In today's episode of our interview series, our guest is Susanne Nonnast, member of the Krones Supervisory Board and Professor of Human Resources Management at the Ostbayerische Technische Hochschule Regensburg. Mrs Nonnast looks back on a very interesting career that has taken her along operational, scientific and strategic HR issues. Today we talk to her about the HR work of the future, the role of Supervisory Boards in companies and the increasing importance of HR work in advisory boards.
It is about bundling as many relevant competencies as possible in the Supervisory Board to prepare the company in the best possible way for the challenges that lie ahead.
Mercuri Urval (MU): Before joining the Supervisory Board of Krones AG, you successfully completed a selection process. Did you later find out why you were chosen?
Nonnast: To be honest, no. At that time, I already had more than ten years of operational work experience in a mostly male-dominated, technical industry that has also been under high pressure to change. That was certainly a good match. And of course my experience and expertise in Human Resources Management.
MU: Surely it was Krones AG's aim to appoint someone with operational experience and strategic thinking to the Supervisory Board, right?
Nonnast: The key is to have a good mix of strategic and operational understanding to advise the Executive Board well. That's why the boards are made up of different people, which is very important to me personally. It is about bundling as many relevant competencies as possible in the Supervisory Board to prepare the company in the best possible way for the challenges that lie ahead. In my view, this currently includes human resources.
HR work is becoming increasingly important because the labour market has become more difficult, because work itself is changing and, not least, because employees and their attitudes to work are also changing.
MU: By now everyone has understood that the job market has become more difficult. But how do you think work itself will change?
Nonnast: Yes, the labour shortage is clearly noticeable in companies. But globalisation and digitalisation are also major drivers of change in the workplace. Put simply, the work that used to be done locally by people can now be done globally by workers, machines, and AI. This changes processes, systems and the way we work together. The Corona pandemic has accelerated these developments, but it has also highlighted the limitations of previous strategies. That is why I see it as a very important task to address these issues.
MU: The latest regulatory changes in the reporting of listed companies affect Human Capital Management. How do you judge this?
Nonnast: We've got a lot on our plate. Sustainability reporting, the 'social' part of the ESG criteria, will make numerical reporting on employee-related issues mandatory. On the one hand, this will mean significant additional work for HR departments, as they will have to collect and report more employee-related data. On the other hand, it will make transparent and comparable how companies use, treat and retain their most important resource, their employees. This is also of interest to investors.
Ultimately, the work of the Supervisory Board is about positioning the company so that it will still be successful in ten years' time.
MU: To what extent should the Supervisory Board be involved in the operational business beyond its control function and strategic considerations, as is the case with the board of directors in the US?
Nonnast: I would not dilute the German model of a Supervisory Board and Executive Board. The operational business belongs in the hands of the Executive Board. The role of the Supervisory Board is to monitor whether the expected and desired goals have been achieved. And I see it as a strategic companion, helping the Executive Board to analyse the challenges and opportunities in an increasingly complex world.
MU: What does that mean specifically?
Nonnast: On the one hand, we in the Supervisory Board discuss developments for the coming financial year and medium-term planning, and on the other hand we deal with strategic issues. How is the market developing? What do customers want? Do we have the right products? What is the competition doing? How are we addressing the issue of sustainability? We keep a close eye on all this, and that is what makes the job so exciting. Ultimately, it's about positioning the company so that it will still be successful in ten years' time. I would like to bequeath my few shares to my son (laughs).
MU: Long-term planning also includes the planning and development of the Executive Board. To what extent are you involved in this?
Nonnast: In addition to developing strategy, an important role of the Supervisory Board is to select the decision-makers of the future. That's why it's important to think about who might lead the company in the years and decades to come. Succession planning is a classic HR task. Ideally, the Supervisory Board works as a team with the Executive Board to develop the requirements profile for the individual positions. The right person can only be selected if there is a clear definition of what is needed.
By integrity, I mean more than being sincere and honest and consistently upholding one's principles. For me, it means above all putting one's own interests fully at the service of the company.
MU: What is your vision for the next generation of Board Members and what do you expect of them?
Nonnast: There are three things a board member must have: intelligence, integrity and the will to lead. I need a person with strong internal and external analytical understanding to identify internal and global issues and challenges. In addition, this person must be able to make and sustain decisions based on sound assumptions in the face of uncertainty.
MU: Which of the three characteristics is most important to you?
Nonnast: Many are intelligent. And of course it takes the will to lead. By integrity I mean more than being sincere and honest and consistently upholding one's principles. For me, it means above all putting one's own interests fully at the service of the company. This goes as far as questioning one's own role. For example, because the business model changes or the company decides to merge, acquire or carve out business areas. To do something like this without focusing to one's own reputation and position in the company, so that it is successful in the long term, is a real challenge.
MU: Finally, one more question: What advice would you give to someone who is working with a Supervisory Board for the first time?
Nonnast: Listen, listen, listen. And then ask the right questions based on your own competence.
MU: Ms Nonnast, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.
The shortage of specialists and managers, the changes in the system of work and the number-related reporting on human capital management make the topic of HR increasingly important for the Supervisory Board. Susanne Nonnast, Professor of Human Resource Management at OTH Regensburg and with many years of professional experience in the IT environment, contributes her expertise to the Supervisory Board of Krones AG in Neutraubling. She defines the role of the Supervisory Board as that of a strategic advisor to the Executive Board. Due to the variety of challenges organisations are facing today, many competencies need to be bundled on both the Executive and Supervisory Boards in order to make companies ready for the new way of working.