Business Management
2 min read

Industry 4.0: why people-centric leadership is key

Dr Achim Schmitt
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We should be putting the interpersonal and human component at the center of our activities as we continue to transition into the digital age across multiple industries, including education. For a long time 'customer-centricity' has been a focal point across industries, but the new digital environment calls for even more people-centric leaders to be a key component in the workplace of the future. Read on to discover why people-centricity is the new must-have skill.

What is the 4th industrial revolution?

Blockchain, Big Data, AI, VR and digital transformation are the latest buzzwords in the global education and training industry. Under the term "Industry 4.0", numerous discussion and work groups for a few years now have been continuously pointing out opportunities and risks in our future social and work environment. However, how exactly these developments will change future skills and competences remains like looking into a crystal ball. Added to this are the experiences of the Covid pandemic and the certainty that everything will somehow be different in the future.

There is no question that the professional environment and the demands towards companies and employees will change in the coming years. Therefore, many educational institutions are trying to offer flexible training programs to their learners in order to create a good basis for future growth. This principle of "life-long learning" is thus not only a means to an end to fill missing competence gaps, but also to promote agility and future adaptability in the dynamic business environment.


The interpersonal can only be digitized to a certain degree

At EHL, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, we have been tackling these challenges for a few years now and have formulated a clear goal based on our unique service heritage: people, not digital competences, are the focus of our efforts and actions. A small but very important difference, as it positions the question of human value creation in the “Industry 4.0” as a central element and task. Where digital transformation will enable performance gains via artificial intelligence and speed, humans can hold their ground with empathy, social exchange, interpersonal proximity and affection.

Owing to the pandemic, we have all become aware that instead of technology, interpersonal contactare prerequisitefor creativity, loyalty and flexibility in an uncertain environment. In short, we know more than ever that the interpersonal can only be digitized to a limited extent. Such philosophy is one of our key pillars when transforming many traditional industrial sectors into a more human-centered mindset - a fundamental element which we have firmly anchored in our new Executive MBA programs, for example.

Instead of a sole focus on customer-centricity, we teach that people-centricity is key. People centricity involves not just the customers, but all stakeholders including your employees, business owners and suppliers. Our curriculum reflects a commitment both to digital innovation as well as preservation and expansion of human themes: the creation of community, social accountability, a sense of purpose and belonging.  


Balancing people and technology: why people-centric leaders are in high demand

In the future, the global education industry will be about maintaining the right balance between people and technology. If the existing number of interpersonal contacts is partially substituted by technology, in the future we will have to know how to generate added value for customers and employees for the remaining or new interpersonal contacts.

True to the principle "humans are our most important asset in service", it is therefore a matter of giving the future management team and workforce not only technological competences and skills to find their way in a digital world, but also how they will manage close connections with customers and employees in the future. This focus on employee and customer satisfaction creates the conditions to ensure sustainable success in an increasingly digitalized world. It is about developing the leadership skills and people-centric sensitivity beyond just business knowledge to help people drive change and continuously adapt, be agile and navigate uncertainty.


This article was first published in NZZ in June 2021.

Written by

Full Professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Program at EHL

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Ready to shift from a product-centric to a service-centric business model?

EHL's executive MBA (EMBA) program has an updated curriculum that focuses on customer-centric transformation including the topic of Servitization.