By PDA Consulting LAB
At PDA International and Consulting LAB, we see organisational culture as something people create through the messages they receive on how they are expected to behave (C. Taylor). Identity, that DNA which makes each organisation unique, is built collaboratively and, at the same time, affects and shapes each person’s behaviour. This is obviously an exciting subject, since it can help accelerate or restrain the organisational strategy and the people who are part of it.
On this occasion, and to address this from a comprehensive perspective, we decided to zoom in and propose new complementary views that can enrich this topic with new questions and observations.
To this end, we interviewed Xavier Marcet, President of the Barcelona Peter Drucker Society, writer, consultant and university professor, who will share his view on organisational culture from his human approach on management. After that, we will focus on cultural diversity and the arts with André Faleiros, who is an eclectic musician and the former Head of Talent Scouting at Cirque du Soleil. Finally, we will analyse the specific experience in cultural management and transformation in the private and public sectors, two very different realities which nevertheless have something in common: their focus is on people. Together with Paola Ini, Organisational Happiness Manager at DHL Express South and Central America, we will learn how culture is built in one of the world’s leading logistics companies, ranked second in the Great Place to Work ranking and in Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For ranking. Finally, Patricio Quiróz, former HR Manager at Trenes Argentinos Cargas, will share his experience in driving cultural transformation at a state agency belonging to the Ministry of Transport of Argentina.
We hope you enjoy the tour and that it brings about new questions that lead to action.
Let’s get started!
“Culture is what people do spontaneously when no one is looking…”
By Johanna Vella
After reposting many of his articles from La Vanguardia, getting immersed in his last book and rethinking his transformative questions once and again, I arrived to our meeting. Xavier Marcet sees management as humanistic, he is a startupper who is almost in his sixties, he has a curious mind, liquid talent, and advocates for authenticity. His experience as President of the Barcelona Peter Drucker Society and Founder of the Lead to Change consulting company and 8Wires, a technological innovation space which combines big data and management, is not the only inspiring thing about him. Talking with him is also inspiring due to the power of facts: his simplicity, the clarity of his ideas, and the respect and closeness of our conversation are true reflections of the things he tells us about.
To go a little deeper into his world, we chose to start the interview by asking him about his “fine print”, that which defines him and not many of us know about. Who is Xavier Marcet? What drives you?
I would like to be seen as someone who strives to humanise management. Without any unnecessary fuss. Trying not to reinvent common sense. Learning a lot from people who do instead of talk; reading from people who think and make others think. That moves me, putting people at the centre of organisations. Too many people believe that technology is the script, but that is not true, technology is only a sophisticated tool. We live in a world that is as interesting as it is challenging. At first, I was fascinated by the study of the Italian Renaissance, which was a way of putting the person in the centre of the universe, and I would like to finish by trying to make a summary with the lessons I learned from the Renaissance and those I learned in companies afterwards. I’ll give it a try. But I don’t know if I’ll succeed. I wouldn’t like to be embarrassed by juggling out of the blue.
It is fascinating how skilful you are in describing complex universes in simple ways. What is complexity for you? How would you suggest addressing it?
Thinking about complexity implies unlearning and undertaking. Complexity is something that goes beyond complication. We surely experience it due to the addition of phenomena such as digitalisation and globalisation. We observe reality with so much detail and data about interactions that it is not possible to reduce it to problems. For this reason, we are often presented with complexity in the form of dilemma. And dilemmas cannot be tackled like problems, which may have a perfect solution. Dilemmas do not have one. The best way to deal with complexity is by trying to not let it grow. Learning to deal with dilemmas beyond problems will be one of humankind’s tasks.
In your book Esquivar la mediocridad [“Avoiding Mediocrity”], you talk about authenticity as key to leaving mediocrity behind. What obstacles does authenticity pose? How can we overcome them to become more authentic organisations?
Authenticity has to do with the level of coherence with which we experience something. Authentic organisations do not superficially implement management trends, they focus on important things, on the fact that people within the organisation have self-respect and respect for those they want to provide services to. Authenticity is what makes us avoid mediocrity, understood as the thing that makes us ordinary, does not let us grow and affects our honesty. “In a VUCA world such as ours, running away from mediocrity does not mean escaping from complexity, but promptly trying new combinations that will enable us to explore without stopping”.
In an ever changing world where looking for answers is instinctive, you encourage us to pause and ask questions. What are questions to you? How much time do we spend asking questions within organisations? How can we train ourselves to ask questions?
Questions arise from canned questions answers. They are an attempt to go beyond the obvious. Asking questions is not easy. Learning how to ask questions can take a lifetime. There are no questions without reflection, without connecting reasons with true honesty. Robots with artificial intelligence can be automated to give answers, but not to ask questions. The only way to train ourselves on how to ask questions is to train ourselves on how to think. And to write. “Asking doesn’t’ mean pleasing or hurting; asking means honestly trying to learn”.
You say innovation is not found technology but in our view. Could you explain this concept a bit more?
Innovation is creating new value for our customers through new solutions. The important things are our customers’ needs, problems and aspirations, which we are able to solve through innovation. And for that, we need radical empathy. Innovation lies in the view, in the ability to adopt a different perspective, and technology comes after. Innovation works better if we go from observing the customer to technology and not the other way around. To innovate, we must know how to observe, propose our value and keep up to date with technology.
If we talk about organisational culture, we are talking about…
We are talking about what people learn within the organisation without actually being taught. We are talking about what people do when no one is looking. We are talking about automated behaviours that become tacit rules; how things that have to be done and things that do not have to be done take place in an organisation. Culture can be a big lever or a big obstacle for many organisations to be consistent in their paths. Consistency is an organisation’s ability to evolve together with those it wants to provide services to. Changing the culture and being successful is one of management’s most serious challenges. The only way of changing a company’s culture is by generating personal change agendas, from high management to the lower positions in the organisation. Changes that have to do with individual experiences, with the logic of learning and unlearning. If change is not individual, there cannot be a real transformation.
What are the main challenges for organisational culture nowadays? What kind of leadership do you think will adapt better?
Most probably the need to be ambidextrous, to know how to exploit and explore at the same time. Our agendas are subject to the dictatorship of our daily lives. But, in order to be efficient, obtain results and also innovate, we need time for today and for tomorrow. Everything at the same time. That is why we need agility to solve, without hurrying, several things simultaneously. What is difficult is synchronising our current abilities with our future opportunities. Transitions are difficult in life, in companies, in everything. The hardest thing is not imagining how things will be in a few years, but making decisions to focus wisely on our transitions. The wise thing to do is to take risks.
The biggest challenge is to create cultures that are able to adapt to ever changing circumstances in order to continue creating value. People are always the biggest challenge.
What role does strategy play in this new context? What about planning?
Our challenge is to have more strategies and less planning. The 20th century brought about a pairing that seemed unbreakable: strategy and planning. And in the 21st century we have realised that strategy, which means making our purpose operational, requires something other than a plan which is inherently ephemeral. The world is changing faster than the plans we dream of. We keep making plans to get closer to our vision, our desired future, but we can no longer do that without improving our ability to learn and innovate. We used to support our strategy only with planning, but now we need three legs: planning for the next two or three years, innovation and our ability to learn and defend our objective and its strategies in a world that is changing faster than ever.
Management nowadays: Start- Stop- Continue: What should we continue doing, what should we stop doing and what should we incorporate?
The future is not an extension of the past. Management means dealing with a legacy that is not a heritage, but an ability to learn and unlearn. Success always belongs to the past and a bit to the present, but the future depends on our potential to adapt in order to keep obtaining good results. Creating paths is the exciting thing about management, for a big, well-established company as well as for a startup. What the big company and the startup company have in common is the need to build a future without the ability to take uncertainty out of the equation. And we find it difficult to accept that this is not easy. Some people believe they have magical solutions for everything: they are known as management populists and there are a lot of them. Keeping a company afloat is a daily challenge. There is no truce. I admire the people who are in charge of companies for decades and keep the illusion and ambition of growing, and the humility to learn and respect everyone intact. These consistent paths express the best of management.
The management of the future requires consistent leaderships and cultures. Leaders who are consistent in what they say and do. Cultures where natural habits are connected with the organisational purpose. Organisations based on appearance will be less competitive.
Learn more about Xavier Marcet
Xavier Marcet is the President of the Barcelona Peter Drucker Society, professor at the
Barcelona School of Management of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, and the President of Lead to Change and the startup company 8Wires; he specializes in big data and management. Xavier has engaged in international consulting activities in more than 20 countries and his latest published books are Cosas que aprendemos después [“Things We Learn Later On”] (Plataforma publishing house, 2010), Inovación pública [“Public Innovation”] (RIL publishing house, 2013) and Esquivar la mediocridad [“Avoiding Mediocrity”] (Plataforma publishing house, 2018). He usually collaborates with La Vanguardia newspaper (Spain) on management topics.
By Johanna Vella
With the increasing relevance of the complexity paradigm and the changing, ambiguous, hyperconnected, multicultural and glocalised universes, cultural diversity ceases to be just another topic in organisations’ agendas to become a priority that we must nowadays learn to manage. The idea of distance itself becomes ambiguous, and so more and more organisations start participating in distant markets not only to do business but also to build teams. In the face of this scenario, the differences and barriers when connecting with people from various origins, nationalities, races and religions are not only linguistic; customs, culture, values, beliefs, norms and even self-perception change.
Managing diversity creates competitive advantages: identification of new business opportunities, greater organisational flexibility, talent attraction, reduction of conflict, improvements in client satisfaction, and complementary work teams where creativity and innovation increase, among others. However, managing it appropriately is not easy. To reflect more deeply on this topic, we talked with André Faleiros; eclectic artist, music director and former Head of Talent Scouting at Cirque du Soleil. From his interesting experience, André suggests addressing cultural diversity from the arts and from management, two manifestations of human creativity that appear to be different, but which are closely related.
Diversity from a Sociological Perspective
According to Zigmunt Bauman, in order to build national unity, modern states rely on strategies such as encouraging and reinforcing cultural, linguistic and religious homogeneity by promoting shared attitudes, a shared mission, a shared fortune and a shared destiny. Modernity is characterised by intolerance towards ambivalence because modernisation tends to eliminate the annoying and upsetting ambiguity, to create order, but this does not adapt to the complexity of the human reality. That is how the intention of building unity generates more and more differences. There appear “them” in contrast to “us” and “foreigners” as opposed to “countrymen”.
Even our own way of perceiving the world and “others” is not a coincidence but an interpretation, a worldview. In the face of the plurality of perceptions available, each society defines a possible filter, a selection that guides the way in which we exist in the world and communicate with those around us. As proposed by Le Breton, “a worldview, carried by a culture and fragmented in each of its members, does not cease to build a border separating the visible from the invisible, the scented from the odourless, the tasty from the tasteless, the audible from the inaudible and the tangible from the intangible. Disagreements about perception are not only interpretation conflicts: they also express disagreements about the world”. These codes of perception are cultural and learned from an early age, and they are the result of customs of our life in society. Obviously, each of us has the possibility to dispose of those perceptive routines in order to learn new things. But, in order to do so, people throughout history have needed to train their view, or as Le Breton puts it: “it is necessary to learn to see and not just open our eyes”.
Labels Devour Identity
If we believe it is possible to change our perceptions in order to learn new things and sharpen our view, we will be able to adopt a more emphatic management of cultural diversity for the first time.
André tells us that when selecting the best talents from the most remote places in the world for Cirque Du Soleil, turning them from athletes to artists and into a high-performance team, the density of the recruitment process is not very important because it is not possible to learn everything about a person. For him, the recruitment process does not finish when the person enters the company; it is present in the whole cycle shared between the person and the project. During that time, André suggests that: “It is necessary to learn as much as possible about the person, what he or she does well and the things he or she is able to do. We need to consider the technical aspect, soft skills, the emotional aspect and, above all, the ability and willingness of the person to learn new things”.
André thinks that, as a headhunter, it is essential to keep a curious spirit. It is likely that the person can do more than we think at the beginning and it is our responsibility to learn about him or her. “We tend to defend our territory and stick to labels: I am from marketing and that person is from accounting. But there is certainly more than that”. When categorising a person or group of people, labels tend to take over their entire identity, and this usually leads to discrimination or limitations based on certain characteristics that, in the long run, block the person as a whole.
André tells us that, when working in international recruitment, it is key to create mechanisms for people to learn about each other’s cultures. Not just learning and telling others about the culture of the person you are hiring, but also learning and telling others about the person. Information helps reduce potential prejudice. “Listening is key. As organisations, we must create a culture of listening, information and transparency. The more people know each other, the less conflict there is. Within organisations, we have to promote learning about who we are, not just what we do, but who we are as individuals”.
Thinking About Diversity from the Art of Composition
Composition, which comes from the Latin term compositio, is the action and effect of composing (combining several elements and putting them in order to create a new one, something different, without losing the distinctive features of each of the parts). What makes a musical composition rich is finding the correct tones and textures. Each instrument has a history, an origin, a material, and its power lies in these peculiarities, in these differences.
When we think about cultural diversity it is interesting to place ourselves in the plane of composition: we must not try to fuse people into a homogeneous mass with indistinguishable components and only one direction, on the contrary, we must identify ourselves as a community made up of peculiarities and heterogeneity in a game of interrelationships among the special and the ordinary, the team’s power and the richness of each authentic contribution. A community that allows us to recognise ourselves without losing our identity, that integrates its members, focuses on their socialisation and aligns them to reach common goals without excluding their own is a community much greater than the sum of its parts. This is precisely where we can find one of the most important responsibilities of every leader: achieving harmony among all peculiarities, combining them through their disruption or complementarity. And this is not so different from the challenge a musician faces when standing in front of an orchestra and a staff.
CONNECTING PEOPLE, IMPROVING LIVES
INTERVIEW WITH PAOLA INI, ORGANISATIONAL HAPPINESS MANAGER AT DHL EXPRESS SOUTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA.
By Johanna Vella
When Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom and Robert Lynn founded DHL in 1969, they did not know they were revolutionising the world of logistics. Nowadays, DHL is the world’s leading logistics company and has been distinguished as the second best company to work for in the world by Great Place to Work® and FORTUNE.
How is it possible to achieve this? Where should the focus be? What type of culture makes your strategy shine? What place do people occupy? What should we learn and unlearn in such a disruptive year like this one? How is it possible to manage culture in a company with 380,000 employees in more than 220 countries?
To go deeper into the DHL Express universe and learn more about its culture, we talked with Paola Ini, Organisational Happiness Manager in South and Central America.
The first thing we are curious about is the responsibility of managing the “happiness” of each person in a company as big as DHL Express. What are we talking about when we talk about happiness?
If there is something that defines Happiness is that it is completely subjective; it is related to a feeling of well-being and fulfilment that every person experiments according to their own wishes and purposes. That is why I do not feel responsible for the happiness of so many people. I see myself as part of a team that encourages people to find these instances of happiness and well-being. Our objective is to be an organisation committed to having an active role to create this possibility. DHL’s mission is “connecting people, improving lives”, starting with our employees and, through them, their families, our customers and the overall community.
I am sure that Happiness is built day by day with specific daily activities related to relationships and, as a result, with a strong and clear Organisational Culture. This way, when entering an organisation with a strong DNA, everyone starts to be a link and contributes to generating the day-by-day culture with constant effort, commitment, perseverance and shared values. For this, we need to build and maintain authentic connections, and take care of people inside and outside of the workplace.
We have a guiding principle that refers to looking for Results without compromising Respect. In the end, these two “Rs” are the ones that determine how we behave and the purpose behind all the things we do.
What a transcending mission! “Connecting people, improving lives”. In this sense, DHL Express was ranked second in the list of best places to work at in 2020. How is it possible to achieve this?
By having a clear strategy that starts with motivating people. In an international company, it is essential to know this message very well, to help leaders understand it and also to provide them with tools to implement it. Our cultural transformation programme is based on 3 key and equally important pillars:
Context: To start with, there must be an excellent scenario. Apart from the basic needs, what is appealing about joining DHL? What makes us different and what characterises us? The advice, since there are so many best practices in the market, is to “listen” and “understand” your population and build this context together (not making assumptions – keeping it simple – being creative).
Leadership: Once there is an appropriate environment, it is very important to be surrounded, on a daily basis, by people who you can trust, who inspire you, challenge you, make you better, are there for you and support you. As part of our programme, which is based on the same leadership culture that we pursue and value, we offer training, award certificates and give recognition to leaders in more than 220 countries. During the entire first year, they work very hard on knowing themselves and on the gaps with this DHL Leader model. The following years, they work on getting to know their people, their customers and their numbers, ensuring a results-oriented performance, whilst not compromising Respect. That is the equation. To make this work, the key is that they really believe in the message, that they make it their own in order to communicate it to the rest of the organisation.
Individual: Finally, we have personal commitment. Taking into consideration that there is diversity of gender, age, taste, etc. within the organisation, the proposal is to “respect” these individualities and to let everyone be free to choose from the different existing programmes. The only condition to constantly renew the passport with the company is to respect our values and show commitment to achieve goals. This way, personal goals coincide with the organisation’s goals.
This programme is materialised by giving a passport to each employee when they start their journey with us and they use it to register the most meaningful moments of their experience.
In this sense, one of the most important programmes we have is called CIS (Certified International Specialists): a culture standardisation programme aimed at motivating people, first, and then training them. In other words, we create a direct connection between motivation and training to reach a high-quality service. For this, participants must first go through a series of trainings that allow them to understand their role, technical knowledge and global aspects of each country. Simultaneously, they undergo training on leadership and other culture-related values.
Within this programme, leaders attend intensive modules to be Successful Leaders of DHL Express, they work on communication styles, on how to inspire teams, give feedback, coach and even advocate for the holistic well-being of the person (physical, emotional, mental and personal energy). What we want to show is that it does not matter which leader you have. If you move within the organisation or even go to another country, you will have the same leadership profile regarding your behaviours and the tools you use.
Digging deeper into that point, what is a DHL leader like? What is their role? What behaviours are highly valued in the DHL culture?
Leaders are as different as the rest of the team, which is why it is essential for them to be aligned with the culture and to put it into practice by being genuine and with their own style, without losing what which makes them unique.
At DHL we value leading from the back and putting the team first, we value leaders who see feedback as a benefit, who do not say what they think the other person expects to hear, and who communicate honest and constructive messages. We value open and accessible leaders who adapt their style and approach to get the best out of others, who admit they have made a mistake when that happens, who always fulfil their commitments to others and value everyone in a similar way; leaders who allow talking about emotions at work, who are models of the DHL culture and, above all, who want people to have “the best day each day”. To sum up, a culture of constant appreciation and inclusion.
When Paola talks about common behaviours valued in leaders, she reinforces, once and again, the importance of having tools that give objectivity to these processes (Psychometric Tests, Feedback 360º, Learning, etc.). It becomes a must to learn which behaviours are valued in an organisation, how to measure them, define the required profile and create a correspondence between people and challenges so that everyone can show their best version. In Paola’s words: look for results without compromising respect.
And Now What? Next Challenges
We are now working on what we call “the future of work”. After an intense stage of adaptation to the pandemic, we are now focusing on how to keep that culture alive in the face of new challenges, contexts and ways of working. At DHL, we say we are like a big yellow machine, with all the power and benefits of being a machine, but also with the challenge of making it work. We are trying to maintain that culture by being together and by combining it with everything that is about to come, and we know that communication and digitalisation will have a central place. We are certain that digitalisation is key to speeding up processes and that people have to be in the exact place where the truly human aspect provides sense.
It Is Time to Learn and Unlearn | Paola Ini
LEARN… to work and function more cooperatively. It is not about competing but about contributing. There is nothing better than sharing happiness and well-being practices to improve the market for everyone; a new base for a better society.
UNLEARN… that more is better, especially regarding the amount of working hours. I think we need to give more value to quality, to what we do in a conscious and focused way. On the other hand, we must unlearn that there is one recipe for everything and everyone. Reality shows that we are all very different; when I make assumptions I separate myself from the rest, it excludes me and comes in the way of empathy.
CULTURE ON THE TRACKS
Managing cultural transformation at the state level.
By Astrid Wernli
Talking about cultural transformation in the Argentine State is as wide as it is complex, not only due to the magnitude of the State itself, but also to the multiplicity of dimensions involved. There is generally a stigma, especially in this country, about a state-owned company, which on some occasions is difficult to break but which is not always real. The richness (and the challenge) of this kind of organisations lies in the diversity of people who are part of it. Broadly speaking, we can find two types of population: those with a surname that has been known for several generations, having provided their services for decades; and those who have just arrived, brought by the wave of the political management “on call”. This combination implies a series of regular changes to “the way things are done” which, similarly to what happens in the country, is like the tide: it moves back and forth with the same force and conviction. The implications of these changes of course every four years have a significant impact on people, who, on the one hand, do not believe in the new administration because it will be ephemeral (“we have already seen many of you come and go, and then everything starts from scratch), but, on the other hand, wish to take advantage of their added value. Building trust is as necessary as it is challenging in these contexts.
Immersed in this cultural schizophrenia, the newcomer makes a diagnosis and starts the engine. The clock is started and added time begins. This is a big challenge for the HR team of a state-owned company, in all its social configurations.
On many occasions, being part of this kind of companies is like time travelling… to the past: there is a limited availability of technological resources and their implementation tends to be poor (frequently due to demographic factors), the budget is never enough to provide the organisation with the management practices required in the market, and decision-making is strictly top-down, typical of a bureaucratic hierarchy that is reflected on an organisation chart with infinite organisational levels. Everything seems to arrive later than it does in other types of companies. In fact, while some companies have started talking about leaving traditional performance tests behind and pursuing continuous feedback models and more structured schemes, here we are just starting to implement the SMART concept as a trigger to agree on the objectives.
This is only one side of the coin. Being a part of a state-owned company is an honour. This is what people feel, a deep passion for their profession, and they have developed (administration after administration) a high level of resilience. Everyone who has worked in this kind of companies (myself included, considering my modest experience in the railway sector at Trenes Argentinos Operaciones, a company with more than 23,000 employees) knows that feeling of joint work and sacrifice, of accomplishing milestones which have a tangible impact on the daily lives of the society and which are the result of perseverance, determination and, due to the lack of resources, lots and lots of creativity. Lack of spare parts in workshops, shortage of supplies in offices, training activities drinking mate and eating biscuits brought from home. Scenes of the daily life of the railway world that build with dedication the sense of belonging and unity of a special, magnetic and charming culture, which shines in its own way, with austerity and with that peculiarity of its DNA that even today, with more perspective and a certain nostalgia, I cannot define with other words. To sum up, you do what you can with what you have, and this forces you to adopt an innovative and disruptive approach to deal with different problems. Solutions are found within the organisation. Step back, consultants! “We have no budget”.
The special feature of state-owned companies that provide public services lies, among other factors, in the power of having an impact in society’s quality of life. Getting on a train that leaves and arrives on time; having a higher frequency of service and following the train route through an app; walking along clean, safe and illuminated stations; and receiving a friendly service in the ticket offices improve people’s lives. The work behind the scenes, necessary to make this a reality, requires commitment, unity and a great dedication to service. These are cornerstones for employees to go the extra mile. As with everything else, it would not be convenient to make a general description out of this, given the diversity of the state sector. But this is a reality in many companies of this kind.
To complement my perspective in the matter, we got in touch with Patricio Quiroz, former HR Manager at Trenes Argentinos Cargas for the 2016-2020 period, who faced the challenge of improving a complex context in terms of people management. Together with Trenes Argentinos Operaciones, Trenes Argentinos Cargas (also belonging to the Ministry of Transport) was the spearhead of a multidimensional transformation that was seen as a success case, and it was a model for other state-owned companies inside and outside of the transport sector. With more than 3,000 employees located in different parts of the country, the company penetrated the subcultures of each region and travelled long distances to establish the “new model”.
You have worked in the private and public sector. In general terms, what is the difference between a state-owned company and a private company in terms of people management?
The main differences lie in “how” to do things and achieve the expected impact. The public sector requires a wider view of the impact decisions have and better skills to agree with the parts involved and the main stakeholders, such as unions. Working together with the Ministry of Transport and unions is a key characteristic of this kind of companies. Having said this, the state sector does not ignore the transformations, new opportunities and demands that the labour market requires. It shares many of the challenges and objectives regarding people management that any other private company has.
What was the situation you encountered and which rooted cultural characteristics did you have to improve in order to meet the company’s strategic objectives?
We had the clear organisational objective of reducing costs for the State and increasing our contribution to society. We found a context characterised by a lack of processes and vision. Human Resources lead the redefinition of the new organisational purpose and carried out an extensive assessment of the structure to make it more efficient and flexible. The company needed to achieve results during the first year of the administration in order to prove, inside and outside the organisation, that the company’s situation could be reversed and that the team was capable of doing that. We found a culture with areas of opportunity regarding the communication and interaction among the different areas of the organisation. We worked hard to integrate areas and people from different administrations. We also had to focus on modernising the way of working: reducing bureaucracy and unnecessary meetings, introducing process digitalisation, increasing transparency of management, adopting a gender perspective, etc. We had to bring the company to the 21st century.
As regards people management, which were the pillars for working and your achievements?
We established four pillars for transformation: track infrastructure, technology and security measures for the cargo and for people, rolling stock (locomotives), and a management model. At human resources, our focal point was to give professional status to employees, accomplishing a coherence between individual needs and those of the organisation with regard to the acquisition of higher levels of knowledge and the development of skills and experience in order to achieve the established objectives. This reskilling proved to be essential for cultural evolution. Some of our initiatives included:
- Leadership School (together with Trenes Argentinos Operaciones): this face-to-face and mobile training programme was created for the first line of mid-level management with the purpose of promoting the development of the competency models and providing specific tools for the management of work teams. This population is characterised by being competent for a career in the railway sector and by being service-oriented, but it lacks training in areas related to team leadership and development.
- Performance management programme (together with Trenes Argentinos Operaciones): it was necessary to organise priorities in the daily management of executives and mid-level managers by creating a common language for aligning teams, measuring progress and celebrating achievements. We relied on the competency model and on an online platform designed internally by our IT team, which kept up with the technological solutions available in the market.
- Mentoring programme: the high average age and the proximity to retirement of some employees with technical knowledge, especially in railway workshops, urged us to materialise the transfer of know-how to younger employees. This initiative was naturally combined with the programme for young professionals, aimed at promoting career opportunities in engineering.
- Onboarding programme: the history of the railway, the impact of the freight train on the country’s economy, the projects and the values we wanted to share had to be told by their protagonists and to be internalised since day one. This was complemented with follow-up, a reference guide and a brand kit.
IMPACT OF THE PDA ASSESSMENT
“We managed to change the focus from a purely technical to a more holistic view of what it means to manage a company, with employees as protagonists. To accomplish this, getting each person to increase their self-knowledge was an excellent starting point. In our case, we worked with the PDA Assessment in several team integration workshops, promoting self-knowledge and knowledge about others. We managed to overcome communication barriers, eradicate historical prejudices, and channel energy towards what is important, always taking each person’s individual strengths as the starting point.” Patricio Quiroz, former HR Manager at Trenes Argentinos Cargas.
Patricio explained to us that: “Working with people and showing a genuine interest in their well-being allowed us to take the quality leap that we were searching for since the beginning. However, this did not imply neglecting technical training. The adoption of new technologies, especially the purchase of 107 new locomotives with a technology completely different from the one we were used to seeing, was of great benefit for engine drivers and their assistants. This instance, as all others, required a joint effort with the union these workers belong to.
How is it possible to work as a team with a union as strong as the railway workers’ union? What did you learn from this?
Our mission since day one was to become an employer that attracted talent. It was clear for us that this was not an easy task and that we had to work in a bottom-up fashion within the organisation, with consensus and a clear communication of our actions. Without reaching consensus with unions, any programme would have failed. The key lies in getting them involved at the genesis of projects, making them feel as a part of them and working as a team. This is the first thing I learned and one lesson that I took with me for my career.
Being a part of a cultural transformation in a state-owned company gives you a double satisfaction, in spite of the daily obstacles and frustrations. You help improving the well-being of those who work in the organisation and you play a part in helping society. If a person is moved by and expresses happiness for receiving leadership training for the first time in decades, a technician has the technology required to work or a train seems to hang in the air before entering a raised station, we have won. When there is genuine commitment and effort to move forward, results become tangible.
State-owned companies share one reality: they are marked by political management. As in any other organisation, the culture is maintained by means of the messages sent and received on which behaviours are expected. These messages express that which is valued. There are no guarantees of a complete cultural sustainability in these terms, especially when politicians from different administrations have such opposing views. The culture evolves while being pulled from one side and the other. And, in spite of everything, the pride of railway workers, their dedication to service, the smell of barbecue in the workshops and the camaraderie among co-workers are signs common to all administrations.
If we ask ourselves which is the ideal corporate culture to successfully deal with this ever changing world, full of emerging disruptions, the only thing certain is that there is no recipe for that. The key in terms of culture is to figure out our own organisational equation in order to integrate those personal characteristics that we want to maintain and keep in mind with those elements that will allow us to be and excel in increasingly changing environments. We must find traces of leadership, behaviours, ways of innovating, of improvising and of managing complexity which are based on the respect and authenticity that make us proud. An invitation to create that intangible DNA based on the example of many people, and beginning with ourselves in our own space.
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Breton, D. Le (2005), Cuerpo Sensible. Santiago de Chile, Ediciones | Metales Pesados.
Bauman, Z. (2005), Modernidad y ambivalencia. Barcelona, Anthropos.