The zest for life of employees is the elixir for corporate success

How many times have we heard this before: “Employees are our most important asset!” Let’s be honest: Though most of the time they were just beautiful words, right? However, they are fully applicable for our future – only then will change really happen. That’s why we have to give employees more central responsibility in company management.

At Serviceplan in Munich, as of late there is an atelier, the “Brienner Above”. Our employees can let off some steam here, with oil and acrylic paints, crayons, canvases or on the sewing machine. Conditions: That they do something completely different here to what they do every day in their job. They should calmly fulfil new ideas, without targets or performance indicators.

What makes it special is not the atelier as such, but rather the fact that it was conceived, founded and accounted for by an employee. Michael “Mais” Sundermann, Head of Design at our Plan.Net Pulse agency. “Now and then, creative people have to escape everyday life and try something new in order to improve” he said.

Small escape from the agency routine

Why have we supported Michael’s idea? Firstly, because we are naturally interested in our employees constantly improving. If small escapes from the agency routine are necessary for this – then we are happy to provide them. Secondly, we want all of our employees at Serviceplan to feel comfortable and to stay with us.

The turnover rate shows that we are on the right path: In the last two years it sank by two and three percent. If the motivation of our employees was not excellent, we certainly wouldn’t have produced an increase in sales of 12 (14/15) and 14 percent (16/17) in the past two financial years. Additionally, customer satisfaction, which we poll annually, constantly remains at an above-average level. If the employees are happy, everyone involved will benefit.

Who likes to take on responsibility

The atelier is an example of our new company philosophy, we’re calling it “Ownership”: We encourage employees to shape our company with new ideas and to prepare for the future together. To do this, we need colleagues who regard themselves as entrepreneurs and who are happy to take on responsibility. This new working style – for which the term New Work has been established – is, in our opinion, pivotal to the success of digital transformation and beyond.

New Work and digitisation – these are two sides of the same coin. A company can only respond quickly and flexibly to the increasingly rapid demand of requests of the market if both concepts work.

Basically, we all want the same

That is why we don’t (just) manage company change from the board room, but also from within the workforce. This makes sense simply due to the fact that there are striking similarities between Serviceplan’s aims and the wishes of many (especially younger) employees. Basically, we all want the same: Flexibility, continuous learning and stimulating communication.

So what reason is there not to join forces? Why shouldn’t we shape our company together, employees and management? HR is ideal for moderating this exchange.

The old enticements don’t work anymore, the old rigid rules are annoying

If we take a closer look at the desires of our employees, they are now well explored. Especially the younger generation (Y, Z, digital natives, millennials or whatever they’re called) do not want to have rigid work rules, e.g. turning up on time in the morning, compulsory attendance while working, forbidden from having a side job, maximum of three weeks of holiday at a time. Classical enticements such as a good salary, company car, career path and canteen are less effective than in the past.

Instead, they want jobs in which they can realise themselves and do not always have to be at the same desk at the same time. They want an equal exchange. They want a boss that is approachable – and are not afraid to have extensive discussions with the aim of putting the world to rights.

Do you think these claims are outrageous? We disagree: We see them as a valuable source of inspiration to successfully master the change.

Good results at kununu and in the cafeteria consultation hours with the personnel manager

There are valid reasons to make sure that your employees are not only satisfied, but are also happy and inspired. That is why, three times a year, we evaluate “Colleague Satisfaction” in 60 companies of our group. This value is currently at 72 percent, which we are proud of.

On the kununu rating portal we have a good rating, with over 3.5 out of 5 stars, the apprentices praise us with a 4.15. In order to keep the channels of communication open with the employees, twice or three times a week our personnel manager, Winfried Bergmann, sits in the Serviceplan cafeteria in Munich from 7:30 in the morning; anyone who has any questions or wants to share problems or suggestions can come and join him. Anyone who would prefer to remain anonymous can, for example, use the complaints office on the internet. These letters are answered immediately and discretely by Winfried Bergmann.

In the meantime, we have come a long way in the transformation. This is what working at Serviceplan currently looks like:

Flexible working hours instead of a 40-hour dogma: Employees can choose their workload quite flexibly. Although they have to review this with the management team in advance, for example, if they want to change from full-time to three-day work. However, in principle, we offer you the option to flexibly adapt your working hours to phases of life.

Mobility instead of an attendance recorder: Whether a mobile office, brainstorming in the park or a workshop in a mountain lodge for several days – we encourage everything. When working for us, no one has to endure 40 hours at their desk.

Side job instead of recreational obligation: Many of our employees pursue a second or third job in addition to their work for us. This is not a problem as long as it is approved by the respective manager and contractually fixed. We see additional jobs as an indication of above-average commitment, strong will and as a sense of responsibility – character traits that we need.

Sabbatical instead of dismissal: If someone needs more than a three week holiday, we can find a solution. A somewhat longer break is always better than losing a valuable employee.

Training instead of sacking: At times of an acute lack of employees, it makes sense to not sack the professionally weaker employees, but instead to support and train them more intensively.

Learning instead of routine: Our employees are constantly put into new teams, they are constantly learning and continuing to develop. They also benefit from a large educational and training program: Every year, we hold around 65 seminars and impulse speeches on topics such as management, presentations, creative techniques, digital tools, customer loyalty, time management or resource planning. We also support 15 employees through their studies at the Steinbeis University each year (we pay for at least 50 percent of the costs).

Events instead of newsletters: Working together requires personal and intense forms of communication. What use is a newsletter full of new directives that no one understands? Workshops, meetings and discussions are always favoured. Our office doors are always open if you’re passing by.

We also offer all sorts of flexibility and freedom. However, this does not mean that there are no obligations. In return, we demand performance, willingness to learn and critical faculties. And we expect everyone to see him- or herself as a brand ambassador for Serviceplan and to give everything to the role, online and offline.

To make Serviceplan’s character clear to all, our personnel department is developing an employer brand. Every new employees learns the employer brand on their first day, the onboarding day teaches about the interesting facts of the history of Serviceplan and which brand values shape our work. The brand is the frame, within which the employees can act. To an extent, it replaces the hierarchical structures, which we are using less and less because the responsibility for the future success of the company sits on several shoulders.

Do you love responsibility?

One of the most important Serviceplan brand values is therefore called “Ownership”. We support employees that want to establish something of their own with good ideas, talent and a sense for responsibility. Such as Michael and his atelier. Or the personnel manager, Julia Vogginger, who taught yoga classes to her colleagues for free during their break at work. We support projects that optimise our working processes and quality, that improve people’s health or that harness market developments.

Lesson learned: Do not constantly look over your employee’s shoulder

Of course, this new style of work has consequences for management, for example for middle-level management: In training, colleagues learn that they should not constantly look over their co-workers. They have to learn to trust everyone and to support their development. They learn how to communicate “top down” and “bottom up”. Thus, middle-level management acts as a catalyst for good ideas and innovations – in both directions.

And the top management? Their job is to always keep track of corporate goals. In addition, they have to make sure that the source of power for success does not run out: the employees’ zest for life, excellent communication, top quality through the constant development of knowledge. They have to solve interfering factors, such as silo thinking, superior knowledge and conflicts between departments – all remains of the hierarchical past.

The zest for life of employees is one of the most important values of the economy

What have we learned so far on our journey through transformation? That employees’ zest for life is one of the most important and relevant values of the economy. It is the source of power for greater performances and innovations. If employees are happy, they repay it many times over in loyalty, ingenuity and commitment. In particular, there is one thing to do: We finally need to give life to the phrase “employees are our most important asset”, which has been overused for years.

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