Taking Risks vs. Playing it Safe

LS International

Challenging yourself to take risks in your career isn’t always easy and there could be a lot to lose. We have invited Arnd Pickhardt former CMO of Lidl Germany to discuss with us his experience with taking risks.


In this Podcast, you will learn about:

  • Defining your end goal
  • How to overcome fears of failure and make that leap in your career
  • Overcoming failures and how that effects your career
  • Understanding where you best fit in each organization and defining your career steps accordingly

Arnd has 11 years of experience across multiple markets within Sales, Operations, Project management, internal Audit, Customer Services, Advertising, PR and marketing. During his time as the CMO for Lidl UK, he helped become the No 1 YouGov Brand Improver– Reaching from No 267 to No 2 and as CMO for Lidl Germany, he helped them to become the No 1 “Customer’s Favourite” in German food retail for the first time in company’s history.

Lauren: Hi, I’m Lauren Stiebing and welcome to this episode of the career success podcast. Today, we are joined by Arnd Pickhardt. Arnd has 11 years of experience across multiple markets within Sales, Operations, Project management, internal Audit, Customer Services, Advertising, PR and marketing. During his time as the CMO for Lidl UK, he helped become the No 1 YouGov Brand Improver– Reaching from No 267 to No 2 and as CMO for Lidl Germany, he helped them to become the No 1 “Customer’s Favourite” in German food retail for the first time in company’s history. We have chosen Arnd to share with us his insight on taking risks throughout his career and both the rewards and failures. Arnd, thank you for joining us today.

Arnd: Well, thanks for having me Lauren.

Lauren: So, some people may look at your CV and think that the moves you made in your career were not necessarily the most traditional, what would you say to them?

Arnd: Yeah, I think that’s… that’s an interesting one because I think I’ll probably say to them yes, you’re right. I think that actually moving within the organization from sales to auditing and customer services and actually finally to a marketing communication doesn’t really look like like a straight line and to be honest, when… when I started moving between those departments or countries etc, I didn’t really have a full-on master plan, all that I actually knew was ultimately one day, I want to become a top decision maker of an organization. So… so I knew what’s… what I wanted to achieve but I had no clear plan yet how-to get there and actually, personally looking back now, I think that’s okay and I think you need to have a clear you know, a target like a final target and then you… on the way, you develop your own way how to get there. And yeah, so at some point during my own career, I actually start myself about to ask myself what… what got me here to where I now.

Lauren: Yeah and I think that as well. If you look at careers in general, I would say there’s no one right way, you know? But there are different ways and let’s say there’s a typical path I think in most industries but there’s not just one right way to get there; it’s ultimately… yeah, having your target or your end goal and seeing the best way to get there within each organization because it does vary a bit.

Arnd: Exactly. I think you know, what you described, it could either be standard and that’s not a bad thing or it could be sort of non-standard, and the more I thought about my you know my own path and reflected that, the more I decided for myself that the path I took across the organization was more of a gift you know to my… to my personal development just because I had such an insight across so many departments. I always thought about what …what this thing is because you need… I think you need to make sense. The point is only that you need to make sense out of what you have seen so far and I looked at that thing in my case and all my different positions; they all had one thing in common and that was customer focus. In sales you’re standing in front of the customer, dealing with the situation face to face. The next position was customer service; you mostly dealing as we all know, is complains, issues and frustration and both of the situations you’re dealing with the consumer on behalf of the business. Then the next position and auditing actually brought me the vital change I thought from my perspective because you completely take the other side, and part of the role besides you know, controlling and auditing and all that stuff was mystery shopping in all European countries and so I was no longer at that point actually dealing with the customer on behalf of the business; you become the customer and that change I thought was extremely vital for myself.

Lauren: Yeah, when you were proposed these different positions from one to the other, what decision-making processes did you go through you know, to accept these positions and did you think that they were bold moves or how did you you know make those decisions?

Arnd: Yeah, like I said before it was always some kind of a step-by-step game with a clear target at the end to become one day decision maker for an entire organization, but I think as it is actually with the projects of work, so it is with your career. It often doesn’t really matter how you get there, as long as you’ve eventually get there in the end and I think with that approach you need to keep the freedom to try things, be open-minded … some new opportunities for actually unforeseen opportunities along the way, be flexible, be open-minded, do what you do what basically what feels right to you and I deliberate deliver what you say it feels right and because you need to learn, I think … and that’s very important. You need to learn to listen to your inner voice and advice from friends or experienced people is great, but ultimately it is you who will have to live with that decision, so you’re going to learn actually to take that responsibility, don’t be afraid of making wrong decisions, be afraid … sorry being afraid will only you know, will only hinder you from from making the next big decision in your life and take on decision with full trust in yourself. I think by that actually, you… you do the first steps in becoming a leader by making decisions.

Lauren: Yeah and I can say at least for my experience myself, I think the whole point of being afraid , maybe you are afraid but you still should do it anyway. I think that

Arnd: That’s true.

Lauren: Getting rid of that fear sometimes, it’s impossible, you know? So, I think if you… if you have that fear, it’s just pushing yourself and having people around that support you and help you as well because I can imagine and with everyone, if everyone in your environment is very safe, that makes it more challenging.

Arnd: Yeah, it’s a getting out of that famous comfort zone and having trust in yourself and like exactly like you say, it’s sometimes must feel uncomfortable and I think because by that you can grow and only by that.

Lauren: And through these experiences, did you ever have any bumps or fail along the way?

Arnd: Oh definitely.
If I think about it, what I can probably bring out three different ones but let me start when I was very young at school. So, like many… many might know but school seems very difficult especially for a young boy and despite a few subjects where I was quite good at, my parents would… yeah, that would probably say that I have caused him a lot of gray hair. This system and I like to say, the school system and me just didn’t work out together in a way but anyway, I’m… you know, I managed to get there somehow and looking back I probably say that our school system needs a dramatic shift and blah… blah…. blah, I need to be more relevant topics of our times and all that sort of stuff but you know, that’s another… that’s probably another topic but let’s just say, I wasn’t very good at school but I managed to get there somehow. Next example, would be when I started my first job as part of you know the training program, you are just sitting at the till, I was a cashier for several weeks and I remember that my old store manager, she got very… very… very upset because I wasn’t very fast and quick with serving the customers at the checkout, so not… not as quick as than the other checkout guys were. And so, she got really angry and that for several times, she made an actual attempt to convince and senior manager to get me fired and so luckily, they… they didn’t so I could become chief marketing for the business a few years down the line but probably just let her say thanks at this point in my bosses for trusting.

Lauren: Sure

Arnd: Yeah, another bump, or probably learning. I probably say learning because I don’t like this word; failure was maybe also during my last position, I may have not managed to make certain people within the organization understand what we really working on and what… and basically, that there was a bigger thought to some of the things we were doing. I think it would be you know, wrong to assume that they did not or did not want to understand because I think, I believe it is my… or basically as a manager, your job to find the right language.
And to play the righter arguments and ultimately to reach out to them and if you don’t, you’ve got to reflect yourself again in that situation; what can you do better next time?
And you’ve got to take it as a valuable learning because ultimately that’s what it is, and it tells you one thing, make it even better next time and you might succeed sure.

Lauren: And… I mean just looking at where you are now and your future career steps, how will you continue to take risks?

Arnd: Huh yeah, taking risks is exactly one of those topics and let me maybe start talking about different types of characters because I think there’s no right or wrong and it really just depends on… depends on what type of person you are and you’re an administrator; you’ll tend to play safe because you’re very accurate, you might not be willing to take the biggest risk and you like the idea of knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow. If you’re career-driven character, you would also tend to play it safe, mostly, because your personal wealth and your status; that is what drives you in order to put it not at risk and you tend to be more risk-averse even if that may not be the best actually for the organization but if you’re … and I think probably, hopefully, not hopefully. I personally count myself for that third option more like a visionary entrepreneur from… from a spirit by heart. I think you will take the risk and you take more risks in order to follow or drive you and that is mostly not the salary, not the status, it’s… it’s more the idea, your vision or actually the people that surround you. I think that those characters will probably not be too concerned about taking risk, making mistakes and actually eventually losing maybe their job at some point.

Arnd: But I… personally, I think none of these characters is either right or wrong, although you could possibly argue maybe about the career driven one but in a good organization, you need the other two. I think it’s only in the past that … and we still probably still see today especially in banks and insurances that the old corporate culture is led by risk-averse people, coming from you know the other two species. But I think the future organization will be different; they will have to place visionary leaders who are willing to take responsible risk in order to achieve progress into the top position and it doesn’t mean that we don’t need any administrators in the future, because they are important and vital for safety, as some sort of safe guardian for an organization as well, but I think many of them will be in the middle management and not necessarily as… as in the past mostly in C level. It’s all about placing the right character to the right position and as we all know the digit age, that digital agent, the world has changed with a speed that when you’re a risk averse CEO in such times, I think it can become a killer for an organization.

Lauren: And yeah, I understand. I agree with you; I think it’s around as well finding the right balance. There will still be let’s say similar or the same types of people in organizations and not one type of person is better than another.

Arnd: Sure

Lauren: It’s really finding the right place for the right people and where that balance is and making sure the person at the top is truly the person that is best for leading that organization and not as you’re saying different industries probably will have different… different individuals.

Lauren: Because their end objective may be a bit different but it’s really finding that right balance and where, what makes the whole organization run best and be able to compete in the market.

Arnd: Yeah, totally and you know, when you ask me now how I will make or basically take risk in the future. I will probably, the answer will be, in the same was as ever before. I think every step in your life enriched by more learning. So, like I told you, I had much learning, especially also in the last position. It will probably or hopefully be better and better every day and there’s… there’s two quotes about making decisions that I… that I really like and so one I don’t really remember from who that was but it says, “only those who will take risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go” and I think that really sums up that you need to explore the potential and otherwise you know, you will never see really what is possible and the other quote was from scientists and Admiral Grace Hopper and… And she said… and that again is about making decisions. She said, “If it is a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission” I think that sums it up quite well what I think about making decisions. In the future, I would probably… the answer would be in the same way as before.

Lauren: Well, thank you so much for joining us today on the career success podcast. I hope our listeners have received some learning’s and we’ll take some of this away and into their career and their current job.

Arnd: Yeah. Totally, it was a pleasure and it was great talking to you and take care.