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Opinion: Siemens displays bad leadership style

The head of German engineering giant, Siemens, is planning to cut 12,000 jobs. Investors have been given the lowdown on the details, but employees have not. Bad form, says DW's Andreas Becker.

Siemens is in the middle of the biggest reorganization in the firm's history. Chairman Joe Kaeser wants to

completely restructure

the technology company. By doing this he is completely sweeping away the changes that were just introduced by his predecessor, Peter Löscher.

At the beginning of May the Siemens supervisory board gave Kaeser the go-ahead for his plans, which he is calling "Vision 2020," under which the company is to be made more flexible, leaner and more competitive.

"It's not strategy that makes the difference, it's the culture of a company, its values and what it stands for," Kaeser declared at the subsequent press conference. At the time he didn't want to give any details of job cuts, saying that he would "give information about that after the planned consultation with employee representatives."

Poor communication

Since then, however, employees have been rubbing their eyes in astonishment. It seems they only get to hear via third parties what exactly the restructuring will mean for them and for their jobs. A week ago (23.05.2014) some 2,000 of them demonstrated in Erlangen and in Munich because they had to find out from a business magazine that 10,000 jobs were going to go.

Since then, the number has risen: It is now said to be

around 11,600.

The news agency Bloomberg was the first to report this figure, citing a "webcast conference." Then, this Friday (30.05.2014), a spokesman for Siemens confirmed that Kaeser had referred to the figure at an investors' conference in New York. "These positions will cease to exist," the spokesman said, adding that, nonetheless, job cuts did not necessarily equal job losses.

Press reports, agency reports, webcast and investor conferences – these are apparently the sources from which the employees are finding out about the future of their jobs. The same is true of the unions. "The number that's currently being cited has not been discussed with us," said a spokeswoman for the IG Metall trade union.

Family image shattered

Joe Kaeser has been working at Siemens since 1980, which means he was there in the days when Siemens employees still saw themselves as part of one big family. His current information policy clearly shows that those days are gone, and the family image shattered.

One could argue that, with 360,000 employees, 11,600 jobs only constitute three percent of the workforce. By comparison, the American company Hewlett-Packard, which is a similar size, wants to cut 50,000 jobs by the autumn. One could also argue that the Siemens giant urgently needs to slim down if it wants to be successful. And it was always clear that Kaeser's aim of saving one billion euros could not be achieved without job losses.

Nonetheless, it is significant that the Siemens chairman should announce the first concrete numbers for job cuts to the company's investors, and not to its employees. At the beginning of May he himself declared that "the foundation for success is highly dedicated and contented staff." The prerequisite for this, though, is that they should feel that they are being taken seriously.

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