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Exclusive Interview - New Work Mentality with Markus Hupach

At ISPO Munich, Sympathy Lab spoke to Empathetic CEO Markus Hupach about “New Work Mentality”.

Markus is an avid supporter of New Work in agile environments and with diverse teams. As CEO of the Dutch sports tech startup ARION his go-to strategies are frequent and healthy communication with all employees and a little thing called “Reverse Mentorship”.

How did you end up with ARION and how would you describe your work there?

Hupach: Thank you very much for the invitation. My name is Marcus. I'm a child of the sporting goods industry, and I spend a lot of years with Aztecs and Japanese sports brand. Moved then to Sport 2000 as the General Manager for Central Europe. And I'm now leading a sports tech startup called Arion from Eindhoven in the Netherlands. It's just amazing and so different to what I have learned and seen before. But it's amazing because it's a very young international team, very vibrant and agile, and I personally have a very steep learning curve every day. I'm in the business, learning from young talents about for example, how to code from our software engineers or from our biomechanical experts some stuff, but also cultural differences and how we bring them together. It's super interesting and you see already that I have a big, big passion for people.

You mentioned ARION had an international Team?

Hupach: It's totally international. We are a Dutch sports startup, but we have actually ten different nationalities: Romania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Italy, France and so on. It's very international. I love it and I'm by far the oldest, to be honest. Our average is 32 years old, so very young and we have a great gender split 50/50 and I love it.

You call yourself an "Empathetic CEO". Do you have tips for other people in executive positions?

Hupach: Well, it's also trial and error. There are certain communication styles, but I would move away from sending emails to the entire audience. Of course, it's a question of how large the corporation is at the end of the day. But the more personal discussion you have, the better it is and the more frequently you have a discussion or a conversation, the better it is, and then try certain things.

For example, I send every Friday a video "Best news of the week" to the entire team where I actually talk about great things that happen throughout the week and people really enjoy and love it. But then I also have one on one conversations, where I walk with them and talk. I leave all the digital stuff on the side and I go for a walk with the person and just listen and ask: How do you feel? How can I help you? Do you see any challenges? Do you have any creative ideas? These kinds of things make employees feel taken seriously and seen. When I mean "seen", I mean really realize you have people you work with.

What does "New Work" mean to you?

Hupach: To be honest, the first time I got in contact with "New Work" was years ago and I felt: Is this now a buzzword or is it something serious you need to think about? And then I started to listen to podcasts, best practices - what are other CEOs doing right? What can I do? And like I said, there is not a "one fits all" approach. But you test certain things. I changed my leadership style. This old saying "command and conquer" doesn't work at all anymore. For me, it's servant leadership, which means: How can I help you in order for you to be successful? That's really relevant.

Then I try certain things. And I also realize that I make mistakes and I made mistakes. A lot of mistakes. But if you don't try, you will never find out. And then you test, you listen to others, you look for best practices, you ask your team and this is how it develops actually over time. And to be honest, it's not a trend. It's there to stay, but it's also nothing you can see in isolation. It's the culture; the purpose; the business model of the company. It all needs to fit together and you can't say: "Today we do a little bit of new work." That doesn't work, because new work in itself actually tells us how we work, in which way we work and which tools we use. But that is only a little piece of the entire business approach.

Are younger workers that value an employer with a "New Work" mindset just lazy?

Hupach: While for me, this whole generation bashing is the worst thing that happens, because we have a skilled labor shortage: More than 10 million baby boomers will leave the job market very soon and only 4.8 million Gen Z will actually come into the marketplace.

I am a big believer and a big fan of Tandem's. The Tandem for me is if you have an experienced person and a young, very talented and skilled person and you bring them together. They work hand-in-hand and they can both benefit from each other. The older one has the experience and the younger brings in the skills. It's a fantastic match. It's a win-win for both parties. I'm sure the younger generation will search and look much more carefully, which employer might be their next partner. They want to see, what is the culture all about? What are the values and so on? Companies have to speed up because they will see very, very soon that their old way of working doesn't work anymore.

How can employees help bring about change in the industry?

Hupach: There is a lot of power the employees have. In the best companies, you have an NPS tracker, a "net promoter score", which comes every quarter. And then the company will see what the engagement level looks like. That should be an eye-opener for leaders, for CEOs and the management team to see: How does the engagement level really look like? If it's bad, then they need to change it and they need to start a conversation with young people.

But I am also a big fan of mentoring and reverse mentoring. So I would always actually advise a young talent to say: Look for a mentor. It doesn't need to be a person from the company. It can be from outside. But ask for tips, for help and for support. But at the same time, I enjoy reverse mentoring as well. Because I want to learn from you: How is it going in social media, for example? For me, that's really important.

But as a group together you can create a lot of power and put pressure on the management team for sure.

How do you envision the future of "New Work"?

Hupach: These strict rules are changing. If someone is passionate about something and is engaged with the company, then they love to work and their work behavior is positive. But is it their problem or is it mine?

Do I as a leader need to work on that first and make sure that they are engaged, that they like what they do and it's a little bit of give and get in a way? But definitely, we need to be as employers much more flexible. Why do I need to sit behind a screen five days a week? For what reason? Is it because I don't trust you? What if I don't trust you? Then there is already a problem. Everything is based on trust. If you trust someone, success will kick in and that's the most important thing for me. Then it doesn't matter if one of my people sits in Romania, Bulgaria or in India.

I call it "homecation" and if they want to go back to their parents because they miss them, they should go. They are young talents: 22, 23, 25. I know they work. I trust them because they love what they do. If I don't trust them, then they don't do that, but if you think this, there is a bigger problem.

Do you have a final closing statement?

Hupach: I think it's a very important topic. You should not see it in isolation. It's a comprehensive approach to it. And "New work" is just a piece of it. How we work and which way we work.

But it's much broader. It's culture, leadership, business model, values and purpose. It's something there and I think we need to start now and it's never too late.


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