Wednesday, May 2, 2007

An interview with Sonja Klopcic: “On the company’s path of success we need to follow the call for our personal development, as well”

A modern manager needs to know how to lead people but first of all needs to have a greater knowledge of his or her self, and in facing many new challenges is a crucial need for new leadership methods and models. It is becoming more and more important how well these new approaches are demonstrated by the manager in his/ her daily business behavior. How creative, innovative and flexible he/ she is. Does she/he know how to lead the personal development and the process of change?

It is becoming more and more essential to really understand our own core competences and values, and those of our team members and lead them to the optimal outcomes. It is becoming more and more important to understand ourselves and to hear our inner voice. Sonja Klopcic, M.Sc. has just done that. This is her story.

Sonja Klopcic, the formal director of Oria Computers, and one of the most prominent young managers in Slovenia, has made an important step in her business development. After the most successful business cycle in the company’s history and after 14 years of being a leader and so-creator of its sustainable growth, she stepped down to take time to quietly seek guidance from her inner self for the next carrier step. The move was recognized by Slovenian business community as a brave and rather unusual step. The public and media were trying to find “a real reason” for her decision, searching for a scandal or a failure. In Slovenia managers just do not leave good positions for no reason, especially not when the results are great. Or maybe they do. Maybe this is a sign of a new mindset. Maybe we’ll be seeing more of that in the future.

Q: How did the last few months, before the decision was announced, look?

A: As the question implies, the decision was not sudden. It was rather a result of a conscious and gradual process. First, I felt deep inside that it is time to close this chapter of my life. At first the thought surprised me too. But when it is continuously recurring you get used to it and you start considering it seriously. Then I suddenly and definitely recognized that the time with Oria was over, that it was time for both of us to make a new step forward.

Q: Have you had, at the turning point, a new story in mind?

A: Not at all. During this process of clarification of the relationship between company and me, I was not thinking about a new step at all. I first wanted to make sure I understand my transformations and needs. Independently. Clearly. To stop a career at the time of very good results and a full support of all business partners (employees, owners, customers, suppliers, local community) was not an easy step. Especially in my case. People were always very important to me. I believe in people and was investing a lot in business relationships. For a lot of people Sonja was Oria. I was aware that the move would be hard for other people too. Therefore, the move had to be well planed. After all, my husband works in the company, too. He is also one of the owners. (comment: Sonja sold her shares in the company right after she took the leading position). I was thinking a lot about this move before talked to anybody (even my husband) about that.

Q: How to pick the right moment?

A: It is hard to say what is the right moment. It is always a shock. First I thought about revealing the new at the end of 2006, but due to the market intensity at that time decided to postpone it until after the New Year.

Q: Whom did you inform first?

A: First I talked to the owners. I gave them some time to think about my successor. As a matter of fact, we were working on this issue together. They agreed to include me in this process actively. So, I was the one who made the first interviews with candidates. At the end we all agreed that to ensure the continuity of Oria’s sustainability, an internal person would be most appropriate. I suggested Mr. Miha Praunseis and the owners agreed.

Than the second phase followed: the preparation of a new director for the post. We agreed on a transition period of 1 month.

Q: When did the rest of employees find out about your decision?

A: The close team was the next to know, but just before the actual take over was done. We worked together with a communication specialist on an internal and external communication strategy. The professional help was in this case necessary.

I sent to all employees e-mail. But it was not enough. We were too close. For too long. So, I went to talk to everyone present at headquarters in Zagorje. Personally. It was really needed. My decision came as a shock but the work had to go on. Only than I realized that I was the only one who was in the company from the beginning. I had employed all of them. It turned out that the personal approach was the best way to move forward.
At the same time I realized what a high level of business integrity we all had. The news did not leave the company. Nobody had talked even to his or her friends and family about it (until it become officially a public knowledge). The entire external communication that followed afterwards was lead by the commercial director Gregor Macedoni.

Q: So when was the public informed?

A: The same day we announced a press conference that was carried out a few days later.

Q: And who is Sonja Klopcic today?

A: Still the same substance but with a very rich new experience. I am still a person who loves new things, diversity. I am still very interested in effective processes of transformation of new ideas from a theory to practice.

Q: Where is this urge for exploration and implementation of new coming from?

A: The environment I was growing up in was not to incline to big changes. However, there was always this undisputable attitude towards completion. To complete what you’ve started. To see the results of your work.
My openness and love for exploration of unknown was really developed later on in (general) high school. There is where I started appreciating the multidisciplinary approach. At the end of the high school I still did not know where to go further. And than my teacher provoked me with a question “Why not technical field?” So, I ended up at the University of Ljubljana – Department of electro technical studies. I got really intrigued by the digital technology, which stayed my passion for a long time.

Q: When have you consciously started differentiating creativity and innovation?

A: Consciously for the first time at my first job at ETI, when I received my first award for innovation. It was a special computer supported appliance for testing electronic equipment. I competed the entire innovation process: from the recognition of a need, to design, technical solution, prototype, and at the end it was sold to another company for a commercial use. With this project I felt for the first time it thinking and independent ideas have their value.

Soon after I joined Oria. However, I have to admit that I made a very conscious mind transformation towards the importance of innovation after 5 years of the management position. We reached the point when only a real new understanding of the IT sector would allow us further growth and development. I realized that we needed to make a change in our business model. We needed a quantum leap. I am glad that we recognized this ahead of time and were able to make a smooth transition. We shifted from computers to services, and later on to solutions.

Q: How much has your technical background contributed to a successful management?

A: I used the concept of systems as defined in electro technical field a lot. I use the modeling with boxes and connections a lot (she gets a smile on her face at this point and it stays with her quite a while). When I was getting my master degree at the Department of Economics, I used to have problems because of my engineering approach. I always had a problem because I thought that there was never enough of substantial data to draw conclusions, special because they expected at the end a very precise number. How can you get out of a loosely defined system a precise answer? There is one more thing from engineering times that helped me a lot on a management position. It has to do with the attitude: an appliance, a prototype has to work at the end. I have an impression in general, that in business world there is not enough discipline for manifestation. To get the job done. Many business people just give up too soon.

Q: What is your attitude towards innovation today?

A: I think that we still too often understand the innovation as a generation of ideas. Implementation is than somebody else’s business. Well, I do not think that that is the case. At least what you can do as a manager is that you are bale to put together the right tam that a good idea could be successfully manifested on a market, as well. The team plays an important role in a pre-selection of ideas, too. To really pick the one that has a great chance to be successfully accepted by customers.

Q: In the book “Business evolution”, you signed your comment as “innovative manager”. Why?

A: I just wanted to point out that I am not only a manager, but I am also an innovator in business. What I meant by that is that I constantly trying to develop a new business models, methods, that I help creating the right business environment for innovation. To write only the word manager was just not enough for me, for my way of working.

Q: Can a manger in innovative company be just a manager, anyway?

A: No. Manager is the one who needs to constantly demonstrate the positive attitude towards innovation. Even with her/his work. If manager is not open for a new concepts, new way of managing, if she/ he is not willing to implement them, the employees will be reluctant too

Q: Do you thing that there is a need for a lot of formal training and education for somebody to be innovative?

A: To be creative, to generate ideas not that much. However, to be able to implement them, to make an innovation out of it, the knowledge is quite essential.

Q: After 5 years of being at the top position at Oria, you have consciously started developing your own career as innovative manager. Why?

A: From the beginning I had a feeling that the innovation is the right direction. However, after you are broadening your horizons, add additional knowledge and experiences, the feeling gets a great support in conscious understanding, as well.
Q. So we can say that that knowledge and experiences give the innovation process the power for manifestation?

A: That’s right. Only that you understand that you need to think and work a lot on an issue. After a while it might have appeared that a solution came all of a sudden. But that is not really the case. It came out suddenly but internally you have been processing it maybe for weeks, months. Often we think that creative people are generating new ideas from nothing. The truth is that there is always a heavy duty thinking process behind it.

Q: Which milestones in your personal development as innovative manager would you point out?

A: One of the first ones was for sure the “school of dialogic”.

Q: Why?

A: Because that is when I’ve started to understand the power of relationships in a business process and the leadership through soft indicators.

Second important step was my personal business trainer. 7 years ago this was quite an unusual step. However, it was very important to me. I suddenly had a mirror. For my actions, thoughts. I was able to gain a lot of self-confidence fro the changes I was implementing. The environment where we had our headquarters was not too open for changes, for new mind-sets. So, I needed someone to support me in my search for a new opportunities and at the same time to offer a critically view. Through my personal training I gained the confidence for advanced leadership much faster and in a more structural way. I probably felt a little bit handicapped due to my engineering background, as well. Yet, with I was able to overcome it through my personal development that was additionally encouraged by successful completion of the master’s studies in economic major. Through the formal study I gained a conformation for my visions and my way of managing.

Third important element in my development was modern management literature. While reading I was challenging myself and the content of the texts itself. Sometimes is enough the fact that you realize that there is nothing new. And again you raise your confidence and faith in what you do. Especially when you know, that you are doing it for real.

Q: Would you recommend other (young) managers to follow your example? What would you advice?

A: I would recommend a move. I believe that we all need time off. To think about who we are, what we become and where we want to go next. My step was for Slovenian business community something unusual, however, based on the comments that I am getting, respected and appreciated. Many had said to me that they were thinking about the same. Maybe my case will encourage some. We are used that managers are replaced, recalled. However, it is perfectly all right to follow your inner call and take a brake to clear your head and make a next step. It’s like a chrysalis in the butterfly’s life cycle. We need the chrysalis stage to be able to enjoy the butterflies. Of course you have to be reedy for some negative comments, too. There are many people that believe that the news is only the bad news.

Dear Sonja. Thank you very much for your time, thought the energy you shared. All the best in the further manifestations of your dreams, your core competences and profound innovative concepts wherever you might decide to continue your path.

Original posted in Vibacom's monthly newletter

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