Shortly after Andrea Euenheim began her new role as CHRO & Labour Director for METRO AG, she surveyed 200 employees regarding their perceptions of company culture. “I got 200 different answers—and that made me nervous,” she relayed to attendees at this year’s IAMPHENOM conference.
METRO, a leading international wholesale company based in Germany, had recently undergone a business transformation. Company culture, it seemed, had gotten a bit lost, so Euenheim set about designing a plan to redefine the employee experience.
She shared frank insights on the challenges she’s encountered so far, and the strategies her team is using to instill a culture that shapes good leaders and drives employee retention.
Redefining the Employee Experience
Prior to METRO, Euenheim served in leading HR roles at Amazon and GE during transformative years for those companies. Her experiences at both companies taught her that a strong, transparent culture is the foundation for an authentic employee experience—and for attracting and retaining top talent.
However, she faced a new set of challenges when she joined METRO. First, there was the ongoing business transformation that called for a cultural refresh, as indicated by disparate employee perceptions. Then her overarching goal to unify employees and bring context to their efforts was complicated by diverse job roles and locations: more than 100,000 employees at hundreds of locations throughout 34 countries, representing positions ranging from data scientists to store workers.
How could Euenheim lead her team to develop forward-thinking guidelines that would engender an inspiring, cohesive culture? What they needed, she decided, was a common denominator on which to base specific guidance.
Finding (& Adapting) a Common Denominator
Euenheim found that common denominator in an existing set of guiding principles that were tied to mission, vision, organizational goals, formal hierarchy, and written policies and procedures.
Her employee interviews, however, suggested that these principles (as they stood) didn’t accomplish what is actually needed to form a strong culture. While they got “lip service,” they didn’t set forth elements that could unify employees and help them understand what the company was really about.
Euenheim closely examined these guiding principles, looking for ways to make them more globally applicable. She worked to define the “how” of each principle, then translated them into desired behaviors that would help uphold their intended outcomes.
“This was eye-opening,” she said. Employees responded enthusiastically, expressing an “aha” sense of discovery at having clear guidelines to aspire to. “We got a lot of ‘Oh, this is how it’s supposed to be!’ reactions,” Euenheim shared.
Four Essential Steps to Transformation
If you're considering a cultural transformation at your own company, here are some key ways to ensure you achieve the desired result—an employee experience that not only promotes cohesion and growth, but also helps the company evolve as a whole to better meet the needs of its customers.
1. Analyze current culture (and make sure to dig deep)
While traditional employee surveys are valuable tools, verbal interviews, as Euenheim found, can reveal more authentic information that will better guide a culture transformation. If in-person interviews aren’t possible, FaceTime or Zoom calls work too.
Try to get beneath the surface to uncover beliefs, traditions, perceptions, unwritten rules, hidden agendas, and informal networks. The key is to listen closely to feedback, and probe to uncover the factors behind a specific perception or unwritten rule.
2. Understand the role of policies and procedures
Policies and procedures alone do not form culture. Rather, they are goals to work toward. Creating a culture amenable to a great employee experience is similar to building a great customer experience. Evaluating tools and processes takes a backseat to addressing real needs and providing meaningful solutions.
3. Build on common denominators
Perhaps, as Euenheim found, the commonality lies in a set of already-developed principles. Maybe it’s the company’s mission, vision, or customer service philosophy. Start with that common ground and expand it by defining specific behaviors and expectations that apply at all employee levels.
4. Foster unity among employees
As you work to redefine culture, focus on how employees can gain a unified understanding of what success means at your organization. Social cohesion in the workplace depends on providing context for team members. The goal is to build a culture where employees feel they’re making a difference for each other, the organization, and its customers, rather than working in isolation on siloed efforts.
Leading a cultural shift presents challenges and hard work. But there’s never been a better time to focus on your employees. How you handle employee experience now will define your organization as a whole—and how the world perceives it.