Alid Dettke

Innovating people

Alid Dettke, who stepped into the role of Executive Vice President of Human Resources at Wärtsilä in October last year, is drawing on her experience in digital transformation to revitalise the company’s internal processes.

Alid Dettke, who stepped into the role of Executive Vice President of Human Resources at Wärtsilä in October last year, is drawing on her experience in digital transformation to revitalise the company’s internal processes.

An only child in a tight-knit family, Alid Dettke spent her childhood in northwestern Germany focused on school and sports, particularly with her rowing team. As she got older, Dettke’s parents encouraged her to learn English, travel, and try new things, but like most teenagers, she didn’t tend to listen too much to their advice. Then, on a trip to Berlin to visit relatives, she met someone who made her look at life in a different way.

“I was quite content, and then something happened that was a life-changing moment for me,” Dettke says. “I went to Berlin a few years after the Wall came down, and I met a lady who had grown up in East Germany where there were hardly any opportunities to see the world. Talking to her was a key moment in my life, because it is when I realised that I actually wanted to be more open and curious about what was going on in the world around me, while not losing touch with my roots.”

Always ready for a challenge

Dettke has carried that openness with her throughout her career, and it’s served her well. After graduating with a degree in European business, she decided that rather than stay in Europe, she would instead take a job in Singapore. She spent more than a decade in Asia, moving through various positions, including in consumer research, analytics, digital strategy, and transformation. She says she learned a lot on the job.

“I’ve realised that you can’t possibly always be fully ready for what is in front of you, so it’s important to seize the moment, take the opportunity when it is there, and work with the people around you to grow with the challenge,” she says.

It’s a philosophy she’s now bringing to Wärtsilä’s HR department.

Dettke does not have a formal HR background, but she says that she has a strong team of professionals to lean on. And she says that her experience in open innovation is particularly relevant for the field of HR at this moment.

“There’s no shortage of great HR professionals at Wärtsilä, and now is a great moment to add to this the synergies of how we innovate to take HR to the next level and increase our focus on people and culture,” Dettke says.

“I’ve asked people what they would like to stop and what they’d like to see more of, and the responses were very clear: Less focus on processes, admin, and what seems like ‘ticking-the-box’ exercises and more focus on what really matters – people and culture, the way we work, how we collaborate, how we grow and reward our people. I truly believe that this is how we bring Wärtsilä on the path of long-term success in our industries, serve our customers and fulfil our purpose in the long term.”

Dettke thinks her background in digital transformation can help change the way people look at HR. “I’d love to arrive at a different place where we in HR are true partners to the business from a human perspective,” she says. “I think we have so much potential to do things more efficiently, when you need it, and to use a smart tech mindset to get things done.”

Defining a role

Before being appointed to lead HR, Dettke spent two years at Wärtsilä as Head of Open Innovation. She says that making the decision to initially join Wärtsilä was easy, because although she had not heard of the company before, the position within open innovation was brand new and gave her the opportunity to create everything from scratch and build the team, which was hugely exciting and rewarding

“When I took the position in open innovation, the role was totally undefined, it was like a blank sheet of paper, and I thought, I have to take this opportunity because these kinds of chances don’t come along every day,” she says.

Her experience is especially useful for Wärtsilä right now.

“The world around us keeps changing. Today’s business environment is rather volatile, and the ability to precisely predict the future is becoming more and more challenging,” she says. “This creates uncertainty, and people are wondering how to stay relevant. They wonder what role they have to play in this company at this moment. We in HR are here to support our people on this journey.”

She wants people experiencing this challenging global business environment to understand that while the present is full of uncertainty, it’s important to focus on long-term goals. This understanding builds resilience and also helps employees think more about purpose and strategy.

A marathon, not a sprint

“We aren’t sprinting from quarter to quarter; we’re in it for the long run. It’s a marathon, and we need to train ourselves to be fit,” she says.

For Dettke, that means asking what HR can do to make people capable and resilient in the longer term. She’s approaching that question with the same perspective she brought to the role of open innovation – the blank sheet.

“After all these changes, we’ve now come to a point where many of the things we’ve done in the past are no longer working – not working from a business perspective and not working for our people either, so we have a golden opportunity now to fundamentally think about how we want to be working together,” she says.

Her current efforts aim to bring more alignment between corporate and personal goals. She believes being more transparent about both challenges and opportunities at the corporate level will help give employees more autonomy and help them both take control of their own futures while visualising a space within the company.

“It’s all about empowering people and rewarding them accordingly,” Dettke says. “We’re turning the page and writing a new chapter for how we move into the future.”

Written by
Lara McCoy
Senior Editor at Spoon Agency