In a League of Our Own: Embracing Digitization to Support Elite German Athletes
Elite athletes live a unique life. Their blood, sweat, and tears take them to the top of their game, and they can’t get there alone. For assistance throughout their athletic careers and their eventual re-entry into “civilian” life, we’re there to help.
Since 1967, has been the most important private sports promotion initiative in Germany, assisting athletes on their way to success both within Germany and in international competitions such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Today, our job is to support the 4,000 top athletes in Germany across 50 disciplines. We do this financially as well as in career planning and personal development through training seminars, mentees, and other programming.
The hard work, idealism, and passion of these athletes represent the best our country has to offer. As such, our foundation has support from the highest level of government, including Chancellor Angela Merkel and federal ministers. We know we have a vital role to play in German society and an important mission to fulfill.
A Special Connection with Athletes and Each Other
I’ve always had a special connection to the world of sport and this foundation. I was an athlete myself many years ago, playing water polo on national teams and competing in championships. I loved it, and at that time, I was also supported by Deutsche Sporthilfe.
Much of my career since has been spent in the telecommunications industry, including several years at (DT), which is a big sponsor of Deutsche Sporthilfe. I also have a background in sales and digitalization. My task when I joined Deutsche Sporthilfe in April 2020 was to carry Deutsche Sporthilfe to the next level, and become a more data-driven and digital organization. On a personal level, I also wanted to give something back to athletes and to the organization that gave me so much all those years ago.
Deutsche Sporthilfe is a well-established, multimillion-euro foundation, but interpersonal communication is still a strong part of our culture here. We value the close relationships with our athletes and our sponsor partners, as well as internally with our team of 50 people. We’ve found that the closer we are to people, the more they feel valued and understood, and the more engaged they become with our work.
A Dramatic Team Shift from In-Person to Remote Work
Our typical forms of collaboration used to be in-person meetings or telephone communication. Our team is somewhat dispersed, and many people would make the effort to come to the office every day—sometimes traveling long distances. I always preferred face-to-face meetings, especially the first time meeting someone. I thought it was the best way to build rapport and get things done.
I joined Deutsche Sporthilfe in the spring of 2020, just two weeks after Germany’s first shutdown. It was a shock to our system. Remote work was not common within our organization, and we all had to stay at home for at least six weeks. Although no one was in the office, all business had to continue, including conversations with multiple stakeholders about initiatives we’re driving forward.
This was the catalyst for us to increase our digital footprint and look into more modern solutions. We needed something that would allow us to shift our collaboration to a virtual setting while retaining the spirit of our close-knit company culture.
Keeping Our Teams Connected
There was a lot at stake and we didn’t have the luxury of time to undergo a thorough investigation and RFP process. We immediately tapped into our networks to find someone who could recommend a solution. Someone on our team had a close relationship with , so we figured that was a good place to start.
Cisco is a well-known global brand. I was familiar with Cisco from my previous experience at DT and I also know that many of our partners also use Cisco solutions. When they suggested that might best suit our needs, that familiarity was a big factor in our decision. We knew that adopting a widely-used solution would ensure a consistent and easy transition for everyone. And the brand matters. Big companies don't want a white-labelled solution—they want to see a core branded product, because the brand carries with it the extra layer of security and confidence.
That security also matters a lot to us. We discuss confidential information all the time, such as budgets, individual athletes, and Olympic matters, so confidentiality is incredibly important. We learned that Cisco Webex offers one of the highest levels of security among video conferencing and collaboration solutions, which was another plus.
© Paul Hoffmann
When considering our needs, Cisco Webex looked to be a simple and straightforward solution, and its ease of implementation meant we would avoid taking on a major IT project that would take more time and resources. We felt that Cisco Webex was our best chance for a seamless and satisfying collaborative experience.
Elevated Team Performance with No Extra Training
Once we decided to go with Cisco, we began working with our IT partner Logicalis and everything unfolded quickly. Deutsche Sporthilfe had equipped our staff with Surface Pros for remote work and within days, we had Cisco Webex on everyone’s device. This was impressive, especially since we were in the same boat as many other companies and Webex was in high demand. Even though we weren’t a large customer, the Cisco team took us seriously.
In addition to everyone having Webex on their individual devices, we also got a Webex screen for our Frankfurt office conference room. When we return to the office, we can continue to use Webex for various meetings and explore its interactive capabilities. It's also mobile, so we can move it from one room to another.
It was truly a plug-and-play experience. Webex is very intuitive, which means that no one needed extra training to use it. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon with zero hesitation and we immediately started replacing phone calls with Webex. Webex has improved our productivity and consistency because everything from one-on-one meetings to team meetings to client calls all use the same medium.
Rather than detracting from our personal experience, we found that video conferencing enhances it and offers a different kind of quality and intensity. Now that everyone has become empowered and equipped to work from home, everyone is more efficient and engaged than we expected. We insist that everyone use their cameras, and our meetings are more productive because people get to the point pretty quickly.
We stay more focused and find solutions faster. Because of this, our meetings are shorter and our cross-functional teams have more time to collaborate and make progress on our initiatives.
Going the Extra Mile: More Productive, Minus the Travel
We're not a big organization, but we still do everything we can to protect our environment and reduce our carbon footprint. Webex has been a big help in achieving that goal. While the number of meetings collaboration has increased, the number of flights and car trips have significantly decreased.
Despite the reduction in physical travel, our people regularly go the extra mile to deliver, especially if they have meetings with athletes or partners. Switching to a digital meeting model has given our teams more flexibility between work and home life, yet it’s now easier to coordinate schedules at a moment’s notice. We’re pleased to offer that kind of flexibility to our employees, many of whom have worked for Deutsche Sporthilfe for many years.
It helps people to not only save fuel costs and reduce their carbon footprint, but also spend more time with their families. Saving two or three hours on a daily commute is life-changing, and it helps people in our organization to live up to their individual purpose and mission in life.
We even used Webex for our first-ever digital supervisory board meeting. Meeting attendees included many senior managers in the German business world, many of whom aren’t based in Frankfurt. An average supervisory board takes about 90 minutes, not including travel time. We saw a big lift in participation because of the lack of travel. We also noticed that board members were more punctual, focused, and engaged throughout the session.
The Big Leagues: Webex Is at the Heart of Our Digitization Strategy
Our experience with Webex has changed the way we do business, and I’m grateful that we have cultivated such a strong relationship with Cisco. Digitization is a key element of our strategy going forward. They helped make our digital transition easy, without missing a step.
Our immediate team is small, but our extended team includes many partners. As any athlete knows, that requires agile, consistent teamwork and collaboration. Webex is an accelerator and an enabler, and with it, we can deliver a higher level of service to our athletes, our sponsors, and our country.