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The employee magazine
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Integrity

Doing the Right Thing, Even When Nobody’s Looking

Under our Strategy 2025+, acting with integrity is equally as important as the quality of our products, our financial key figures and the satisfaction of our customers. Commitment, passion and sincerity are values that set Volkswagen apart. But even at our company, broken rules and poor conduct occur, causing harm.

We wanted to understand how our colleagues feel about integrity and conducted a whole series of conversations – about situations that require acting with integrity, what is still missing, and what can still be done to strengthen integrity.

“Today We’re Starting to Talk About Everything”

Bruno Custodio, at Volkswagen for eight years, Procurement Individual Modules.

Inside: When it comes to procurement and integrity, you automatically think of...
Bruno Custodio: ... We have contact with suppliers and external partners, and we are dealing with a lot of money. Prejudices are inevitable. But Procurement has integrity and is very good in its processes, and not just because we’re in the spotlight.
Naturally, everyone wants to pay as little as possible. But we treat our suppliers fairly and transparently. Our partners need to earn enough money to deliver the quality we require from them. That’s what we consider to be sustainable and as acting with integrity.

Inside: How can integrity be promoted even more?
Custodio: In the past, some people have been afraid to say anything. Today we’re starting to talk about everything, and we’re also changing processes and structures if they no longer fit. But this is an open, transparent, comprehensible and long-term process.

It’s easy when you have rules that everyone follows. It’s only when you’re the first or the only one that it becomes difficult to address things. But that’s the challenge we all have to face.

“...A Profitable Process Begins”

Brigitta Mandelkau, employed by Volkswagen since 2012, Group Integrity Management Dialog, Integrity & Legal Affairs

Inside: What points of contact do you have with the topic of integrity in your work?
Brigitta Mandelkau: Brigitta Mandelkau: The main focus and content of my work is integrity. Take the Center of Excellence workshops for example, which we conducted in the aftermath of the opinion barometer. A lot of criticism and even complaints were put forward. When we asked for concrete suggestions for improvement, the perspective changed and a profitable process began. Perceiving situations as changeable, taking responsibility, swapping ideas with others... I would want to discuss problems with a sparring partner and find solutions together.

Inside: How can integrity be promoted even more?
Mandelkau: Definitely in exchange with one another. In my opinion, even more options should be created or integrated into existing team round tables or jour fixes.

Solving problems in dialog and taking responsibility for your actions.

“I found the courage to say what I think.”

Jens Grzonka has been at Volkswagen for 14 years. For six years, he’s been working with three colleagues as an electrician in Vehicle Maintenance. They repair chargers, batteries –
“the really big things.” Drills, equipment and more than 400 chargers have to be tested every year.

Inside: What points of contact do you have with the topic of integrity in your work?
Jens Grzonka: The topic of integrity isn’t that overt here. But when we do talk about it, it’s usually about the things that aren’t going so smoothly.

Inside: For example?
Grzonka: Every cost center is looking to save money. In any way possible, it seems to me. For example, we’ve had vehicles that had become really difficult to operate. They really should have been replaced.

Inside: In what situations is integrity particularly necessary in your area?
Grzonka: For example, we work with tests that are required by law, with standards that must be complied with. That means we can’t just improvise; we have to take the time to maintain the equipment properly.

Inside: Do you also have to decommission equipment?
Grzonka: Yes, that has happened before. If the cables fray in a piece of equipment, it can no longer be safety handled. So I decommission it and order the appropriate cable. Once, someone must have gotten so upset about it that a co-worker just grabbed any old cable. I wouldn’t have done that.

Inside: What do you think about the kind of general impetus that is needed now?
Grzonka: What do you think about the kind of general impetus that is needed now? Grzonka: To model integrity, employees need to think for themselves. After all, everyone actually knows what’s needed in their own job and what could be done better; no one needs a work order for that. But I don’t think that will catch on. I’ve already heard too many of my co-workers say, “That’s the way we’ve always done it!” But then how can we ever change our culture?

Inside: "If you don’t change anything, nothing will change." Is there something that you do differently today from how you used to do it?
Grzonka: Yes, as I said, I found the courage to open my mouth. If you think your idea is good, then speak with the others. And then you should implement it, at least if it actually is better and is just as safe as the old way.

Inside: “If you’re looking for me, I’m undergoing a transformation.” Where do you perceive transformation to be happening at Volkswagen?
Grzonka: I recently read that there are employee discussions in which integrity is one of the topics. The subject is being addressed there. Unfortunately, that’s not the case everywhere.

Inside: Why is that?
Grzonka: On the one hand, many people believe that, as a rule, integrity is a good thing. On the other hand, everything’s fine the way it is. Why should we change anything? It seems like quite a few people still think that way. In any case, I don’t let myself be pressured during my inspections, even if it leads to difficulties. I can live with that.

The Training Partner Brings the Topic of Integrity All Over the World

Christian Haas, with Volkswagen for four years, Business Management Training, Integrity Ambassador and Spokesperson for the “V” area.

Inside: What are you working on right now?
Christian Haas: We divide all of the training content into segments for our sales partners worldwide. What’s really important to me is that some of these modules will cover the topic of integrity.

Inside: So what does that mean, specifically?
Haas: We’ve already done an initial test in front of our international trainers with the Integrity Management Dialog Team. That was a hit. “Finally someone’s talking about it,” they said.

Inside: Can you give us a current situation in which integrity has gained in importance?
Haas:
Of course. As a seller, you may learn that it’s legal to finance a used car for 96 months – but you should ask yourself if this is an ethical approach. Another example: the services of the company where I was employed for two years were to be put out to tender again. I didn’t participate in this.

Inside: How can acting with integrity be promoted even more?
Haas: My experience as an ambassador and spokesperson shows that top management is incredibly interested in pushing things from above. And in other places, we simply have to be practicable. People need examples by which to orient themselves in practice. We need a kind of toolbox for our team and management round tables with highly practical exercises that can strengthen our own radar systems.

Inside: Doing the RIGHT THING, even when nobody’s watching?
Haas: It’s not about acting with integrity for the sake of others, after all. We ourselves want to be able to sleep at night, even after a difficult day. If I do wrong, it’s wrong – even if no one sees it.

The topic of integrity needs examples by which people can orient themselves.

Integrity isn’t delivered with a bow on top

Anna-Kathrin Süßner, at Volkswagen for just over a year in the Integrity Management Dialog Team.

Inside:  What is your role?
Anna-Kathrin Süßner:
My job is to communicate about the topic of integrity, to make it visible and tangible.

Inside: What points of contact do you have with the topic of integrity in your work?
Süßner: Conversations with co-workers at employee meetings, on dialog tours and at the Sounding Board are especially interesting. You learn a lot there about what concerns and drives people. Is it possible to speak openly about things that are not going well at work? Is that appreciated? Do mistakes get covered up, or do team members learn lessons from mistakes? These factors have a big impact on how motivated people are when they go to work.

Inside: In what situations is integrity particularly necessary?
Süßner: In situations in which people are under pressure.

Inside: In your opinion, how can integrity be promoted even more?
Süßner: The most important thing is to create an understanding about integrity as a path that we all take together. The path requires time and persistence – but it’s worth it. I am certain of that. Nobody is going to show up and bring about cultural transformation overnight, or bring integrity by with a bow on top. It won’t appear by magic. It’s up to us to reconsider our habits and act today in order to shape Volkswagen’s future ourselves.

Inside: Where could we demonstrate even more courage?
Süßner: We could address things openly and directly and not just say things to our co-workers in the break room – things like, “Oh well, nothing’s going to change anyway,” which is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Each instance of success makes it easier; each person who stands up makes acting with integrity more normalized.

I’ve always addressed things openly and directly. Sometimes it takes determination and courage, but it’s always gone well for me because I remain true to myself.

“And Then We’ll Bear Up”

Viktor Beyer, employed at Volkswagen for ten years, Quality Assurance, VW Vertriebsbetreuungsgesellschaft

My current boss has never tried to force me into anything; he wants to win me over me with arguments. We work well together.

Inside: What points of contact do you have with the topic of integrity in your work?
Viktor Beyer: For example, we had a really difficult time with software that violated the gender guidelines and had other quality deficiencies, which meant we had to reject it completely. We always have to strike the right balance and weigh up what is justifiable in each individual case.

Inside: How do you solve something like that?
Beyer:With integrity. I’m referring to processes and standards, to our internal rules and our compliance with the Code of Conduct, which has now become very practicable thanks to the good examples being set. Sometimes we have to categorically say, “No, that won’t work.” And then we’ll bear up. But honestly, at 58, it’s easier to be firm and honest. If I think of a 40-year-old wanting to forge a career, and they would find that kind of a decision more difficult. That could backfire, even today.

Inside: What would help?
Beyer: A new culture. We still have a hierarchical culture here. Even today, there are still colleagues who wouldn’t disagree with any superiors if they said, “You’ll be fine!”

“Learning to Make the Right Decisions”

Bail Bains, Master of Mechanical Engineering, with the Volkswagen Group of America for 15 years, Head of Data Protection at the test center in Maricopa, Arizona since 2013, and responsible for the administration of all compliance and safety requirements.

Inside: What points of contact do you have with integrity?
Bal Bains: Integrity is essential for my work here, because trust and honesty are crucial for my relationships with my colleagues.

Inside: When is integrity especially important in your daily work?
Bains: Integrity is part of me, it’s not something you can just turn on and off. Integrity is especially important in data protection, as there are several requirements that have to be very strictly complied with. And as the ambassador for the Compliance Advisory Board, I should be a role model for the others.

Inside: What kind of critical situations do you face in your everyday work?
Bains: As I said, when integrity is a part of you, it’s going to be reflected in everything you do. Integrity is of the utmost importance, for example when replying to appeal notices.

Inside: How can we promote acting with integrity?
Bains: We all make mistakes. But what sets us apart from other companies are the conclusions we draw from these mistakes: employee training, mentoring and open discussions teach us how to make the right decisions based on honesty and authenticity.

Bal Bains, Head of Data Protection at the Volkswagen Group of America’s Arizona test center: “When integrity is a part of you, it’s going to be reflected in everything you do.”

“We’re On the Path to a New Culture – Let’s Keep It Going”

Heiko Pohl has been working at Volkswagen for over 20 years. He started in engine development, and continues to work in development today – albeit for Group Overall Vehicle Development. He’s successful. People listen to him – and say, “We need to learn from one another.” He promotes communication between brands, creates synergies and deals with topics that affect the entire vehicle. In his role, he was involved in developing a uniform process for measuring emissions.

Inside: What points of contact do you have with the topic of integrity in your work?
Heiko Pohl: Integrity is a daily concern for all of us, in everything we do. Regardless of the task I set myself, it comes down to how I achieve my goals. What’s important is that the processes are justifiable and ethical.

Inside: Was there a situation in your work where integrity was especially important?
Pohl: We were faced with the particular challenge of generating a uniform process for measuring emissions (known as PEMS measurements), because, until then, these measurements had only been carried out on a random sample basis and in different ways by each brand. So I was on the road with the brands to define a uniform approach. The question here was, “Does the process meet all the requirements? Can it be communicated to the outside world in this way, and does it correspond to our ideas of integrity?”

Inside: Every one of us has had to face critical situations in everyday working life, where it’s important to make the right decision...
Pohl: ... I have a relatively recent example of this. There was a decision by our Board of Management to change a certain function in the car. Our department feared that this could have led to operating errors. That’s why we didn’t want to accept this decision as it was. We’ve gathered all the information and facts and, with the support of colleagues from the Safety in Use team and Ms. Werner, we have once again put the topic up for discussion by the Board. The facts convinced the Board. So we recognized the potential disadvantages in operation, and were able to implement a good solution. I think this experience made it clear to us that it’s worthwhile to speak openly about things. And we learned that our Board of Management has no problem reconsidering a decision if the facts are correct. We’re on the path to a new culture – let’s keep it going.

Inside: In your opinion, how can integrity be promoted even more?
Pohl: A lot is already being done. I think it is important that supervisors model this culture of openness, of sharing opinions on equal footing and of integrity. I think we all have room to grow in that regard. I think there is still potential at all management levels to better support us, and we ourselves can do much more. But that will take time, of course.

Conducting Conversations with Respect

Dennis Winter, with Volkswagen for 12 years, works in Operational Stability in Overall Vehicle Development in the workshop area.

Inside: Is integrity an issue for you?
Dennis Winter: Not really. Of course, we do have points of friction sometimes. But because we’re all on a first-name basis and treat each other with respect, we can address everything openly. It’s not really a matter of integrity.

Inside: Is that generally the case in your department?
Winter: We have to be very accurate with everything. If someone sees an error, it will be corrected. No one would ever think of saying, “That was your fault.”

Inside: How can acting with integrity be promoted even more?
Winter: What really helps is appreciative communication: conversations conducted with respect and on equal footing. And, of course, the courage to set a good example. Although with us, it doesn’t really take that much courage.

Inside: Do the others see it that way, too?
Winter: I think they do. Many things really have become more open. The hierarchy also seems to be somewhat more relaxed.

Inside: To what do you attribute that?
Winter: To the campaign, for one thing, and to the fact that there are good Integrity Ambassadors, like me (laughs), who have already been setting a good example.

“Old ways don’t open new doors” is my favorite saying. The refrain of “That’s the way we’ve always done it!” is an insult to common sense. As if that proved that the old way was good.

Ensuring the Highest Product Quality

Karina Hernandez, employed at Volkswagen de México for seven years, Quality Assurance

Inside: What points of contact do you have with issues of integrity?
Karina Hernandez: Everything concerning systematic and operational risks is relevant to integrity, including Quality Academy topics.

Inside: Where is integrity especially important in your daily work?
Hernandez: It’s particularly important as regards controls meant to ensure that nothing violates our Code of Conduct. We analyze the processes for possible risks and incorporate integrity in each of our processes. We always need to act with integrity, in every decision and in everything we do.

Inside: Can you give us an example of where integrity plays a key role?
Hernandez: For example, if we find a supplier who doesn’t meet Volkswagen’s high quality requirements for one of its products, we can’t make any compromises. We have a responsibility to our customers that they receive the highest quality. We must ensure this through our processes and our integrity.

Inside: How can acting with integrity be promoted even more?
Hernandez: Communication is very important, as are our Integrity Ambassadors, the way managers communicate with their employees – and the new communication campaign.

Inside: Is it true that old ways don’t open new doors?
Hernandz: It’s always necessary to put our fundamental ways of thinking to the test, so that we as employees can find new ways to remain the best in the automotive industry in future.

Creating a culture of integrity among employees not only brings us closer within the company, but will also bring us closer to our customers.

Keeping the conversation going is important

Vanessa Kleemann, employed at Volkswagen for eight years, Controlling.

Inside: What points of contact do you have with the topic of integrity?
Kleemann: I have been an Integrity Ambassador for some time now, and, as such, I am working to build the ambassador system in our Finance department. We have a very culture of speaking up, which means everyone can express their opinion here. At the moment, the need for support in terms of cultural change, compliance and integrity isn’t very high in our colleagues’ view.

Inside: In your opinion, how can integrity be promoted even more?
Kleemann: It’s important to me that we keep the conversation going. People should be encouraged to bring this dialog to life in the way they do things.

The challenge as an ambassador: you don’t have nearly enough time, but you still want to get your colleagues to engage with integrity.

Together4Integrity

Integrity, compliance and culture – even more power, together

Volkswagen wants to become a leading global provider of sustainable mobility and be “set an example when it comes to integrity.” That’s what it says in the TOGETHER Strategy 2025. Employees and customers in particular view morally and ethically impeccable conduct as a given – the former because they are proud to work at Volkswagen, and the latter because they want to be able to buy our company’s products with conviction.

Our vision is “to profit from integrity and compliance in all of our business divisions. Our culture will be an inspiring foundation for our success.”

Compliance here means that all employees follow the rules, and that processes and procedures support this. Integrity refers to an approach that involves adhering to your principles in every situation and acting in a responsible and steadfast manner on the basis of your convictions. Always, without exception. And culture refers to the canon of values that a company observes; it includes management culture and daily cooperation – less hierarchy, faster decision-making and adjustments to the direction being taken, all based on synergies and success.

Our united front under the umbrella of Together4Integrity makes it visible to all that we are serious about this: Volkswagen is setting an example in terms of integrity, compliance and culture.

But to do this, we need to keep going. When each person can openly voice objections, even if no one else shares them; when co-workers listen to each other and learn from mistakes – then it becomes clear that a company is on the path to a solid culture of integrity and speaking up. But it’s also important to make sure we consider arguments on the basis of the facts, regardless of who presented them. And that we do the right thing, even if there aren’t any rules about it, or nobody is watching.

How to apply to be an Integrity Ambassador

Have our colleagues piqued your interest? Do you want to actively participate in shaping change? Then send an application email to integrity@volkswagen.de with your name and division, your position (employee or manager) and, most importantly, a statement about what motivates you to promote the topic of integrity.
The Integrity Management Dialog Team looks forward to receiving your application and will contact you as soon as possible.