Culture is intangible and hence, difficult to measure — especially in a global company with locations worldwide. Therefore, the important part is to create a framework that translates into concrete behaviours which can be replicated and turned into values. This starts at the top and is an ongoing task, as Simone Oremovic, Executive Vice President for People, Projects and Supply Chain at RHI Magnesita, states.
Simone sat down with Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, to discuss creating a positive workplace culture and the importance of leading by example.
My background is in the classic HR people and culture side, where I have 25 years of experience. I started with GE and stayed there for a long time before moving to the telecom industry. Different industries have things in common but also different challenges, which is really interesting. I've always tried to expand my knowledge in order to better understand the organisation I work in; the better you understand the business, the easier it is to support the needs of its employees.
It always comes down to the same few things that determine whether a business is successful or not. One of the most important factors is its people. We need to think cross-functionally and ensure everything comes together in a common vision and understanding. Then we have the process side. Earlier in my career, I learned a lot about process and project rigour. The process mindset creates clarity, efficiency and guidance — it’s not about being bureaucratic and rigid but providing a framework within which people can perform. Within this framework, we can execute and that builds success no matter the function.
On the project side, we are going through a lot of transformations. This is important after the pandemic because the workplace has changed massively. We are a global business with a lot of change going on, which results in very complex structures and projects. One thing we always consider is how to make sure our organisation has the best possible structures in place for delivery. Then we have the task of reducing complexity, cleaning the product portfolio, ensuring an easier process flow with digitalisation, and optimising the offerings to our customers. Finally, we are performing integrations of companies, processes and systems because we grow a lot and need to streamline delivery.
It’s not just a challenge with new recruits but for the entire company. Engagement and belonging are continuous; it’s not the kind of work you can do once and then finish. It’s an ongoing process: you are welcoming new colleagues while at the same time, situations and lives of existing employees change. So, the first thing we need to realise as an organisation is that culture and engagement work is a daily job when you are a leader — you cannot simply delegate it or complete it. That is one of the things that we, as an executive team, have a clear understanding of.
The first thing we need to realise as an organisation is that culture and engagement work is a daily job when you are a leader — you cannot simply delegate it or complete it.
The other thing you can do is create a framework. You ask what culture is, and find ways to translate this into concrete behaviours by providing training accordingly. We have a culture champion network, for example. This means that we have someone in each office that can translate the framework into what will fit that office because it won't be the same everywhere. The framework is the mechanism for how you create culture.
The final part here is asking what you can do regionally and locally. Translating the work into daily actions. We need concrete rules and behaviours in each location, with different diversity initiatives that work for where they are based.
The biggest challenge is the leaders. You cannot win when you don’t have the right leaders on board. We have six people on the executive team, and we can always try to implement a positive culture. However, at the end of the day, it is the leaders who work with our people, and who conduct development and feedback discussions, and the daily interaction of making people feel valued and understood. They are the ones that create a culture and foster engagement, so if you cannot rely on your leaders, you are unlikely to be successful. They must create this culture and engage in it themselves, or no one else will.
It’s challenging to have this in a more traditional industry. When you are working in a newer industry like technology, this kind of culture has often been established from the start. We however have to be very purpose-driven in changing how our leaders operate. Some people have been in the industry a long time and don’t find it easy to change their leadership style, while others simply do not want to.
First, it’s about role modelling. Leaders need to show that they are also learning and always trying to get better. We all need to reflect. It has nothing to do with seniority and experience. Secondly, you need to provide intelligent tools. There is so much out there these days, people get overwhelmed. We provide a toolkit because we know one size doesn't fit all, but everyone has multiple options for how they can improve and get better.