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The Interview

Management

Putting people at the heart of the sustainable business transformation 

30 May 2023 • by Julia Binder in The InterviewPodcast availablePodcast available

How Judith Wiese, Chief People & Sustainability Officer at Siemens, effectively combines two roles at the German technology and industrial group ...

How Judith Wiese, Chief People & Sustainability Officer at Siemens, effectively combines two roles at the German technology and industrial group.   

Few C-suite executives combine more than one role, but Judith Wiese is one who has done so succesfully.  

When Siemens renewed Wiese’s term on its Managing Board late last year, it highlighted why, as Chief People and Sustainability Officer, she has a key role in ensuring that Siemens can attract and retain the best people, while also being at the heart of ramping up the German technology and industrial group’s sustainability activities.  

While most companies separate these two significant roles, combining them makes sense intuitively, since it’s the people inside an organization who ultimately need to accept, embrace, and drive the company’s sustainable transformation. 

“When we had a leadership change in Siemens two and a half years ago, a conscious decision was made to have a small Managing Board. So, there are only five of us, which I think makes it a real team, a team in which we trust each other, a team that works very closely together. And that means that we all wear more than one hat,” she explains. 

The speed of transformational change at Siemens, a multi-sector business engaged in digital and sustainable transformation across industry, infrastructure, transport, and healthcare, is rapid and intense. However, she says she has what leadership coach Marcus Buckingham calls “restorative energy”. 

And here it is important that we ‘find’ each other and that we really play together.
- Judith Wiese, Chief People & Sustainability Officer at Siemens

“Give me a problem and I’ll get excited about finding solutions for it,” explains Wiese, who previously spent three years as Chief Human Resources Officer at DSM, the Dutch ingredients and bioscience company, and five years in a senior people-oriented role at Mars, the chocolate and pet care group. “I think, therefore, that I’ve never in my life felt powerless. I’ve always found an angle for thinking where I can create impact, and where I can use my capabilities to create progress.” 

Sustainability progress  

With industry accounting for about 30% of carbon emissions, and the built environment responsible for about 40%, progress on the sustainability front is a big focus for most businesses – but has particular significance for Siemens given the potential contribution of its enabling technology in both. This is where Siemens can bring to bear the beneficial effects of digitalization, electrification, the way that power grids are run, and decarbonized mobility, Wiese says. 

Yet, with the world having largely moved on from trying to convince people and industries to do this, the big challenge is how these targets are actually achieved. This is where Wiese’s role comes in.   

“I think we’ve all realized that this is a bit more complicated than maybe we had hoped, and therefore it does require somebody to take on the role of the conductor, the orchestrator across the organization, the facilitator, somebody who sets the framework – or helps to set the framework – and somebody who holds the mirror up to find the right level of ambition for what you can credibly and realistically deliver upon,” Wiese explains. 

“And so, therefore, with my people hat and my sustainability hat, I actually stand for topics that run across the organization because I am not single-handedly responsible for delivering – or being able to deliver – the people experience at Siemens,” she adds.  

Six degrees of sustainability  

Technology plays a key role in driving Siemens towards its sustainability goals by using its own technologies in its own operations as part of a so-called DEGREE framework – a 360-degree view of ESG priorities that take in six “fields of action”: decarbonization, ethics, governance, resource efficiency, equity, and employability. 

“We felt it was time to put a framework out there at an ambitious level that people can also hang their hat on, and that gives some orientation. We wanted to signal that we really want to play in all these dimensions and to give ourselves ambitious targets in each of these areas,” Wiese explains.  

“That gives transparency to us, and to the entire value chain that is trying to optimize itself. Because we all have our bit to do. At the end of the day, the magic lies in the ecosystem, and in the entire value chain.”
- Judith Wiese, Chief People & Sustainability Officer at Siemens

By setting targets and thinking about how to achieve them, Siemens has had to reflect on the core processes of how its business operates and make sure that sustainability is at the heart of what they do, says Wiese. 

“Technology is the ‘how’, the means, and sustainability is a powerful outcome – just as much as productivity, flexibility, or speed would be. Typically, customers today want all of the above. So, therefore, for us, sustainability and technology are one and the same.”

Siemens says it has made good progress toward reaching net zero in its own operations by 2030 and, as of 2022, in cutting its operational CO2 emissions by 46% compared to the 2019 baseline. The company aims to significantly accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions and, for this purpose, has set an intermediate goal of reducing physical CO2 emissions in its own operations by 55% compared to 2019 levels by the end of fiscal 2025.  

The company raised some of its sustainability targets in an update in December. In the same update, Siemens said the products and solutions sold in the fiscal year 2022 allowed customers, based on standards set in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Reporting Standard, to avoid 150 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – an amount 13 times higher than the roughly 12m tons of GHG emissions generated during the manufacturing process from raw materials extraction to the factory gate. 

Wiese points out what many have also highlighted when it comes to measuring sustainability: issues with data. Yet, she says this is where digitalization and sustainability “come together nicely because they both leverage data in terms of how you orchestrate manufacturing, how you automate buildings, how you drive energy performance, and how you do things more resource efficiently than you did in the past”.

Wiese says Siemens engages in various ways, including inviting them to a Siemens facility and demonstrating what the company is doing, as well as collaborating

“That gives transparency to us, and to the entire value chain that is trying to optimize itself. Because we all have our bit to do. At the end of the day, the magic lies in the ecosystem, and in the entire value chain.” 

Empowering people in sustainability 

While numbers are important, it’s the people who drive any business. To empower its people on their sustainability journey, Siemens recently launched Sustainability Base Camp training for its 300,000+ people; more than 70,000 completed it between December and April. 

Wiese explains: “First, it was important to give this a name so that people can say, ‘I can see that now. I can see that my company is doing something about it.’ The second thing for us was to say that sustainability and doing something meaningful doesn’t just happen on the day where we go off and engage in a team activity towards sustainability or social impact. 

“It’s given people the security to say, ‘Not only do I know that we’re doing something about it, but it gives me a bit more context. It gives me a bit more language around this, and I understand better how the various dimensions are at play. And that again helps me orientate how my job fits into that, where I can engage.’”  

Measuring and collaborating 

As for another key constituency, customers, Wiese says Siemens engages in various ways, including inviting them to a Siemens facility and demonstrating what the company is doing, as well as collaborating.  

Such collaboration matters not only in terms of driving sustainability measures, but also at the level of dealing with regulatory issues around sustainability reporting and standard setting.   

“How do we set standards in Europe, and ideally globally? Here it is important that regulators and industry work together so that what we regulate and the standards that are being set are meaningful.  

“And here it is important that we ‘find’ each other and that we really play together.” 

Authors

Julia Binder

Julia Binder

Professor of Sustainable innovation and Business Transformation at IMD

Julia Binder, Professor of Sustainable Innovation and Business Transformation, is a renowned thought leader recognized on the 2022 Thinkers50 Radar list for her work at the intersection of sustainability and innovation. As Director of IMD’s Center for Sustainable and Inclusive Business, Binder is dedicated to leveraging IMD’s diverse expertise on sustainability topics to guide business leaders in discovering innovative solutions to contemporary challenges. At IMD, Binder serves as Program Director for Creating Value in the Circular Economy and teaches in key open programs including the Advanced Management Program (AMP), Transition to Business Leadership (TBL), TransformTech (TT), and Leading Sustainable Business Transformation (LSBT). She is involved in the school’s EMBA and MBA programs, and contributes to IMD’s custom programs, crafting transformative learning journeys for clients globally.

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