29. April 2022 | CEO Spotlight
Managers should take a considered and practical approach to staff development.
Governments around the world are calling for the gradual limitation of climate-damaging refrigerants, so-called F-gases or HFCs. Consequently, with some countries already having started translating these demands into concrete bans on certain F-gases, all innovations and activities in the refrigeration and heat pump (Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning – HVAC) industry currently only know one goal: to curb global warming.
But why is our industry having such difficulties achieving these goals? The answer lies in the fact that the agreed global climate targets cannot be accomplished with the vast majority of technologies currently used in the HVAC industry. In future, therefore, chillers and heat pumps will have to be operated with refrigerants whose use was ruled out even by experts just a few years ago.
Technology is dramatically changing chillers and heat pumps – as well as the processes used to manufacture, buy and sell them. As a result, the skills and capabilities that made HVAC companies successful in the past are no longer a guarantor of future success. I have been ever aware of such challenges since joining Efficient Energy as an Executive Board member in 2018 and today, as its CEO, have the honour of leading it into the future.
To prepare ourselves for this odyssey, we carefully examined the core competencies that we’ll need in three to five years’ time and how we can develop them. In doing so, we realised that the vital skills of tomorrow differ significantly from our current ones. We therefore started identifying and structuring the competence areas of the future and developing and expanding them. In this way, we provided for the conditions required not only to respond to the dramatic changes in the HVAC industry, but also to actively and purposively shape them. If you consider what goes into a chiller or heat pump, and how it is operated – all these things are currently undergoing transformation: Environmentally friendly, natural refrigerants are meanwhile replacing synthetic ones that seriously harm the climate; software has become a key component for increasing energy efficiency and optimizing the cooling characteristics in networked environments; and refrigeration systems increasingly come fitted with modules that allow so-called free cooling, and much more. Moreover, the way in which chillers and heat pumps are built and manufactured is also changing, as supply chains find themselves suddenly based on entirely new fundamentals. At the same time, demand for clean cooling and clean heating solutions is growing exponentially as customers seek to dramatically reduce their carbon footprints.
All these developments are helping Efficient Energy lead this transformation as a pioneer of clean and safe refrigeration and heat pump technology, while simultaneously benefiting from this long overdue trend on its meanwhile established growth path. To this end, we have started radically building and expanding our expertise in the areas of compressor and heat exchanger technologies, digital competence, scaling our production capacities, distributing sustainable chillers and heat pumps, as well as optimizing numerous internal processes.
Today, more than ever, our entrepreneurial actions are thus determined by the ability to manage this change; leaders must become much better at shaping change and transformation while driving the processes needed to shorten product development cycles; and senior employees need a much more cross-functional approach to their work to ensure the diverse domains and areas of expertise are all aligned and coordinated effectively to achieve a common goal.
The challenge now is to ramp up these business-critical capabilities. At Efficient Energy we repeatedly find that, to stay ahead, it takes much more than establishing new skills and constantly improving them; rather, they have to be tweaked dynamically, even while developing them, to keep them aligned with the goals, and in parallel with our unceasing efforts to work on our future. We are increasingly learning that huge amounts of time and effort are needed to develop really strong capabilities. Our managers do this by consciously and judiciously orchestrating the transformation of our company, bringing together the right people with their individual skills, and combining these forces to achieve our company’s goals.
Take a recent example: Many customers in the HVAC industry in Europe closed down entirely or were unable to receive visitors during the COVID19 pandemic. At Efficient Energy, we took this opportunity to get our own online sales platform up and running. We put together a large number of topics that we had long been working on, including effective performance marketing, online transactions, handling of sales leads, digital product launches, dealing with contacts and our cooperation with distribution partners. Although we had been addressing this entire chain for some years now, we had never had the pressure to rank all of these elements as #1 priorities at the same time. The COVID-19 restrictions made our online distribution a mission-critical concern and, since then, we’ve had an extremely steep learning curve and developed many new skills.
For me, developing skills means orchestrating experiences and recognising, realising and learning what works – and what doesn’t – as quickly as possible. We can discover what we’re really good at. We can identify skills gaps and develop appropriate countermeasures to remedy them quickly. We build up all the skills needed to address problems and to fix what doesn’t work. Against this background, our most important skill-building implements are: learning by doing, a positive culture for dealing with mistakes and regular feedback with colleagues.
Skill development used to be relatively neglected at Efficient Energy, but today we are treating it far more rigorously and formally. Skill building and development are matters we would like to control and manage ourselves. Our employees are becoming competence centres in their own right and determine our future. If we fail to take their skill development into our own hands and manage it, we will cease solving problems over the long term and only be beleaguered by new and additional ones.
For this reason, we look closely at how best to manage our individual employees’ development paths. We’ve begun institutionalising learning-by-doing programmes while simultaneously introducing a feedback culture which, with its constant feedback, sufficiently indicates to managers whether and where things need tweaking on our path to the future. In doing so, the fact that we had defined our vision and mission, and identified our corporate values, beforehand proved extremely helpful since it gave us an exact target system and playing rules that could act as guiding principles for fine-tuning and direction. However, before we had reached that stage and were able to embody these concepts as guiding principles for our day-to-day actions, we first needed proficiency in all modern management skills which we acquired exhaustively in feedback training programs and leadership workshops.
Additionally to developing the existing team’s skills, we also recognise how important it is to attract new talent. While many of the fundamental skills already present at our company are key elements needed for shaping the future, it is also clear that we need to enrich the team with new skills and talent from outside. It is the right combination of developing the existing team’s skills and recruiting external experts that will take us forward.
So far we have been very successful – which is also reflected in our company’s growth. In just two years, we have welcomed numerous new colleagues, boosting our headcount by around 50%, who will accompany us on our journey into the future.
The way we attract newcomers to the Efficient Energy team has much to do with the fact that, as a company, we embody values that are attractive to the talents of tomorrow. Efficient Energy has sustainability in its DNA. From day one, we have been a company that could answer the question “Why?” for many prospective employees. This appeals to many people seeking an employer that not only talks about meaning, but also has meaning at its core.
In short: Efficient Energy is a company that embodies credible sustainability like no other. We have been a climate-neutral business since 2020, and our production chain has also been climate-neutral since 2022, letting our customers also boast true climate-neutral cooling – provided, of course, that their energy suppliers deliver green electricity.
Green is the future: With a 2,044 percent growth rate, we made third place in the “Deloitte Technology Fast 50” in 2021 – an award distinguishing the 50 growth champions of the tech industry, based on their percentage revenue growth over the past four financial years.
But we are not resting on our laurels, of course. We have also been busy successfully expanding our partner network from DACH to include France, Sweden and Norway and significantly enlarging our partners base; and last but not least, we are also working on expanding our product portfolio to broaden the application area of Bluezero® with water as a refrigerant.