Sunnie Groeneveld, digital transformation specialist
5 min

‘We could take a much bolder approach in Switzerland’

As an expert in digital transformation, Sunnie Groeneveld has her finger on the digital pulse of the Swiss economy. In the first part of this interview, she talks about how change extends beyond companies’ hierarchical structures and why she would like to see a bolder approach being taken in Switzerland.

Sunnie Groeneveld, you developed the Executive MBA Digital Leadership programme at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration (HWZ) together with Manuel P. Nappo. Why do we need more digital leadership in Switzerland?

When I was managing director of DigitalZurich2025, we already analysed all digital skills training available at that time. We quickly realised that companies in multiple industries wanted to hire more people with digital business skills but couldn’t find them. Above all, there was a lack of integrated training aimed at managers that would enable them to bring about change – not only in technology, but also in business. That’s why we created this Executive MBA programme, which just commenced for the fourth time in February.

Why is managing change so important in the age of digital transformation?

We’re living in a time of constant change. The economic situation is in a state of rapid flux and organisations have to continually adapt. Through my consultancy work, it’s clear to me that many digital transformation projects are failing due to issues of cultural change, not technological change. So we need to increase awareness of this and teach leaders how to sustainably drive transformation.

In your view, what has changed the most in the area of change management in recent years?

Historically, we’ve been used to leading and being led hierarchically in organisations. However, networks are now becoming increasingly important. There have always been informal networks, but new technologies are changing these and making them stronger, larger and more scalable. We’re all much more connected, including digitally. This means that managers can no longer just manage change from within a hierarchy, but must understand and use the networks within their company. People who are not within the same line management structure or perhaps even in the company are opinion-formers and influence change. We have to understand the forces behind this and take account of these in our transformation strategies.

‘Values such as courage, risk-taking, flexibility and enthusiasm are additionally required for forward-looking economic transformation.’

Sunnie Groeneveld

Has there been a shift in our understanding of the importance of culture in change?

I think so. My impression is that there is now an increased awareness of the importance of cultural change in the context of transformation projects, partly due to our experiences during the coronavirus pandemic as well.  I also believe that the digital skills and knowledge needed to support ongoing change are becoming more established in companies, albeit slowly. It’s the proverbial marathon.

How do you rate Switzerland today in terms of innovation and transformation expertise?

Book: ‘Inspired at Work’

Sunnie Groeneveld and Christoph Küffer have collected 66 ideas and 15 case studies of innovative companies in this book (in german) to bring more inspiration and innovation to work life. The very specific suggestions are evaluated based on the planning workload, implementation effort and costs, and range from a simple walk-and-talk feedback session to a life balance bonus. The second, revised edition features humorous illustrations and is designed to be easily flipped through and put into practice.

Inspired at Work, Versus Verlag, CHF 34.–

In principle, study after study shows that Switzerland is at the forefront when it comes to innovation. In 2022, Switzerland was named the most innovative country in the world by the Global Innovation Index for the twelfth time in succession. This assesses 132 economies and is based on 81 parameters, including research, technology and creativity. However, such rankings must also be treated with caution, as some of these studies measure things such as patent capital, for instance, which is traditionally strong in Switzerland given our major pharmaceutical sector. Overall, however, we certainly have many innovative companies and a resilient economy.

The Swiss-wide management survey conducted by Swiss Leaders, in which Inspire 925 was involved, is another exciting study that also looked at transformation. The bottom line is that leadership in a Swiss context is primarily based on the values of loyalty, quality awareness and performance orientation. These are three strong values that we should absolutely maintain. According to the respondents, however, other values are additionally required for a forward-looking economic transformation, in particular courage, risk-taking, flexibility and enthusiasm.

How courageous do you find our approach in Switzerland?

In my opinion, we could take a much bolder approach in Switzerland, focus more on inspiring visions of what might be, and indeed grapple with the future in the first place. I still see too many bodies more intent on examining the past rather than looking to the future. We have to ask ourselves: what do we want Switzerland to look like in 2050? And what decisions do we have to take today in order to make that happen?

About Sunnie Groeneveld

Sunnie J. Groeneveld seized her opportunities early on: after a secondary school exchange in America, she studied economics at Yale. Back in Switzerland, she was the first managing director of the cross-industry location initiative DigitalZurich2025, now digitalswitzerland. Together with her business partner, she founded the consultancy firm Inspire 925 in 2013, which assists companies with their digital transformation. Today, in addition to her role as managing partner at Inspire 925, she is also a member of multiple boards of directors and head of the Executive MBA Digital Leadership programme at HWZ Zurich, which focuses on leadership skills in digital transformation projects.

Future Work Experience team: free preliminary discussion

How can companies successfully approach cultural change? The Swisscom Future Work Experience team helps companies introduce modern communication and collaboration models. Join us for a free conversation to discover how your company can benefit from modern working.

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