Gabriela Länger heads up the Strategy & Transformation unit which incorporates the Innovation and Future Banking, Corporate Development, HR, Communication and Branding units. We discuss her role, her outlook at the start of her career and heterogeneity in teams.
“My employees must be better at their jobs than I am”
We are profiling women who work in management positions at PostFinance. Gabriela Länger is a member of the Executive Board and is taking the financial institution into the future as Chief Transformation Officer.
What exactly are you responsible for as Head of the Strategy & Transformation unit?
We adopt the overall strategic vision for our company and are responsible for the planning, management and support of PostFinance’s transformation. My teams and I are tasked with ensuring we achieve our strategic goals with the defined measures and attain the desired outcome. We orchestrate everything – we define the overall roadmap, ensure the strategic initiatives of PostFinance’s various units are aligned, coordinate the measures and provide an early-warning system so that adjustments can be made if necessary. As well as support with specific issues, we also assist with providing employees with information and mobilizing and empowering them. We also provide the management with regular progress reports, establishing a basis for future decision-making. This means I perform an integral, but also very exciting role.
How are you leading your employees through the transformation? Is ‘leadership’ the right term?
Yes, guidance and leadership are vital in times of change and transformation. In my function I not only manage my teams, but we also contribute as a unit to ensuring that all PostFinance employees are successfully guided through the transformation. I attach particular importance to ensuring technical and human aspects are taken into account. From a technical perspective, the measures must be carefully designed, based on coherent, simple and consistent conceptual models, coordinated with one another and financially viable. The goals must be measurable, achievable in milestones and the various interdependencies must be transparent so as to alleviate any potential conflict. On a human level, we aim to provide the persons concerned with information, engage in dialogue with them and show them what the company intends to do and why. We want to mobilize them – in other words encourage them to show commitment, raise their level of motivation and to find common purpose in order to achieve the goals set. Finally, we also wish to help empower them to change their behavioural patterns. Just because someone has understood something doesn’t mean they want to do it. And even if they want to do it doesn’t necessarily mean they can. People often need support to adopt new patterns of behaviour. In this respect, ‘leadership’ really is the right term and is vital during transformation.
Why did you decide to study psychology and business administration?
I studied what I was interested in – not what opened up the best career prospects. Otherwise I’d have opted for IT. People are what interests me – as individuals, in groups and in the business environment. I’m fascinated by holistic perspectives. The combination of psychology and business administration opened up a holistic perspective that I was then able to pursue in my career.
Did you set out to pursue a management career right from the outset?
I didn’t start out in my career with the aim of reaching senior management. I didn’t really have a clear career goal. Instead I specifically looked for exciting job opportunities where I’d be able to learn new things and develop. I wanted to be good at what I did but not carry on doing the same old thing. I also have a certain affinity for leadership and lots of creative energy which has influenced my career.
How did you get your first leadership role?
I quickly began guiding individuals or managing small teams. My first major leadership function, where I was responsible for managing across several levels, was entrusted to me in an environment I was unfamiliar with technically. I led a major project in maintenance at SBB Cargo and was asked to take over the management of a repair workshop for freight cars and locomotives. This confirmed my perception of management in some respects and made a lasting impression on it in others – in my view, you don’t have to do everything better than your employees as the boss. At Cargo I was assigned a leadership function for tasks which I could not have performed myself. My employees were fitters, multi-disciplined mechanics, electricians and engineers. I had to accept that they were better at what they did than I was. Their job was to repair the vehicles, mine was to manage the facility. It worked extremely well – we were very successful and the notion that my employees are better at what they do than I am has remained with me to this day.
What do you focus on when making key appointments in your teams?
Precisely what I was just saying – that people are better at their own jobs than I am. That applies to everyone – whether it’s a head of department, corporate services or my assistant. They all have to help relieve my workload, and they also have to possess skills that I don't have. That’s vital if the team and I are to make progress as a whole. I find it reassuring when employees are more able than me in their specialist field. I have no designs on being the best at everything. My goal is to create added value through my leadership, define common goals and ensure overall coherence and consistency in what we do.
How important is the mix between men and women in teams in your view?
As a company we must provide solutions to the challenges presented to us by the market, our customers and our environment – and all in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). We’ll only succeed if we’re attuned to changes, learn quickly and always focus on new developments. The skills required for this can be developed more easily if the teams are heterogeneous. In homogeneous teams everyone has the same filters and the same blind spots. By contrast, heterogeneous teams are more receptive, and find more creative and sustainable solutions to challenging issues. And in terms of heterogeneity, gender balance is a key aspect. The ratio doesn’t necessarily have to be 50:50. But both genders should ideally make up at least one third on committees and in groups. This produces better solutions.
Is that why you’d prefer to appoint a woman to the advertised position of Head of Corporate Development?
Yes. My management team currently consists of three men, one woman and myself. Appointing a woman to the newly created position would be the ideal addition. The Corporate Development specialist unit covers the areas of strategy, market research, transformation and corporate responsibility. Head of Corporate Development is a dream role in my eyes. It’s a position that allows you to think across the board and have a really big impact. I’m looking for a woman with broad experience, who has ideally worked on strategies, understands transformation and either possesses start-up experience or is well versed in corporate responsibility. A woman who enjoys reflection but relishes a down-to-earth, hands-on approach. PostFinance has a far-sighted and courageous Board of Directors and a dynamic Executive Board. And the new strategy opens up a whole host of opportunities. The new Head of Corporate Development will have the chance to achieve great things.
What advice would you give other women seeking a management career?
The key thing is to always be yourself and not to try to play a role that isn’t really you. I’d advise women seeking to progress career-wise to make sure they are aware of what a leadership role actually entails – you’re often all on your own in senior and prominent positions. You’re not part of the team to the same extent. As women, we’re socialized into paying attention to what other people think, do and like. That’s a valuable attribute, but it can hold you back in management. You have to lead from the front in management – sometimes without support. If being on your own seems daunting, then you’ll find management stressful. There are a few other points I believe are important – a sense of humour always helps. If you’d like to pursue a management career, it’s vitally important to have a good environment, and somebody by your side who is pleased when you’re successful and is supportive and proud of you. An outstanding career is never an individual achievement – it’s always the successful interaction of lots of people and many factors.
How do you encourage women?
In an increasingly targeted way. The further up the career ladder you climb, the easier it becomes to encourage others. I give women who I wish to encourage the opportunity to show what they can do and place trust in them. I give them real challenges which they may also fail at. But that’s the only way to develop. When I can see that women have the potential and desire to progress – and if they’re interested – I give them an insight into my emotional world and experiences.
When it comes to career, leisure time and family, what’s important in your view in terms of the individual components and their combination?
There’s no formula that always works. I’m constantly looking for new ones. But I know I’m at my best when I look after my well-being in a holistic way. My mind works better when I’ve had enough exercise and sleep. Privately I’m more relaxed if I can apply myself at work. And I’m more balanced and focused at work if I feel content privately.
What can you not bear to hear as a woman in a leadership position?
I try not to listen to things that annoy me but which I can’t change. I find lazy excuses when it comes to recruitment irritating – such as there are not enough good women on the market. Just because it’s difficult to find women or because we have to make changes to the structure of positions to make them attractive to women doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Gabriela Länger is Head of Strategy & Transformation and a member of the Executive Board at PostFinance. She is fascinated by digitization and loves it when people work together to find simple solutions to challenging issues. Gabriela Länger studied psychology and business administration and has held various management functions, including at SBB Cargo and The link will open in a new window local.ch. She is married and already has grandchildren.