HR with a Heart: CHRO Steffen Fischer’s People-First Revolution

The 10 Most Influential HR Executives to Watch in 2024

In the fast-paced world of international automation, Steffen Fischer is a leading figure, steering the ship at ifm group services gmbh as the CHRO and a key member of the Executive Board. Under his leadership, the company has successfully implemented innovative HR strategies, resulting in an increase in employee satisfaction and a reduction in turnover.

Steffen is not just a conductor in the HR domain but a recognized thought leader. He skillfully harmonizes organizational design and people-focused strategies. His intellectual contributions extend beyond practice, as he’s co-authored significant BPM brochures and delved into profound topics like AI’s impact on HR in his publications.

This c-suite executive’s influence transcends the boundaries of his company. Since 2014, he’s been shaping the strategic HR landscape at Bundesverband der Personalmanager e. V. Moreover, he’s assumed the role of Business Ambassador in Singapore, where he has effectively advocated for the interests of German SMEs, fostering international partnerships and promoting cross-cultural understanding. His role as a Business Ambassador has not only expanded his global network but also enriched his understanding of international business practices, enhancing his effectiveness as a leader in the global HR landscape.

For Steffen, HR is not a mere collection of policies and procedures; it’s about the people. He deeply understands that the lifeblood of any organization lies in its employees and how it’s structured. He brings a unique blend of expertise, empathy, resilience, and genuine passion for personal development to his work, placing people at the heart of HR. His empathetic approach and deep understanding of the human element in HR should reassure HR professionals and business leaders about his people management skills.

Steffen’s career, like any other, has been marked by challenges. He has guided companies through difficult times, making hard choices during 2-3 crises in previous companies. However, he always prioritized maintaining the core team without reducing staff. It was a difficult journey, and he faced criticism, but he’s proud that he handled it all with unwavering Integrity, ensuring that everyone affected found new opportunities. Reflecting on this, he acknowledges that it wasn’t just a professional challenge – it took an emotional toll, too, despite the positive outcomes. His resilience in the face of adversity, coupled with his empathetic approach, is a testament to his determination and commitment, inspiring others to face challenges head-on.

Holistic Perspectives on Success

This experienced CHRO, recognized as one of ‘The 10 Most Influential HR Executives to Watch in 2024,’ believes that success encompasses both personal fulfillment and professional achievement. He articulates his perspective: “Success, for me, has a deeply personal aspect but also a public and professional one.” Organizational success and employee support are key indicators for Steffen, as they positively impact company culture and development. Moreover, he perceives success as the catalyst creating positive change for the company’s culture and people. For him, its true essence lies in collective advancement towards a shared mission. On a personal level, he celebrates a happy 30-year marriage, a vibrant family life with four children, and the joy found in life’s simple pleasures.

From Legal Roots to Human Potential: The HR Journey

Steffen’s initial foray into the working world stemmed from a practical need – finding a job after his studies. His legal background, specializing in labor law, was motivated by a desire to understand the system and support friends and family during economic uncertainty. However, the chance to ‘support people in the HR field and help organizations maximize their full potential’ ignited his passion, intriguing others about his career shift and the motivations behind it. This unique blend of legal and HR expertise has not only equipped him with a comprehensive understanding of labor laws and regulations but also a deep empathy for the human side of HR, making him a well-rounded and adaptable HR professional.

The potential for positive impact and HR work’s dynamic and ever-evolving nature solidified his decision. The unique blend of human connection and strategic development within the field continues to inspire and drive Steffen’s career.

Challenges as Catalysts: Lessons from Professional Journey

The belief that “challenges make you stronger” is a well-worn adage, but for perseverant individuals like Steffen, it’s far more than a cliché. His professional journey attests to the transformative power of adversity and how setbacks can forge resilience and wisdom.

Early in his career, as a young lawyer, Steffen held a naive assumption that the legal world operated solely on logic and reason. However, he quickly discovered that cases are often fraught with emotion and subjective perceptions of fairness. This realization forced him to confront the stark reality that pure rational analysis doesn’t always dictate outcomes.

Navigating the international landscape of ifm uncovered Steffen to the complexities of cultural differences. He learned that a “one size fits all” approach was ineffective, prompting him to cultivate flexibility and ingenuity in his problem-solving. This experience accentuated the significance of comprehending diverse perspectives and tailoring solutions accordingly.

Steffen acknowledges that his greatest lessons have stemmed from setbacks and resistance, actively leveraging these trials as impetuses for personal development and cultivating the ability to rebound from disappointment. He shares, “These obstacles have shown me the importance of being open to change and adapting to different circumstances.”  

In the face of adversity, this adept professional realized the value of composure. Rather than letting problems overwhelm him, he learned to approach them with a calm and solution-oriented mindset. Additionally, Steffen’s journey highlights the implication of a strong support network for collective consulting situations. He strongly believes good colleagues and friends offer invaluable insights and bolster morale when going tough.

ifm group services gmbh

Founded in 1969, ifm develops, produces, and distributes industrial automation solutions, including sensors, controllers, software, and SAP-based systems for supply chain management. A pioneer in Industry 4.0, ifm focuses on digitalizing the entire value chain. This family-owned company operates in 66 countries with a global workforce of approximately 9,055 employees. ifm fosters a supportive environment where employees can thrive and pursue their passions.

A Day in the Life of a CHRO: A Whirlwind of People and Plans

The daily life of a modern CHRO, like Steffen, is a blend of controlled chaos. His phone constantly buzzes with calls and digital notifications, and his calendar is packed with meetings. His day starts with a meticulous planning session with his trusted assistant, ensuring a smooth day ahead. When he’s not on the road, he makes it a point to connect with his team personally, starting the day with a warm ‘Good morning’ to gauge their well-being.

As ifm’s CHRO, Steffen navigates the duality of operational HR demands and tactical leadership. He oversees and delegates to a skilled team of over 100 but retains a bird’s-eye-view of all initiatives. His true impact lies in spearheading strategic personnel development, shaping corporate culture, partnering with executives, and designing growth-focused employee programs. Meetings dominate his days, seamlessly transitioning from in-person to virtual as he collaborates globally. Yet, this seasoned executive recognizes the need for reflective pauses amidst the whirlwind. These deliberate interludes, carefully woven into his day, reassure that HR efforts remain steadfastly aligned with the company’s long-term vision, instilling confidence in the audience about the intensive direction of the company.

Vision for ifm: Innovation, Sustainability, and Human-Centric Growth

Steffen sees a future for ifm where growth never stops, powered by cutting-edge digital innovation. He emphasizes, “The future of ifm, in general, involves continuous growth and, in particular, a stronger focus on digital innovations to continue offering our global customers first-class solutions.”

However, the forward-thinking CHRO’s vision for ifm extends beyond technological advancement. He champions a holistic approach that prioritizes sustainability across both environmental and social spheres. He’s an ardent supporter of GreenHR initiatives and envisions a company that leaves a positive ecological and social impact in its pursuit of economic goals.

Talent development plays a pivotal role in Steffen’s vision. He aspires to cement ifm’s reputation as a highly desirable employer by creating an attractive work environment that cultivates and attracts top talent.

Recognizing the increasingly complex landscape, especially with stricter sustainability regulations and customer scrutiny, Steffen has taken on additional leadership roles as social sustainability manager and human rights officer. These roles see him tackling social considerations throughout the global supply chain.

Finally, a key pillar of Steffen’s vision involves navigating the delicate balance between centralized and decentralized structures within ifm. He acknowledges the significance of fostering effective and efficient collaboration within a matrix organization spanning 9,000 employees and 66 countries.

Disruptive Approach to HR: Championing Employee Needs and Innovative Practices

This People-oriented strategist firmly believes in reshaping the HR landscape by prioritizing a human-centric approach. He focuses on nurturing a culture where trust, innovation, and continuous improvement are the cornerstones of employee experience. Steffen actively challenges long-held HR models, seeking fresh strategies that resonate with the evolving needs of the modern workforce.

His core conviction is that the future of HR depends on putting employees at the center. He champions targeted initiatives that foster engagement and well-being, recognizing that this focus is key to long-term success. This is not contradictory to the perspective of the importance of the customer, who ultimately buys the products and services and pays the employees’ wages – but by asking how the employees can do this and what their needs are, we also clearly support customer satisfaction.

Crucially, Steffen balances this approach with the realities of complex economic and social factors on a global stage, acknowledging the ongoing imperative for companies to remain profitable.

This HR trailblazer leverages the power of networks to drive his vision forward. His recent re-election to the Federal Association of Personnel Managers, his leadership of an AI-HR-Lab, and his membership within the Industry 4.0 network position him firmly at the forefront of HR innovation. These roles allow him to collaborate on shaping the future of work.

Underlying all of Steffen’s endeavors is a deep understanding that effective HR begins with an in-depth knowledge of a company’s strategy and its place within the market environment.

View on Technology as a Tool for HR Transformation

Steffen believes modern technology, particularly AI and GPTs, has dramatically changed how the HR industry functions. Thanks to data analytics, he recognizes the potential for enhanced automation, streamlined communication, and more informed decision-making. The experienced professional feels these advancements present huge opportunities to improve talent management. However, he emphasizes the critical need for careful integration. He stresses that technology should augment HR efforts, not replace the essential human element. “We must leverage the benefits of technology,” Steffen underscores, “to optimize our workflows while not neglecting personal contact and interpersonal relationships.”

Leading with Integrity at ifm

The proficient CHRO understands that a culture of integrity and innovation isn’t built on slogans alone. At ifm, it’s a conscious and continuous process. A foundation of clear values, transparent communication, and leadership by example sets the tone. The company’s strong foundation rests on a corporate philosophy with over 70 maxims, where integrity plays a central role, actively modeled by its leaders. This commitment extends to fostering a culture where employees excel in their work while adhering to high ethical standards, deepening stakeholder trust. Steffen actively participates in Fire-Chat events, engaging directly with executives to ensure that aspirational cultural values are not merely theoretical but hold up against the demands and challenges of the day-to-day operations.

True Recognition: Beyond Praise and into Trust

For Steffen, true recognition lies in the trust of his teams and leaders who seek his guidance and support. Setbacks have taught him that the most meaningful affirmatory isn’t always public but often comes in quiet words of gratitude or the confidence of his colleagues. “As leaders,” he stresses, “we must recognize the value of acknowledgment and ensure that our employees feel appreciated and supported.”

Personal Goal, A Catalyst for Growth

Steffen’s personal goals as an HR leader center on creating an inspiring and supportive work environment where employees are empowered to reach their full potential. He strives to catapult this growth, fostering a culture built on trust, collaboration, innovation, and creativity. Steffen is a business-savvy HR strategist who understands the importance of aligning HR strategies with ifm’s overall business goals, aiming for a measurable impact on the company’s success. This visionary leader is committed to continuous learning and development, adapting to meet the ever-evolving demands of the HR landscape.

Balancing Act: Finding Motivation and Promoting Well-being

Over the years, Steffen has recognized the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. He fuels his own motivation with continuous learning, makes time for passions and loved ones, and extends the same to his team. Development opportunities and flexible work arrangements are essential for Steffen. Leading by example, calls outside work hours are the exception, not the norm. He knows balance is a journey, but leaders must pave the way for a healthy, sustainable workplace.

Message for Aspiring HR Professionals and Leaders

For aspiring HR professionals and leaders, the seasoned strategist emphasizes continuous learning and adaptability as keys to navigating a dynamic workforce. He encourages a people-centric leadership style by drawing on his mother’s wisdom – “You can’t bake people; you have to manage in the community.” Steffen urges boldness, innovation, and a relentless focus on employee needs. Networking with like-minded individuals is vital in building a support system for growth and shared learning. Investing in personal development and maintaining an open, curious mindset are essential to staying ahead of the curve. Finally, the experienced leader reminds these aspirants to embrace resilience and a healthy dose of perspective:  “My motto is: You win or lose occasionally – but that’s not the end of the world.”