“Have the courage to do what you enjoy doing”
Peter Goerke is responsible for more than 46,000 employees from 170 nations. In the following interview, Credit Suisse’s Chief Human Resources Officer discusses the importance of diversity and talent as a competitive advantage, as well as the questions to
Peter Goerke, Chief Human Resources Officer at Credit Suisse, talks about diversity, talent, and what makes a successful job interview.
Mr. Goerke, what was your dream job when you were a child?
I was born in the 1960s. The first moon landing took place in 1969 and I was fascinated to watch the black and white television images of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Like many other children at the time, I wanted to become an astronaut.
What was the most important thing you learned at school?
Not much (laughs). With the education system that existed at the time, children were expected to learn vast amounts of information by heart. However, teaching children how to learn and to solve a problem is much more important. Today, this approach is more widespread since knowledge – meaning facts and figures – is now universally available.
You have been working in the area of human resources (HR) for around 20 years. What do you find so fascinating about this particular field?
My work is first and foremost about people – and I see it both as a great privilege and a huge responsibility. As a result of technological developments, more and more repetitive elements of our work are being automated. This means that the human factor is becoming more crucial, since we are left with the most complex and challenging tasks. People are becoming increasingly important – they make all the difference.
How is this trend transforming the HR approach of companies?
In the past, the work of HR departments mainly consisted of operational and administrative tasks – such as managing payroll and the annual employee appraisal and promotion processes. Those processes now require fewer resources, allowing us to focus more on strategic activities. Identifying, attracting and further developing the best talents in the world is a key part of our role in HR. This can give us a clear competitive advantage: If a company has the best talents, this has an impact on its success – and if it doesn’t, its results suffer.
Who are your main competitors today in the battle for the smartest minds?
You have to distinguish here between university graduates and employees with professional experience. In the case of graduates, every attractive company is basically a rival. If we are talking about experienced employees, we mainly compete with firms in the finance
Daniel Ammann and Simon Brunner (interview) and Yves Bachmann (photos) Peter Goerke, aged 56, is Chief Human Resources Officer and a Member of the Executive Board of Credit Suisse Group. He previously held the same function at Prudential plc and Zurich Insurance Group and he also worked for Mckinsey & Co. and Egon Zehnder International. Peter Goerke studied Economics at the University of St. Gallen. He is married and has a daughter.
industry. Technology and IT are of critical importance for our company. In those areas, we are looking for the same type of professionals as the frequently cited FAANGS [editor’s note: Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google.]
How do you compete successfully with them?
A core principle of HR has always been: You have to go where the talent is. This means that Credit Suisse visits leading universities and recruitment events. It is crucial for our company to have a clear profile and to be able to communicate exactly what we stand for and what people can expect from us. The Internet is also growing more and more important in this area. Social media platforms are not only a source of the latest news about Credit Suisse – they also facilitate an intensive dialogue with potential employees. And as a basic principle: It is, of course, very helpful if the company is successful. After all, the best talents want to be part of a successful team.
Just how important is compensation?
It is part of a long list of factors that determine the attractiveness of a company. Others include: What position is available and which responsibilities and development potential does it offer? How good is the firm’s reputation and what type of management does it have? Does the company operate on the basis of performance? Does it have the right corporate culture? Do employees have a good work/life balance? The list goes on. Compensation is important, of course – but based on experience, I would say it is not the most important factor.
Employees who feel motivated and satisfied are usually very successful, rise through the ranks and consequently also see their pay increase. If you simply earn a good salary but feel dissatisfied and unmotivated, you will not be happy in your position over the long term. In the course of my own career, I have occasionally taken a pay cut in order to accept an interesting position – and over the longer term, that always proved to be the right approach.
People say that attracting talent is difficult – and retaining it even more so.
Both are challenging. Top talents always have attractive alternatives available to them. They often leave a company if they feel there is a discrepancy between what they were promised when they were hired and the everyday reality. These days, everyone talks to everyone – especially through social media. There is no hiding the truth – and I see that as an advantage. The same applies in reverse: If you can retain good people, you can then attract further talents.
On the topic of new media: You don’t have a Linkedin profile. In other words: You are not part of the world’s largest HR platform.
(laughs) I had a Linkedin profile but I simply received too many messages. Naturally, I still follow overall developments in this area. The Global Shapers Survey published by the WEF and the Youth Barometer published by Credit Suisse show that
millennials consider it very important to do meaningful work.
We have also witnessed that trend. The meaningfulness of work is an absolutely key factor. This is positive from a company perspective: Employees who enjoy their work perform it more effectively. Employment research has produced the following basic formula: Performance is the product of commitment multiplied by expertise multiplied by the importance or meaningfulness of work. Even if only one of these factors is zero, overall performance will also be zero. In the end, companies and employees have to strike a good balance between these criteria.
Studies suggest that on average, millennials will have around 15 different jobs in the course of their careers. Do you see this number of roles as an advantage or a disadvantage?
I think it is neither. In my opinion, the important thing in any job is to have a lasting impact. It is difficult to generalize but I believe that in order to really learn something and have an impact, you need to perform a role for three to five years. Our working lives tend to last around 40 years, meaning that by the time people retire, they have had around ten different roles. I think that is quite a large number and would recommend fewer.
How many companies have you worked for?
(counting) Fortunately, I have followed my own advice – I have had six different jobs and I am now 56 years old.
What makes a good job application?
Globally, we receive over 400,000 applications each year. In order to stand out from the crowd, applications need to be precisely worded and tailored to the position in question and to our company. As soon as applications are recycled and sound generic, they lose their impact.
Hand on heart – does anyone actually read the motivation letters sent with job applications?
I have certainly read them and will continue to do so in the future.
Because the way a person writes tells you a lot about them: How do they see themselves? Can they express themselves clearly and precisely? Can they distinguish between what is and is not important? What information do they include and what do they leave out? Motivation letters also serve as a good starting point for interviews.
Nowadays, there is a range of technical tools that can assist in the processing of applications. Which do you use?
We use scientifically proven evaluation methods for certain positions such as relationship managers or management roles. They involve interviews, simulations or psychometric tests. Our experience of using these methods has been very positive.
If everything is automated and anonymized, what role do soft factors such as intuition, ‘wave length’ and ‘chemistry’ still have to play?
I believe they play a key role. Skills can be acquired but when it comes to the right chemistry, you either have it or you don’t. The important thing is to always understand your own bias and to not simply hire people who are as similar to you as possible. Diversity fosters better decisionmaking and leads to more creative, less extreme solutions, as many studies have shown.
You have conducted a large number of interviews during your career. How do you discover more about a candidate’s personality during an interview?
The way people see themselves and rate their abilities is very important. That is why I ask questions that lead in that direction, such as: How would you describe yourself? How would your best friend describe you? What are your hobbies? I get suspicious if they only give me ‘superhero’ answers. Nowadays, people work in teams almost all the time – and they achieve success together. That can prove difficult for ‘ lone wolves’. Credit Suisse has more than 46,000 employees from 170 nations. What is the most
difficult aspect of managing a workforce with such a diverse range of cultures?
It is of the utmost importance that we respect these differences – as I said: Diversity leads to better results. At the same time, we have to create a global framework and principles and rules that apply to everyone.
Credit Suisse studies1, show that women represent a large body of unexploited potential and that companies with more female managers generate higher returns and profits. How can you increase the proportion of women in management roles?
2 The advancement of women is a priority for all major companies – naturally, that includes Credit Suisse. I take the view that it is very important to report regularly and transparently on the measures taken in this area, for example, as well as on our progress and aspirations. We need to remain focused on this topic.
How far have you come?
Companies need to be more flexible and to provide part-time positions or jobsharing, as well as programs to help employees return to work after a period of absence. Our ‘Real Returns’ program has proved very successful, for example. There is also a need to have convincing role models. I think we are on the right track and that if we take stock of where we stand a few years from now, we will see we have achieved further significant progress.
What career advice would you offer a young person?
First: Have the courage to do something you enjoy. Second: Remember that it is all about people. Work with people you respect and who support each other and treat you fairly. 1 “The CS Gender 3000: The Reward for Change” credit-suisse.com/gender3000
2 “Hidden reserve of the labor market is likely to remain hidden” credit-suisse.com/monitorswitzerland
There is no doubt about it: Advances in information technology, artificial intelligence and robotics will have far-reaching implications for the world of work. People are once again competing with machines, and this time around it’s no longer just a question of brute strength, but also increasingly one of brain power.
The extent and speed at which jobs will disappear is difficult to predict at the moment. However, a look at the specific activities involved in various professions does provide some clues. This is because these activities determine whether a profession is vulnerable to automation. One of the key aspects here is the “routine intensity” of an activity. Routine activities are those that can be programmed easily enough that they can be performed by computers, robots, or algorithms.
In particular, recent progress in the area of artificial intelligence is opening up new opportunities in this respect. While in the past, machines were only able to carry out routine manual tasks, now they can also perform certain cognitive work because of their ability to learn. Due to the enormous expansion of cheap computing power and the digitization of business processes, there is now a wealth of data that self-learning systems can use to constantly improve through experience.
People still want to chat with their hairdresser Professions that involve a lot of routine are not simply those that are low-skill. Many skilled professions require not only specialist knowledge, but also analysis and decision-making skills that can now be digitized and automated. At first glance, it may seem paradoxical: Typical middle management professions, such as those that involve bookkeeping, credit checks or analyzing X-ray images, are therefore more susceptible than simple manual activities. The latter often involve manual but interactive or otherwise non-repetitive tasks which cannot readily be replaced by digital technology. So while robots have now taken over auditing work, it is still possible to chat with your hairdresser at the salon. Looking at the Swiss professional landscape, this shift toward analytical, non-routine tasks can already be seen. Since the turn of the millennium, the share of professions that largely involve a routine activity has fallen from 47 percent to 37 percent. Conversely, the share of professions that are primarily made up of analytical, non-routine tasks has increased from 22 percent to 31 percent. Not all cantons are equally affected by automation trends, reflecting differences in sector structure (see chart).
The more industrial jobs a canton has, the higher, on average, the substitution potential. At the current pace of technological change, there are signs that future activities that were previously considered non-routine will increasingly become routine. One good example of this is presented by the efforts to mass produce self-driving trucks and the requirements for testing the use of such vehicles.
But a high level of automatability does not mean that people will be replaced by machines. The economic feasibility of such an investment plays a role, along with legal and ethical issues. The relative costs of labor and capital are crucial. And, last but not least, new technologies can also lead to other types of work in new areas.
To paraphrase Erik Brynjolfsson (see Bulletin 1/16), a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and an expert on the digital economy: We need to learn to run with the machines, not against them. Sara Carnazzi Weber is head of Swiss Sector and Regional Analysis at Credit Suisse.