Corporate culture is a matter of utmost priority at FIEGE. But how exactly is it formed? And how does it evolve in an organisation with 23,000 employees? Who or what defines it? And why is how so much more relevant that what? An interview with Alexander Neudorf, Director People & Culture at FIEGE, and the Leadership & Culture associates, Charlotte Heithoff and Dr. Matthias Teine.
“In future, it will no longer matter what we do, but more importantly, how we are.” This phrase was expressed by Jens and Felix Fiege. Just why is the how so relevant and pivotal?
Matthias Teine: Because the how decidedly contributes to how much people identify with a company. Naturally, content also counts, no doubt about it. But the how is what shapes a culture, what brings about an identity. What values does my organisation stand for? How do we as colleagues treat one another? That often plays a more important role when it comes to identifying with a company, than what.
Charlotte Heithoff: Nowadays, how is often more pivotal when it comes to choosing one’s employer. Often it is no longer about hard factors only, such as salary, but especially about the softer ones. Do I feel comfortable at an organisation? Which development opportunities are given to me? Is my personal attitude and opinion a good fit with those of my employer? This is even more important than ever considering the shortage of skilled labour, and is at the very top when choosing one’s employer.
Alexander Neudorf: To us, the how is also essential because here at FIEGE – as a service provider – we do not have a singular outstanding product that sits sparkling in a showcase. We are not Apple or BMW. But what we do have is our very own culture, our special spirit and extraordinary solidarity that imbues FIEGE. That is the cement that holds us together here and by now has become more relevant than what. In the end, how is what distinguishes us from other employers – which is why it is so dear to Jens and Felix.
And how is FIEGE?
Alexander Neudorf:There is no straightforward answer to this because the how is always viewed subjectively. Most likely, we all perceive this slightly differently. But what defines the essence of FIEGE to my mind is that it says family business not only on the outside – but that there is also family business on the inside. This means that we are approachable and transparent, that we stick together, that we are always open to new things, that we value our colleagues, that we write sustainability in capital letters, that all of us together, we assume responsibility. Also, that a special team spirit can be felt here because all together, we are burning for being successful as one.
One very central issue for this success is a good culture within the organisation. Where is FIEGE in relation to this topic – and where is the journey expected to go in the future?
Matthias Teine: I believe that here at FIEGE, we already have a very strong and autonomous culture. That is not to say that we have already reached the finish line. To be clear – that wouldn’t even be possible. The primary focus is to share a never-ending journey together as we will never stop evolving and learning. That applies to each and every one of us, and hence also the company. It is very important to understand this. We know that, for example, within the context of leadership culture or the goal of thinking and working even more strongly in human-centric terms, there is scope for development. And that is precisely what we would like to do.
Charlotte Heithoff: The important thing is that, as a company on the whole, we create the space for corporate culture to grow further. Culture is nothing that one can dictate. Culture grows from within. Every single colleague contributes towards this every single day. That’s when we are called upon as one entity. A matching culture that reflects who and what we are, from which we can draw joy, energy, and innovation, can only be created together.
Alexander Neudorf: That is the very bottom line. Corporate culture at FIEGE is not something that Charlotte, Matthias and I have come up with together with the Executive Board, projected as a presentation onto the wall and then said: That’s what we’ll do now. If I want to turn Fanta into Cola, it’s no use to me if I just stick a different label on it. As a People & Culture team we can surely assist, just like other teams within our organisation can; but in the end, we are all, that is all of our 23,000 colleagues, responsible for our corporate culture – and here in particular, the leaders.
“Everyone has the right to effective leadership!” That is written in the FIEGE leadership compass.
Matthias Teine: Our mission should be nothing less than that. Which explains why the leaders are so relevant. On the one hand, because they shape the framework within which corporate culture may evolve. On the other, because they are the beacons that time and again need to send out important signals for orientation. Managers and executives must lead by example, exemplify culture, and authentically embody it. This starts with Jens and Felix as Co-CEOs and runs across the entire organisation – all the way to the team leaders in the warehouse.
Charlotte Heithoff: Good leadership is the key element when it comes to the topic of corporate culture, as the leaders are pivotal in defining it. That is why we start off right there. Felix and Jens recognised this at a very early stage and called the Leadership Culture project to life which, amongst other things, developed the leadership compass and a so-called Lead-O-Meter. That is how we want to make the right to effective leadership at FIEGE measurable. After all, if an employee does not feel that it has effective leadership, then in the long run they will not feel comfortable within our company.
You speak of a never-ending culture journey that we are on and that there is no specific finish line that can be reached. However, what presumably already exists is a distinct target vision whose direction we are aiming for, or not?
Alexander Neudorf: The target vision is relatively easy to describe: We want to become the best possible employer – the best place to work. That is always the generic header. Everything we do is designed to achieve for this. People are supposed to enjoy coming to work – and that applies naturally also to the business as well as industrial segment. This may sound pretentious. However, it is precisely what we strive to achieve. In the end, it is always about the satisfaction of our colleagues. That is the determining measurand. That is why we conducted the first company-wide employee survey a good two years ago. And this year, too, we asked everyone at FIEGE how satisfied they are here and where they see possibilities for improvement. This allows us to gather knowledge and launch measures to become an even better place to work. Of course, we know that we are not perfect in all areas. And we are not that naive to believe that we will ever achieve the full 100 per cent. After all, satisfaction is too much of a personal feeling that is impacted by many different factors. But what we are trying to achieve is to come step by step closer to the 100 per cent and the big goal – and last year’s results indicate that we are on a good path.
The goal sounds as if it is easy to describe, but hard to achieve. To put it bluntly: How does one manage to come closer to this target vision?
Charlotte Heithoff: It is most and for all important that we bring everyone here at FIEGE on board with us on this journey and incorporate a range of different perspectives. The more perspectives we take into consideration, the rounder and sharper the overall picture will become. For this, we actively tie in our colleagues from operations into our project teams. This is fundamental because without their valuable input from operations, we would never be where we already are today. As Alexander described things above: We do not wish to dictate anything, and we would not be able to even if we wanted to. What we from People & Culture can contribute to this is that we will try to advance this development with the help of the right tools and promote specific projects and give it the necessary space.
Are there specific examples?
Matthias Teine: One example is the survey conducted amongst our employees that we mentioned before. The Leadership Culture project that was also briefly mentioned is yet another one. The leadership compass resulted from that. And the Lead-O-Meter was also devised under the Leadership Culture project. We will be rolling it out next year, to ascertain every three months how well our colleagues see their right to effective leadership being implemented. The important thing here is: The results are primarily geared towards helping managers to take their own development into their hands, to become active and to continue to grow. That applies equally to the Executive Board as it does to shift supervisors or the team leader at the warehouse.
Charlotte Heithoff: We create offers in different areas. The FIEGE Academy is one of these offers through which we advance a learning culture and aim to offer colleagues the opportunity to educate themselves and continue to grow, as is the FIEGE Equality Power project, through which we are advancing equal opportunity and diversity at our company and eliminating bias. We are convinced that teams that are more diverse take better decisions. And naturally, events can also spark culture. Thinking of this summer’s FIEGE Soccer Cup alone where around 2,500 participants from the entire World of FIEGE came together to play and celebrate, that is unadulterated corporate culture.
Alexander Neudorf: Generally, there is quite a lot in motion and flowing. And another point is important: Even the tools and projects are not only about the what, but also about the how. After all, we devise these tools and projects in workshops with colleagues from within the whole organisation and don’t just impose them. This process alone already sparks culture and that was not always the case. So once again: We cannot and do not wish to dictate anything. All we can do is lend a helping hand. We shape and create our corporate culture all together. And we look forward to going on this culture journey with all our colleagues.