INSEAD Participant Interview

Leading Organisations in Disruptive Times



Ulf Grohmann

"When the world is changing, you need to focus on changing yourself."

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Understanding how to lead in shifting times

Refining his leadership toolkit was the motivation that brought Ulf Grohmann of Voith to INSEAD to an online programme in 2020. The impact of that programme is what brought him back to pursue two more.

When the world is changing, you  need to focus on changing yourself. Ulf Grohmann is an excellent example of this. He has held a number of leadership positions with Voith, an organization that sets standards in the markets for energy, oil and gas, paper, raw materials and transport & automotive. Over the course of his career he has led efforts to drive automation, innovation and digital transformation within his organisation and with client companies. Yet, he has felt “something missing” in terms of his own leadership competencies – a sense that there were a number of challenges still to address and areas for refinement and improvement.

Coming from a highly technical background, Ulf had never enjoyed a formal educational experience in looking at business strategy and innovation; “gaps” in his own development that he was keen to close.

Then there was the issue of change. “We are living in shifting times,” says Ulf. “My industry and others are experiencing this transition from industrial to knowledge-based paradigms, structures and processes. Leaders have got to keep figuring out how to manage in this constantly-changing landscape – how to navigate disruption, which has only accelerated because of the Covid-19 pandemic. I recognized, that I needed and guidance about how to lead myself and others through change.”

This was the point that brought him to INSEAD in 2020, and to three critical programmes in particular: Leading Organisations in Disruptive Times; Strategy in the Age of Digital Disruption; Innovation in the Age of Disruption, earning the INSEAD Online certificate Leading in a Transforming World with a distinction.

“When you have been in leadership roles for 20 years or so, it’s really important to fill in any gaps in your own understanding or toolkit – but also to get fresh perspectives.  You need to cast a little light into all the dark corners.”

Leading Organisations in Disruptive Times, in particular, was an opportunity, says Ulf, to get an essential update on faster decision-making, accelerate change processes and cut through difficult cultural challenges to lead the organisation with impact and efficiency.

To maximise the impact of the programme, he enrolled on the “premium journey” – an option that provided  additional  coaching and a chance to participate in the INSEAD xChange simulation – a tool that puts participants in the driving seat of organisational change.

The experience delivered far more than he expected. “Very often in the world of work, you do things or take decisions that yield results. But when you look at them, you struggle to understand why or how they worked, because you don’t pause for  the necessary reflection. With this programme, and particularly with the xChange Simulation, you could really explore how to make change happen:  how you build the teams and networks, the influencing strategies, the navigational roadmaps and the support to drive results and why it works.” 

Ulf also appreciated the Action Learning Project (ALP) – an opportunity to apply this learning directly to his own real-world leadership challenges. “In the  way the programme is structured, you get to translate the news concepts, approaches and techniques to your own work.  I was able to apply my INSEAD learnings and the  coaching directly to the work I have been doing.”

The ALP in particular, he says, has helped him formulate the strategy and define a road map for implementation going forward – to drive the change in culture and streamline the business vis a vis customers.

A common thread across each of the programmes Ulf  took at INSEAD was the formation of learnings groups – clusters of peers exchanging ideas, perspectives and insights in tandem with the programme delivery. This dimension of the learning journey, says Grohmann, was not impeded in any way by the online programme format. Quite the contrary.

“We were able to form groups very fluidly via virtual channels,” he says. “In fact the online format of the learning experience worked really well for me. These are compact, highly focused programmes that are flexible enough to combine perfectly with your normal working week. They deliver the learning you want in a way that is highly manageable.”

Coming out of the INSEAD experience with three programmes under his belt as well as an additional distinction for Leading Organisations in Disruptive Times, Ulf says that he has become far more adept at certain things.

“Your perspective is broadened so much that you approach challenges in a way that is much more rounded. You see the problem more holistic and   the chance  to work with peers – especially with those  who may not share your background and experiences allows you to think different. . The capacity to collaborate positively and get people on board is also really enhanced; and that’s valid for  strategy and innovation, but even more for leadership in general,” he says

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