"ForumWHU is a passion for our team." With these words Philipp Furthmayr, General Manager of forumWHU 2019, opened this year's congress on the campus of WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management in Vallendar. For more than 16 years, forumWHU has been providing its participants a platform for a constructive exchange of ideas centred around business responsibility. This year's main theme was "ZukunftsDEnken," whereby numerous speeches, panel discussions and workshops focused on the subjects of digitalization and the changing world of work.
Digitalization - Progress Instead of Lagging Behind
It is not very common for all guests to agree on something during a panel discussion. Concerning the digital transformation in Germany, it was Zvedana Seeger, member of the board of Deutsche Bank, who put in a nutshell what everyone thought: "We were all too slow, that is a fact." With the pronoun "all" she refers not only to the companies represented in the discussion, but rather to the majority of established German corporations. Many German companies would have neglected to invest early in new, digital technologies. Stefan Stroh, Chief Digital Officer of Deutsche Bahn, supported this statement, but noted at the same time that we are still doing well for the complexity and the given regulatory framework we have in Germany. Frank Theissen of IBM, however, clarified that it was not just politics. As Germans, we would still be too concerned with the risks of new technologies and overlook their potential.
On the following day, former German president Christian Wulff resumed the topic during his speech. In his opinion, we must be more optimistic and focus on the potential mentioned by Theissen. Nevertheless, it would remain a key question how to shape the transition from the analogue to the digital age by including all generations. In a "time of extremes" in which we according to Wulff live, politics would have to create the framework conditions and act "extremely innovatively." Yet he sees the main challenge faced by the current generation elsewhere: Past generations have mastered reconstruction and reunification; in today's polarizing world, it would have become increasingly relevant to keep the society together, to ensure fairness and to work for the common good. Only in this way our democratic system could survive over the long term in the digital age.
Changes in the World of Work - Between Uncertainty and Confidence
A second focus of the congress were the changes in the world of work, which are driven by technological progress, globalization and demographic change. New Work is a central phrase that is often used in this context. It includes new concepts such as the four-day work week, remote working or new office concepts. In the latter, the management, for example, sits in an open-plan office which helps to reduce the distance to the employees and enables "cross-hierarchical work," as Damaris Greiff of Sky Deutschland describes it. Florian Weiß from the Hubert Burda Media subsidiary jameda also points out that companies have nowadays to "create an environment where employees can develop themselves." For him, New Work must be both "fulfilling" and "moving."
An adaptive corporate culture and agile management, together with innovativeness and a sound political framework, are therefore central prerequisites for actively shaping digitalization and profiting from the changes in the world of work. Zvedana Seeger had already found clear words for this at the beginning of the event: "If we now say that we are out of time and energy, then we have already lost the race."