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Making a rough diamond shine

In times of a shortage of skilled workers, many companies advertise new work concepts, flat hierarchies and agile working structures to attract applicants. To ensure that these promises don't just turn out to be empty phrases, they need to be filled with real content. In this interview, Nadine Schumacher, Deputy Sales Manager at TOPREGAL GmbH, talks about sustainable working structures, treating employees as equals and what young professionals should look out for when choosing an employer.

As a manager, you take a close look at applications and the people behind them. In return, do you have any tips on what they should look out for in their potential employer?

"Application phases are always accompanied by a great deal of uncertainty. What will my future employer be like? Will I really feel comfortable there? Are we a good fit? My advice here is not just to look at the industry, how much I can earn there and what is obvious after my training or studies. How the potential employer presents itself is also important. I myself trained as an office management assistant and didn't have much to do with racking when I applied to TOPREGAL. So I immediately wondered whether I was the right person for the job. But the job advertisement said: It doesn't matter if you have colorful hair, tattoos or piercings - I liked that and it showed me that the management level no longer holds on to outdated prejudices. And after the first few weeks there, my doubts as to whether it was the right industry for me had vanished into thin air. But the job interview also says a lot about the potential employer. Job interviews are usually about presenting yourself in the best possible light. Honesty and authenticity should be much more important than having to pretend or bend. Applicants should be given the opportunity to be themselves and speak openly with the other person in order to get to know each other personally. This is the only way to find out whether you are a good fit on a human level, whether you are on the same wavelength as your future employer and therefore feel comfortable in your job. That's why I pay particular attention to how a person presents themselves when hiring new employees. I listen carefully to what they say and how they say it. It's about finding out whether someone is telling fairy tales or presenting themselves as they are. This provides important clues as to what the subsequent working relationship will be like. In general, the following applies to us: it is not important what someone has done before - if you fit in well with the team, i.e. if you are honest, authentic, ambitious and courageous and want to get involved and make a difference, then this is the right place for you and you can learn everything you need for the job. So soft skills are more important to us than hard skills. It was the same in my own job interview: there was a warm and open atmosphere in which people were interested in me as a person. Even when I was asked about my school reports, I was able to honestly admit that I had never been a "Käpsele" in math, as they say here in Swabia. I certainly wouldn't have said that if I hadn't felt comfortable. I believe that this honesty and openness was an important factor in TOPREGAL choosing me. Applicants should therefore pay close attention to whether and to what extent the potential employer is genuinely interested in them and what kind of atmosphere prevails at the interview. This is a crucial indicator of how employees will be treated later on and of the corporate culture."

What do you think modern employee and company management should look like?

"Modern company management should be characterized by working at eye level, appreciation for the individual employee and a well-functioning suggestion system. This is how you achieve a high level of identification with the company among your employees. What I do as an employee must really be seen and recognized. In progressive companies, the management encourages employees to get actively involved and put forward new ideas, feedback and criticism. The best argument counts, no matter how long or short you've been there. At least that's how it is with us. We have regular team meetings in Sales where this is exactly what happens. This is where employees and managers come together and exchange ideas, talk about current cases and the past few weeks and consider together what can be optimized or which problems can be solved. There is always the opportunity to actively contribute ideas, criticism or feedback and to discuss current issues across positions. This not only results in creative and innovative solutions, but also increases team spirit, motivation and commitment. However, this only happens if the suggestions for improvement and ideas are actually implemented in the company or at least if serious thought is given to the potential behind the ideas instead of saying: we've always done it this way and it will stay this way. Young minds are always in demand in companies - but then you have to let them do their thing and give them the freedom to get involved and make a difference. If a decision is made, this should be communicated openly and reasons given as to why a process has been changed, for example. This type of management makes employees feel that they are being listened to and included and they identify even more with the company. This in turn benefits the company: employees then actively think about what will help the company and feel positively committed to their employer. This commitment is sometimes even visible on the outside. We often work together in interdisciplinary teams to develop products or optimize processes. The opportunity for professionals to contribute their skills in this way and actively help shape products and processes makes many of them so proud of their employer that they wear their TOPREGAL clothing in their free time or even on vacation. For such a suggestion scheme to work well, however, it is important to be able to talk to your superiors as equals and to be open and honest with each other. That's why we have an informal culture here, where team spirit is very important. You have to be on the same wavelength as your employees, be able to talk about everything and speak openly with each other on an equal footing - whether it's work or private matters - because only then will the other person understand you. Empathy and sensitivity will get you to your goal faster than if you work according to a set pattern. This also applies to dealing with mistakes. How progressive a company is is reflected not least in its error culture."

What exactly does that mean?

"Quite simply: dynamism and development are essential for a company if it wants to keep its finger on the pulse and thus remain fit for the future in the industry. We not only continuously adapt our products, but also constantly optimize our processes. This means mastering new challenges every day and finding solution-oriented approaches. Many companies shy away from this and prefer rigid structures and workflows. Their employees work according to the same rules every day so as not to take any risks or make any mistakes; this also prevents development. A spirit of development also requires an open and positive error culture. It's about simply trying things and ideas out. If it doesn't work, then so be it, but we know what we can do better next time. This creates a learning curve. Mistakes should be allowed to be made to a certain extent without having to reproach yourself or lose your job. An open-minded and adaptable working environment creates the confidence to open up and have the courage to take responsibility for mistakes. But for this to happen, there needs to be a space where you can talk openly about mistakes or voice your concerns about something. Constructive criticism is important in order to get the best out of something or someone. I too used to be very afraid of making mistakes and that inhibited me. But mistakes can happen and should be seen less as a problem and more as an opportunity to learn from them, develop and do better next time. I only learned this attitude during my time at TOPREGAL."

You already hold a management position. What was your career like and how would you describe your development?

"I started in 2017 as a clerk in internal sales and customer service. At that time, we were only a handful of sales employees, which meant that everyone could handle all the tasks that arose in day-to-day business. This would be far beyond the scope of today. I also had other focal points outside of day-to-day business. For example, I helped with accounting and logistics issues or supported the optimization of processes and systems. But I enjoy the challenge and variety. Right from the start, I emphasized that I am a person who enjoys taking on responsibility and getting to grips with new things. That was certainly one of the reasons why I was offered the position of Deputy Sales Manager in 2021. This change of position meant that I was less involved in day-to-day business and more in projects and process optimization, which also gave me more responsibility. Of course, I was initially worried about whether I was up to it, as I was only 23 years old at the time. Now I was the one conducting job interviews and supporting onboarding processes. It wasn't as if I could do everything right from the start. You have to grow into it first. After all, no one has ever fallen from the sky as a manager. I asked for feedback openly and honestly and was able to work on myself and improve as a result. But even as a manager, you never stop learning. It is a continuous development process. It is particularly important to always keep an eye on your employees. After all, managers also need feedback in order to develop further. So I want criticism here, because that's the only way I've grown over the last few years.
Looking back, I can see how much I've developed in all this time. I've been able to consolidate the soft skills I already have in my job. But I've also gained a lot of hard and soft skills. I used to be quite shy and reserved and was afraid of making mistakes, which is why I simply didn't dare to do some things. But thanks to the trust placed in me and the way TOPREGAL treats its employees, I have been able to develop positively, so I was happy to accept the position of deputy sales manager. I have a high degree of empathy, a good feel for processes and structures and also for how these can be optimized in order to move forward in a goal-oriented manner. These skills are very valuable. Good employers recognize and promote such potential and offer the opportunity to develop your own skills skillfully and confidently. An enrichment for both sides. Companies can therefore have a decisive influence on whether potential is fully developed or remains unused. A modern approach to employees in an adaptable company can make rough diamonds shine."