Why Bosch HR head is a 'glocal' agent of change

Rosa Lee has crossed continents to carry on her commitment to culture and people transformation. She shares her journey with HRD

Why Bosch HR head is a 'glocal' agent of change

Being tasked to head the global human resource management for a 132-year-old industrial giant such as Bosch is certainly no mean feat for Rosa Lee, who has determinedly worked her way to the top, moving across industries and countries.

Armed with a law degree and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management and HSUST, and having gained a breadth of leadership experience in large multinational companies, Lee now finds her home at the Stuttgart headquarters of Bosch as the senior vice president of corporate human resources, where she oversees a wide range of functions, including talent acquisition, talent development, organisation development, global HRIT, global learning, global HR Share Service and global HR steering.

Lee’s most recent appointment is a mark of Bosch’s commitment not only to diversity but also to business agility and sustainability through intensive talent development across its international operations. Talent development has always been at the heart of Bosch’s people initiatives – from promoting STEM courses to grow the talent pool in certain markets to launching various graduate, apprenticeship and leadership programs. This long-term outlook on talent enables the organisation to continually embrace changes and swiftly adapt to its people and business needs.

As a global human resource leader, Lee is most committed to two areas of focus – to enable Bosch’s initiatives in growing a vast pool of international leaders that exhibit both global vision and strong local footing – thus generating the concept of the ‘Glocal’ Leader; and to learn and harness culture as a catalyst for change.

HRD chatted to Lee about some highlights in her career as well as her work at Bosch.

Can you tell us about your career journey and what attracted you to HR in the first instance?
I studied law and graduated as a lawyer, with a passion to help people and enable change. I think the legal aspect is very relevant in HR. Many lawyers are working in HR, especially in Europe, because an important aspect of HR is handling industrial and employee relations, which needs legal knowledge. Every HR process is now linked to data privacy, which is a big thing in Germany and across Europe. With all the IoT initiatives, works councils are increasingly concerned about how we’re advancing the technology for the business and at the same time, still protecting our employees.

So with this legal base and driven by people passion, I’ve landed in HR.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
I would say there’s highlight and ‘lowlight’. When I first ventured into business from a HR manager, I turned to a very traditional and extremely technical business area – polymer business. A month after I joined as an AP marketing head, I reached a low point in my career. The business was extremely technical, and I was expected to add value right away, given my role as a senior management team in the region. It was a difficult time, but I never regretted that experience, because it made me understand the ground rules for doing business and how HR can add value.

The highlight for me is having been promoted two and a half years ago to this global role, which shows how Bosch is far ahead of most companies, especially in making ‘glocal’ leaders. When I say ‘glocal’, I mean local people assuming global responsibilities. I think Bosch has done wonderfully to strengthen the international market and provide leading examples of how diversity goes beyond the whole women vs. men issue.

How has your own international experience helped you relate the concept of ‘Glocal’ to the leaders at Bosch?
As a non-German in a German headquartered business, I would say there are some natural advantages. I consider myself an ‘outlier’ – I don’t speak German, I dress more colorfully compared to the locals who are dressed more ‘seriously’; in Asia, we call each other by our first names, so people call me Rosa, but here, they would call me Frau Rosa Lee or Frau Lee – there are all sorts of differences. And I’ve used my status of being a natural outlier to drive change and bring in fresh, non-traditional practices, so people can see different working styles and best practices from outside Germany.

But if you overdo it, you won’t be able to appreciate and integrate the deeply rooted local practices. Unlike in the Asian culture, where it’s all about ‘quick, quick, quick’ – no need to be perfect, you get it out, and then refine it later – here, with the Swiss watches and German cars, it’s about achieving perfection.

I think that combining cultures is a wonderful thing, if you’re able to do it well. But everyone has to be aware of cultural differences. That’s why we need communication.

For new Bosch leaders, we conduct transition workshops during their first six months for them to gain understanding of people’s different backgrounds – culture, personal styles, work experiences, etc. Regardless of where they’re from – external [recruit], from another country or within – all Bosch managers go through this transition workshop. We also have many town hall meetings with the big teams to cascade the strategies that the management team and I are working on.

The purpose is to collaborate. Like many companies, in Bosch, we are in the journey of overcoming silo thinking – things like “this is my turf, I can do it perfectly but don’t intervene” or “I have no capacity/resource to support you, because it’s not within my territory”. In the digital age, if you don’t collaborate, you’re dying.

You also spoke about Bosch adopting more agile approaches for organisation transformation/people management at a recent event, including applying Scrum methodology, trialing team-led evaluations, etc. How did these come about and where are you at right now?
That’s what our new innovative platform HRLab is doing. It started with our power tools/home and gardening business unit. With the disruption caused by the Internet and e-Commerce, their business model was challenged seriously. So the business needed to undergo a disruptive organisational change to catch up with users’ needs, enable faster development and produce a bigger and more flexible portfolio. They courageously tore down the traditional ‘department’ structure, which they then replaced with ‘Purpose Teams’ and ‘Excellence Teams’. This also meant that HR had to rethink and redesign the traditional HR programs because most of the existing HR solutions were no longer adaptable.

Within two days, we established the HRLab, which focused on using Scrum methodology and Agile process. Every two weeks, the team would develop a prototype after talking to users; the users would then give them feedback and they’d modify it. So far, they have developed six prototypes within six months, and three of them have been implemented successfully to enable the Home and Garden Business Transformation.

So what are the new HR solutions developed by HRLab?
The first prototype being implemented is Team Staffing. Traditionally, team members are hired by managers plus HR only; now the team decides whom to hire and how to hire, because they know, based on the group work, what are the critical competencies missing and what kind of people they need.

We also moved from a yearly performance dialogue, a 90-degree one with the boss, to an individual-driven, 360-degree performance dialogue. This gives us self-learners, and people realise, “I’m driving my career, instead of having the boss tell me what to do”.

Every person in the HRLab is there on a voluntary basis with intrinsic motivation, with the purpose of making Bosch HR solutions much more adaptable. They do this in addition to their current jobs, and it gives them that passion and purpose.

If you could choose one achievement or accolade that you are most proud of, what would it be?
A member of my global team gave me a portrait – a painting of me, with the title “A Colorful Driver of Change”. I view myself as a change agent with a diversified background. I’m a non-German, an international leader, and I’m very proud to be driving a lot of changes.

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