It leads to a culture of feedback and listening.
 

Dr Anna Ehret: I am firmly convinced that a good way of working together, trusting and open, is the absolute basis for being creative and innovative. And that, at the end of the day, work that is enjoyable is the most successful and delivers the best results. It also helps to have a corporate culture in which, even as a manager, you can speak up and admit when you can’t do something. If this rethinking process takes place, then, in the end, we will all be more effective, more results-orientated and more innovative.

How has z20DigiKon moved Audi forward in this regard?

Dr Stefan Lenz: For me personally, z20DigiKon was a highlight in the digitalisation process, because you can’t plan well for the use of innovations. It’s a process that you have to experience and investigate, that you have to explore. Sharing learning, as happened at z20DigiKon, is a very important process in that exploration. And if we, as an organisation, develop in such a way that we can explore fearlessly, confidently and also sometimes playfully, and then learn – we will be ideally positioned for digitalisation.
 

Dr Anna Ehret: z20DigiKon is a great example of the effectiveness and empowerment that can arise through informal networks. The corporate culture team cannot change the company’s culture alone. We can provide momentum and guidelines. But we can only really do this together. z20DigiKon has shown that the mindset fits and the sessions also reflected this.

Looking into the future: to what extent will the coronavirus crisis permanently alter the way we work at Audi?
 

Dr Anna Ehret: We have become more efficient and clearer as a result of virtual collaboration. It’s important to look at which methods and tools we have and how we can make good use of these, so we can carry forward the added value that we have experienced through coronavirus into the future.

Dr Stefan Lenz: It’s a huge opportunity to maintain this current mode of working with understanding. Because the amount of innovation, of things we can try, that won’t stop. These key questions, which were at the heart of z20DigiKon, are questions that are being intensively discussed in the industry: how do I deal with digital tools and with the tremendously rapid and intensive pace of innovation? How will we actually get operators to use the tools productively and develop a collaborative culture that works? I know of no other company that is driving this as intensely and consistently as Audi, and we must build on that. We’re the benchmark and that makes me proud.

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